Interview: Earthless – “The Senses Will Be Consumed”

Brace yourselves for the sonic onslaught that is Earthless.

The California 3-piece metal band makes its New Zealand live debut in just a few days, beginning in Wellington this Friday at Valhalla, then moving on to Tauranga, before wrapping up in Auckland at Galatos.

The band is known for its extended psychedelic jams and has released two albums in the past year. Black Heaven is their latest studio offering, while From The West is another live jam.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Earthless guitarist Isaiah Mitchell about Black Heaven’s more concise format along with comments on guitar hero Frank Zappa and his opinion on recent Grammy winners Greta Van Fleet.

Click here to listen to the interview:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

Earthless Transcript

MD: We should talk about the new album a bit because there’s been quite a bit of chatter about it and the change allegedly in direction and way you guys are going and I just wondered how much thought you gave to you know, playing somewhat shorter songs and featuring more vocals on it. Is that something that was a major deal for you guys?

IM: I don’t think, I don’t know, we didn’t put to much time to it. It’s just songs that we had and that we were writing for the recording, we had a couple songs that were like on the ten-minute mark.

MD: Right.

IM: But you know, in the studio, one of them didn’t really cut it. And we had these other songs that just felt like they needed vocals. They felt like when they wrote themselves more or less, they were going to need vocals. We just kind of listened to it and do what they want.

MD: Have you got much feedback from fans about the way the band…to the album and in general?

IM: I haven’t heard anything bad. I knew that it was going to be a potentially dicey endeavour because,  people that know us, know us as an instrumental band. And I think for the most part, at least when people saw us live that may have been skeptical, about the new record, then they realise that we’re still the same band. And we were a live band, I mean, we can make studio records and whatever, but I think for us, the experience is to see us live and that hasn’t changed. It’s still one long continuous movement. There’s no break. The only break is when we stop, so people haven’t – if anyone had any misgivings or they were concerned ‘oh we’ve changed direction, we’re not the same band,’ well, they were pleasantly surprised and very happy to find out that no, we’re the same band.

MD: Is that why you put out the live album, From The West, also this past year?

IM: It wasn’t to show people what we sound like live still. It was just a good recording. Our buddy Ethan Miller who runs Silver Current Records approached us, “How about recording a show?” And yeah, what the hell? Why not? And it came out really good. And it was a fun night, and we were ‘yeah, let’s release it.’

MD: Right.

IM: We’re pretty nonchalant like that, I guess. We’re not trying to prove anything to anybody or feel like we need to prove anything or clean up after ourselves or whatever. We just do kinda whatever we want to do and we enjoy it and everyone’s having a good time as far as we know as well.

MD: Cool. I was reading some of the reviews of Black Heaven and somebody referred, compared the title track itself to Frank Zappa’s ‘Willie the Pimp,’ and I was wondering if Zappa was a guitarist that you listened to often.

Frank Zappa

IM: Oh, Zappa is one of my biggest influences. I would never have thought that for that song, but that’s cool.

MD: laughs…

IM: My Dad is a Zappa freak, so I grew up 3-4 years old with my Grandma painting mustaches on me every day.

MD: Nice one!

IM: So yeah, I’m, in the band, I’m the Zappa guy. But no, I would never have thought that, that’s great.

MD: I see they’re touring a ‘Holographic Zappa” thing these days. Did you read about that? Do you know anything about that?

IM: Yeah, it’s kinda weird. I don’t know. It’s just weird that Ahmet and Dweezil aren’t getting along. The family’s all split up. And that’s weird. Like Zappa plays Zappa, Dweezil’s thing,  isn’t able to perform anymore because Ahmet – it just sounds pretty messed up and I be Frank would slap both of them.

MD: laughs. I’m sure he would.

IM: Yeah, it’s ridiculous.

MD: Did you ever get a chance to see him perform? Or is he kind of before your time.

IM: He was kind of before my time. My Dad saw him. I still watch a lot of Zappa videos and concerts and all that. He still amazes me. And the different eras of the bands. And there is just so much you can keep getting from it and it’s always interesting. And his guitar playing – I love it so much. It’s very refreshing and chaotic and beautiful and yeah, he’s great.

MD: Yeah. Now did I see that you guys also jammed with Damo Suzuki from Can at some point?

