1990: Earth - A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction

If you are a fan of metal, especially slow moving riffs that make you feel entrapped in amber as every second seemingly passes like an hour, then it’s pointless to introduce you to Dylan Carlson and his main musical outfit Earth. But if you’re just tuning in and want to know what the score is so far, here it is: Dylan started the band (named in honor of the nomenclature used by Black Sabbath when they were still playing blues shuffles at moderate volume) in the early 90s as a loose ensemble featuring doom riffs inspired by Sab taken to their most snail-crawling conclusions. It recalled neighboring behemoths the Melvins and cousins from across the pond Skullflower. The loose-knit ensemble could feature anyone from bassist/future Melvs/Thrones/sunn 0)))/High on Fire dude Joe Preston to Kill Rock Stars’ CEO Slim Moon, and even a young lad known as Kurt Cobain; still, they were conducted by Carlson through amazingly realized works such as Earth 2 (1993) and Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions (1995) — all released by Sub Pop — that would send a very influential signal that years later would yield essential bands of our times like sunn 0))), Boris, Asva, Khanate, and hundreds of doomsters the world over. After Dylan retired from the drone business in the late 90s due to addiction and tragedy, Carlson resurrected Earth in the mid-00s with a sound that recalled spaghetti western scores and American primitive country instead of tuned down guitars and Indian classical music.

The matter of exhuming the band’s first ever recordings is what concerns us at the moment. “Greg [Anderson, Southern Lord’s head and half of sunn 0)))’s core] has been wanting to do it for a while.” Says Dylan via phone conversation. “And it was kinda like… part of it was on Sub Pop and another part came out on No Quarter, the agreement with Sub Pop came to an end and I basically got ownership back. We wanted to be able to remix it and improve the quality of the sound to release it as a full album the way it was originally supposed to. The timing was right, we also got Simon Fowler to do some amazing artwork for us.” The recordings, as mentioned by Carlson, were issued separately on Sub Pop as the Extra-Capsular Extraction EP and on No Quarter as Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars. The definitive version bears the name A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction.

“Yeah, we recorded a full-lenght album and… originally Sub Pop was talking about doing a 7-inch,” Dylan explains the original format of the material, “that’s why the first song is cut in half, it was supposed to be the two sides of the 7-inch and then they decided that, since it was too long, instead we’d do an EP, and then the other songs didn’t get used, and was released years later as bootleg vinyl, which is where we mastered the No Quarter version, because we didn’t have access to the tapes at the time. So now we finally got everything together and mastered properly and what not. It’s definitely nice for it to be finally out the way it’s intended other than being split up on different releases. It’s the first thing I ever did. It’s the beginning of the journey [laughs].”

Revisiting the recordings from the very beginnings of Earth — committed to tape by Mike Lastra in Smegma Studios — must have been a bit weird for someone who hasn’t really cranked the distortion in recent years, but perhaps those early recordings held some insight on the bands long career trajectory. “I like the material, it’s a lot different than what I’m doing now… I mean, it’s different, I guess, in some ways. The songs were definitely more constructed whereas now there is more improvising, we kind of do a looser amount of structure. It was definitely more song-oriented… but, for instance, Earth 2 was more of an experiment as opposed to songwriting, and now the song is sort of a loose form that is fleshed out by improvising. It was definitely more of a traditional songwriting type of thing… I mean there’s no ‘verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge’ structure [laughs] but they were written out. It was definitely more structured and the influences weren’t quite as integrated, and my musicianship is better now. It’s not like I’m embarrassed about anything [laughs].”

As for the question that Carlson might be tempted to try his hand at ‘improving’ the recordings? “No, to me what I like about recording is that it’s a part of the time or history and, going back and redoing it… I just feel like the idea that people can experience that period in time; how I thought then, this is how I did stuff then. A recording is a document of a time, re-recording stuff seems pointless… maybe if you were ashamed of what you’ve done [laughs], you would want to do that, but I value it as a document of a certain time.”

