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SBH Podcast 003 - Dylan Carlson


1. Allan MacDonald – Hiotorotro

2. Dillinja – Angel Fell

3. Allan MacDonald – Lament for Red Hector

4. King Midas Sound – Surround Me

5. Richard & Linda Thompson – Night Comes

6. Tyler, The Creator – Yonkers

7. Alasdair Roberts & Friends – The Daemon Lover

8. Amy Winehouse – Me And Mr. Jones

Guitarist, folklorist, and occultist, drone doom pioneer Dylan Carlson has spent the last 25 years propagating sublime minimalist drone rock with his band Earth. From the early days of epic distorted walls of sound, Carlson’s legacy more or less spawned a whole genre, his name connecting the dots between much of the modern stoner rock drone doom scene. Still eminently active, Earth’s second wave incorporates elements of American blues and country traditions within Carlson’s favoured epic format. Those old connections remain, the band’s releases abounding through Greg Anderson’s Southern Lord records, home of all things heavy.

A fascination with the cunning-folk traditions of the British Isles has provided inspiration for his latest solo project DRCarlsonAlbion. Modern interpretations of the UK traditional folk music are presented with a book describing Carlson’s exploratory visit to various fairy-faith sites in England, Scotland, and Wales. This eclectic podcast reflects this journey, and the breadth of musics that make up Carlson’s unique sound.

“The stuff I picked is what I’ve been listening to a lot lately. The last Earth record (Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light: Parts I &II), and my solo projects have been heavily inspired by English folk music and English folklore. Under the DRCarlsonAlbion header, I sort of brought that all together.

I’ve always hated that idea of folklore as…well, it’s obviously preserving the past, but that idea that folk has to be kept like a museum piece, like it can’t grow. There’s that weird kind of collector, antiquarian mentality about it where it’s like you’re trying to preserve something.

The same thing happened with the blues, where the original bluesmen were recording, and were trying to have hits, but then white people got involved, and it was all about authenticity. They’d go out and grab some guy out in the woods, and say ‘This is the originator’, because he was sitting on his back porch playing a song. It would turn out that he would be playing songs that he heard playing off the radio. They’d wrongfully attribute it to him because he was the old guy out in the woods, as opposed to the guy who went to the city and tried to make money with it. It isn’t some static thing that doesn’t move or grow or expand.

The last project I did, the DR Carlson & the Hackney Lass was really an attempt to do some sort of modern folk. We took stuff from old folk and tried to update it to modern times. That’s generally what the playlist reflects to me: there’s some really old traditional stuff, like the Scottish stuff on there, and then some modern interpretations, but also some new electronic music. To me, folk music is popular music, and popular music is folk music; it’s not high culture, it’s all music created by people to be listened to.

The Scottish music I chose is interesting. There’s the ‘low’ Scottish music, which is the stuff people dance to, and then there was the high music, which were all funeral musics and songs, usually about some hero who had died. It’s a lot slower, and a lot more repetitive than the dance music or the party music. I found that very interesting for that reason. I’ve always wondered where that came from. For some reason I’ve always gravitated to slower, more repetitive music. That’swhy I’ve always loved the dub thing too. A lot of the times they’re using the same rhythm tracks over and over, but changing stuff on top of it.

For a long time I was sort of anti-technology curmudgeon, but recently I’ve decided that technology exists, it’s more about what’s done with it that determines the outcome. The technology itself is not necessarily bad or evil, it’s how it’s employed, so I’ve been becoming more conversant with digital technology and electronic recording. I mean, I miss analogue, I like analogue better. Sound is a smooth waveform. With digital, not matter how fine a sampling rate you get, you’re eventually missing spots. You’ve got a curve that’s the soundwave, and you’re sampling it here, here, here, but not matter how high the sample rate, and they always argue, ‘Oh well the human ear can’t tell the difference between…but whatever, I think the human ear can, and does.

There’s some older electronic music that I put on the mix. When it first came out I was interested in some of the jungle and the drum ‘n’ bass stuff. I would listen to that, but I’d never really integrated it into anything I did. When I did the Last Touch release for DR Carson Albion I did some remixes for digital download, where we put some electronic stuff on the tracks. Now I’m starting to think about doing a project maybe involving electronics, and also how to integrate it into what I’m already doing.