IM: Yeah, the 2019 Roadburn in Holland.

MD: How did that come about?

IM: We got offered to kinda be artists in residence. It was our tenth year anniversary from first playing Roadburn in 2008. And, no, what am I talking about – that was the 2018 Roadburn, we’re in 2019. Um… yeah, so, 2008 we released it, that was kind of a good record for us that gave people, showed people what we were like. Which is what you get with a live show, whatever… and so, Walter invited us to be artists in residence. And then, you know, there’s three days of playing. And in the middle one he helped organise a set with Damo Suzuki just a fully improvised set. And we added our buddy, we did this tour with Kirke Arthur Moyle in the states and the sitar/synthesiser player Riyu, can’t remember his name… He joined us too onstage with Damo and it was, I don’t know – it was the highlight of my life! It was a lot of fun. I kind of miss that about Earthless shows in the beginning. We would be totally pure improv. There were no… we have a little bit more form nowadays. So to go in there and completely not knowing what you’re going to do… I don’t know. It just gives you this nervous that that, if you can harness it, it just gets you going and it can take you to fun places. That was the show of a lifetime for me and the other guys for sure.

MD: How did you get turned on to Can?

IM: I got turned onto Can from Mike and Mario from Earthless. They turned me on to a lot of music that, you know, a lot of underground music, the ‘thinner music, they’re responsible. Oh yeah, through them I learned about Can.

MD: Cool Do you guys do that a lot? Turn each other onto different things, check each other out? Is that part of…

IM: Yeah. We’ll drive in the van on tour and people take control of the road-listening controls. Like I put on a Jerry Garcia solo record that Mario or Mike never heard and they’re ‘Whoa, what’s this?’ And then 20 minutes later they’re like ‘What’s this?’ and I’m like, it’s still that record. And they’re like “Whoa!” I don’t know. So yeah, I’m stoked that I can show them things that they don’t know because they always have a one up on me. They’re really musicologists more than I am and they just, they go pretty deep.

MD: Laughs. I see. Now going from the underground to the main stream. There’s a band… I know you guys get compared to Sabbath and Zeppelin a lot. And there’s a band, I think they just won a Grammy for best rock album, Greta Van Fleet. I was wondering if you had any opinion…

IM: How about High on Fire though? Huh?

MD: What’s that? Laughs. I was just curious if you had an opinion about them. If you’d listened to them, thought that what they were doing was relevant or not, or whatever?

IM: Yeah… I mean, I don’t know. I’ve got mixed feelings. If they’re helping people pick up a guitar and do all that stuff, and to just to change maybe the course… but music is always going to be like that. Like it’s bad that there’s shifts, ‘oh it’s hip-hop, now it’s rock, now it’s crud…’ It’s just all over the place. So it’s going to swing back and forth constantly. So if there are guys out there now doing that, it’s great. But honestly, we listened to their record, finally bit the bullet and listened to their record on tour and we couldn’t listen to the whole thing. It’s exactly like Led Zeppelin. It sucks. I’m sorry.

MD: Laughs. That’s all right.

IM: There’s one that, anyone that playing it that hard and finding it that hard – I just can’t listen to it. I’m sure I’ve done the same thing and people think that about me too about plenty of things I’ve done too. And that’s great, fine and dandy and that’s their opinion, they can have it. And I feel that way about Greta Van Fleet. It’s kinda, it’s too much for me.

MD: I hear you.

IM: I look forward to hearing their next record.

MD: Yeah, yeah. I think it will be interesting to see where they go. You can look at it as a jumping off point for whatever it is that…

IM: Yeah. I try to be positive and optimistic and you know… Everyone is just doing what they’re doing.

MD: yeah, so for folks here – obviously you haven’t played in New Zealand before, what kind of experience can people expect from you guys. I get the feeling it’s going to be quite different than your average rock show that comes to town.

IM: Yeah, I think it’s going to be kind of an onslaught. Just being kind of invasive. It’s going to be an endurance race. Us versus the people in the audience. It doesn’t let up, so it can be a little intense and people might not like it. Some people might get obsessed with it. But it’s just be an onslaught, I know that much. A competition and endurance race. And it’ll be loud too. So you’ll be all-consumed – the senses will be consumed.

Click here to see Earthless at Galatos in Auckland on Sunday, February 24th.