“It’s never perfect the way you think of it,” he continues, “but it’s better because other stuff affects it… I try not to be a control freak about that; I try to do my thing and then let it go and then let other people think what they want, I’m not trying to control what people think about it. At a certain point you have to let it out and let it go, otherwise you would never get it done because you would be micro-managing. I always find that I’m much happier with all the accidents that occur and stuff that I didn’t intend to happen because that’s just the nature of reality. On Earth 2, I may have thought of it one way but it ended up pretty cool and different.”

As an example, Dylan talks about Earth’s second, near-classic album. “The first two parts definitely were written, it was what we used to play live; the third part was definitely looser. It was more experimental in the recording, it was only the second time I had been in a studio and there’s a lot of stuff we did on that record that, if I was recording it now I would have done it a lot differently. We duplicated a lot of effort in a lot of areas just because, you know, i guess, it’s what you do [laughs]. For example, some of the drone tracks, what we did was, we played the drone, then mic’ed all the different speakers and then put them on separate tracks which ended up defeating itself because some of the mics and speakers were out of phase; nowadays, I would have recorded the drone tracks separately with different gaps.”

The sounds on these first recordings are without question more metal than what Carlson is used to these days, and an insight into what he was into back then could explain the motivations behind the shift in tone. “I still listen to a lot of the stuff I used to but maybe not as frequent now. Definitely on the first one I hear a lot more metal stuff that I was into at the time… I mean I always liked the classics, stuff like Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Zeppelin and that kind of stuff, but at that time I was also listening to stuff like Slayer, Kreator, Destruction, Candlemass and a lot of the newer stuff that was coming out, but also Tygers of Pan Tang, Diamond Head and Angel Witch. I love all that stuff still, maybe I don’t listen to it as much as I used to. Every now and then I go back and revisit [laughs]. Like just the other day I was listening to a Dio record, stuff he did with Sabbath and the first two Iron Maiden records which I still really like. Right now the stuff I’m most into — which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it then, but now I’m way more into — is a lot of the British folk stuff like Pentangle and Fairport Convention. I don’t forget any of the music I liked before, it will always be a part of what I do and what I like.”

Some other influences on Carlson were much closer and palpable (revolving around the early 90s Seattle “scene” where Earth gestated), to the point of collaborating with many of the people that inspired him. “I definitely was a huge Melvins fan, my favorite is their earlier stuff.” Dylan reflects. “Back then, it was just the people that I knew and we were sort of doing our own thing, and then certain people started getting noticed by the outside world [laughs]. At the time, that was who was around; I was friends with the Melvins and I used to watch them practice, the same with Nirvana — I knew Kurt since high school, we were in a couple of bands together before that. That was the people I knew and they were doing their thing, I was doing my thing and then certain people started getting noticed [laughs]. It’s kinda weird because a lot of people ask me ‘What was the scene like? Was there a scene?’, at the time you knew everybody because it just wasn’t that big, there were not that many venues and it wasn’t until later that some people were getting signed to majors, it changed. Whenever the media gets a hold of a scene, things start to change. At the time you might not be necessarily aware of everything… you’re going through history from the outside looking in, so it doesn’t seem ‘historical’ to you at the time, but later people ask you ‘What was it like?’ But it happened in Athens GA, in LA, in London, in Manchester and I don’t think people set out with a big plan. It’s a group of people who are all doing stuff and that just seems to be the key. As long as there are people doing their own thing, that’s the important part and whether it becomes well known or not… no one can plan that, it just happens; the most you can do is find your thing and do your thing and hope people like it.”

Many fans might wonder how Earth used to present this material in concert, and Dylan describes it as such: “We mostly played the material that we recorded, that was pretty much it, whatever we had is what we played. It varied, having one or two bass players [laughs], or two or one guitar, obviously we had a drum machine back then so the drummer always showed up. We didn’t play out a whole lot but we played as much as we could, we didn’t tour or anything until later; we mostly played Portland, Seattle, Olympia… local.”

While awaiting Earth’s activity in 2011 — which includes two studio albums in the span of one year — we can rejoice listening to what was captured long ago in the way the artist originally intended. In the drone heard across Northwestern woods, doom as experienced in half empty rooms in downtown Seattle, and the agony of being crushed by some of the heaviest music to be found on our planet.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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