When I get into music, I try to wait, rather than rush into it. I’ve always felt like you can be influenced by music, but it doesn’t mean you need to sound like those influences. There are other ways that it influences you. I take on influences and then I try to let them integrate and affect what I do, rather than trying to replicate my influences. I think if you get really hyped on some kind of music, and then learn that kind of music, then want to just play that kind of music, you end up sounding like the genres that you’re into, whereas if you give it some time to absorb, and integrate it with your own playing, the influence will still come out, but it will come out more with your own angle, or vibe. Obviously I have been very influenced by American music, country music and blues and so on, but I don’t do country records, or blues records.”

Carlson approached his latest project, “Falling with a Thousand Stars and Other Wonders from the House of Albion” in a fascinating way, inviting fans to sponsor the project through Kickstarter. As well as an album of songs, it includes a filmed documentary of Carlson’s trip to the UK to visit sites of various megalithic and human/fairy encounters, an exploration of ritual and folkloric magical practices, elaborately packaged and designed by Small But Hard founder Simon Fowler in collaboration with specialist advice from Shepherd’s Bookbinders’ Matthew Phillips and Joe Dixon. The release will contain a book to accompany the music, with the aim of illustrating the lyrical content of the songs, as well as an historical essay about the subject and some more informational content about the trip itself.

“I’ve always been a big book person. That’s how it started. Being exposed to all the materials you can use to make really nice books, the kind that you don’t see any more. That was the genesis of that side of it, wanting to do a ‘proper’ old- style book as part of it. I think that’s the only way nowadays to really do this, because so many people download, so many people just do digital format that you have to make something special, you have to make something people are going to want to keep. That’s what’s become really tricky about doing music is making it…it’s not just about making good music now, you also have to be thinking about what object you can make that people are going to want and going to want to pay for rather than just rip it off.

The trip to do the environmental recording for the kickstarter project was in May of last year (2012). Most of the sites were in a book on sites of fairy encounters, except for the one in Scotland. That site was from the trial records. It was where this cunning woman, Bessie Dunlop, had met her familiar. In the tradition, a dead human is somehow translated into the fairy realm. When they meet another human, they then take them to meet the fairies. He [her familiar] was a Scotsman who had been killed at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. She was accused of witchcraft and then later executed. I had read about her encounter in a book, and then read the trial records.

I’m going to take the environmental recordings and go through them and then use them as a background for the music, for the atmosphere they protract. The first solo thing I did was a cassette. I had done some recordings around Waterloo station, because Lambeth used to be, in the Tudor era, where all the wizards, and alchemists, and fortunetellers and so on lived. Waterloo station was the site of one of my own experiences, so I went and did some recording around that area. I isolated some kinda weird stuff on that recording and then used it with the music on the cassette.”

Carlson clearly approaches everything is with a similar intensity and rigour, combined with a clarity and patience in digestion. He lives and breathes this deep and dense presence, his whole being a mirror for the work he produces. Even talking to him, his tone is precise and slow, the conversation punctuated by long pauses and drawn-out laughter. We return to Earth.

“The last two albums was definitely more a band thing, because a lot of it was improvised in the studio; we worked them out playing them live and then in the studio we’d use that as a basis and then play and see what happened.

Right now Earth’s been stripped back. It’s just me and Adrienne. The new stuff I think is more…song oriented in a strange way. It’s a little more concise. The last album was sort of lay-back-and-let-it-flow-over-you sort of album, whereas the newer stuff is a little more dramatic, grabs your attention. It’s more of a hard rock record in a way.

This one has involved a lot more of me writing stuff beforehand. I’ve always written the same way I guess…I’ll find something while I’m practising, a pattern I like, and begin to work on it, add variations, and then repeat it, and sort of add variations. I’ve been writing a lot of stuff lately, and it’s been coming out quite rapidly, whereas usually stuff comes out a lot slower and I have time to think about it. I feel like I’ve always kind of written the same way, but it’s hard to say with this album, I guess because it’s so so new, I haven’t really had a chance to examine what is going on with it all yet.”

Find out more about Earth here:

Find out more about DR Carlson Albion here:

Further reading about Bessie Dunlop and her friends here:

For more information on the House of Albion project, watch the video here:

Further information on Simon Fowler here:

Further information on Shepherds Bookbinders here:

Posted on April 2nd, 2014