Earthless’ music comes from afar (San Diego, to be precise), but it takes you ever further away. It is indeed quite hard trying to talk about this band, which has got a legendary status based on its own merits, without falling into clichés. Yes, their sound is trippy as helLSD and as expansive as the fabric of our Universe, but it is their live performance which really makes Earthless a band in a million. If you add quite a long career, always on the underground, independent side of rock music to the mix, then you have one of the most interesting and innovating psych bands in the world. As if we needed to add reasons to interview Isaiah Mitchell (guitar and vocals), Mario Rubalcaba (drums) and Mike Eginton (bass guitar)…
Mr. Chumbo: During your latest tours you get to play next to lots of different bands playing very different music.
Mario (M): I think for all of us WITCH are like our long-time buddies. We kinda started doing this with them in a good way, being in the same label, touring together a few times back at home and doing some festivals, so it was good to see them again.
Isaiah (I): All Them Witches is great to see too, they’re awesome. They’re different but they still fit in the scope of the festivals scene.
Mr. Chumbo: Can we expect some more Heavy Blanket in the future?
M: Well, we were never really a part of it, it was Jason’s… But I am sure we’ll jam, every now and then.
Mr. Chumbo: Talking about European festivals, which you have attended quite a few of in the last years: how was your experience as a resident band at Roadburn?
I: It was an honour. We were asked to be the artist in residence, and we had to do it differently every night. Just the process of putting ideas out there and some of them sounded good at first and then they didn’t sound so good, and we got to trim until we ended up with what it was. We were trying to do something special every day.
Mr. Chumbo: What is it like having played with a living legend like Damo Suzuki (singer of Can)?
I: He is an idol. It was amazing being able to play with him. We were full of respect and grateful to get to play with the guy.
M: I don’t think we could have been any shyer than he was. He was very humble.
Mike Eginton (E): And very reserved, yeah.
M: Yeah, the most mellow, humble man.
Mr. Chumbo: Did you practice with him before or it was just jamming?
I: We had a conversation only. But no preconceptions. No safe net.
M: That’s how he wanted to be, and it was fun.
Mr. Chumbo: You played with another of the greatest contemporary psychedelic bands, Kikagaku Moyo, in the East Meets West event. Have you thought to record with them at some point?
I: Yeah, good guys. The idea would be hopefully trying to get that show released (Live at Roadburn) but it can take some time.
M: There are so many bands that have “Live at Roadburn” live albums. I guess it is because of the good remembrances as well, every band wants to remember they had such a good time.
Mr. Chumbo: And finally, there was the San Diego Takeover, with a lot of bands of your hometown like Harsh Toke, Sacri Monti, Joy… Most of them started a little bit later than you, so do you think you are somehow their godfathers?
E: They are our buddies.
M: We talk always on the phone with them, like even on tour, texting with them or whatever.
I: For example, the SonicBlast Moledo promoters, they really liked the Roadburn thing and wanted to do something similar.
M: Their records have been out a little bit long enough now, so people within our scene have been able to catch’em on and they toured a couple of times as well, so it’s like they…
I: They’re making their name.
M: Yeah, coming up a little bit more recognizable, for festivals like SonicBlast. And we just spread the word, help them when we can…
Mr. Chumbo: You have been around for almost two decades now, so I guess you have a pretty good view of all the psychedelic rock scene and the genre. I think it is pretty strong, with lots of new stoner heavy psych bands.
M: Yeah, you never know. I mean, bands come and go, there’s always gonna be people for the fashion side of it but I think this kind of music has a staying power. I mean, Hendrix’s is always gonna be around. So the cream of the crop are always gonna be remembered and people will always go see … maybe not every day, but…
Mr. Chumbo: There are lots of bands, but maybe it’s just because of the Internet that we have this feeling or because there are indeed more bands.
I: Maybe a little bit of both! (Laughs) There’s a lot, that’s for sure. I think, as you said, that the Internet has helped that in more far away places there are people that we never would’ve thought they would have heard our music. Like we have been able to go to some pretty cool spots. I mean that we never would have thought we would play in, I don’t know, Russia.
Mr. Chumbo: But do you think there might be a little bit of saturation, of lots of bands sounding quite similar?
E: Yeah, it’s happening all the time.
M: There’s only one Sleep. There’s only one High on Fire. But you have about another hundred bands trying to follow that pattern of song style, and guitar tone…
Mr. Chumbo: Do you feel more connected, closer to the desert, stoner scene (visible in festivals like Desert Generator, DesertFest, SonicBlast…) or to the psychedelic, garage rock (like Desert Daze or Levitation)?
E: It’s definitely different audiences. But to us I don’t think it really matters.
M: I wanna play to the person that would never ever even think about trying to come see us. To me, I’d rather do that than playing for people that have seen us. Rather trying to cope against the oddball.
Mr. Chumbo: So you don’t want to be attached to a specific scene.
M: No, not at all. But that being said it’s not like we purposely want to play just to stand out, you know, it’s kind of a middle ground.
I: All those festivals you mentioned before, they’re ALL really cool.
Mr. Chumbo: Let’s talk a little bit about your latest record, “Black Heaven”. It is much more straightforward, more rock and roll, with shorter songs, more vocals… Why did it come up like this? Was it on purpose?
I: It wasn’t supposed to have so many vocals, that wasn’t intentional, just ended up that way. We wanted to do something different, but that was much more different than we expected. And that’s great, making it more different that you thought!
M: We thought there might be two songs with vocals and once we had finished recording, all the vocal songs were the strongest ones. We kind of like that because our last record was kind of impossible to replicate… It was one album with just one song so, not doing that.
Mr. Chumbo: What can we expect for the future? The more direct approach or the old one?
I: Whatever sounds best.
M: We try to jam, just enter in a room and start playing and see what’s happening, if we have some riffs coming out. That’s kind of our process.
Mr. Chumbo: You come up with a riff, or a line of bass. Do you start building up from there or how do you usually compose?
I: Yeah, it starts with a riff and goes from there.
M: Whatever sparks. Sometimes it’s just a mistake, or a practice take, or maybe a beat from which to start a riff.
Mr. Chumbo: Does that happen usually at home, at the studio, practicing…? Where do you usually find your inspiration?
I: It might be on stage tonight!
Mr. Chumbo: What are the pros and cons of working with a bigger label like Nuclear Blast in comparison to Tee Pee, or Gravity (Note: smaller, independent labels which previously released Earthless albums)?
E: It has not been any different.
M: Yeah, for us, no.
E: I mean, if it is a bigger record obviously they put out more records and more stuff, but that’s all.
M: It’s pretty straightforward. One of the reasons why I think we went with Nuclear Blast is because they have a really long history, obviously in metal and different music… They have been around this long for a reason. So if they would have been stuff that was shady, or not treating bands so well, they will probably still be in hell, in our regard.
E: And they are independent, too.
M: True, it’s a surprise. And every time we want records for a tour, we got them. They’ve never been out of print or stuff, so they’ve been doing great.
Mr. Chumbo: I know Mario is an avid record collector. What kind of music do you like to listen to when you’re home?
E: For me it’s mostly old stuff.
I: Everything. You name it. I love some stuff that people hate.
M: Me too. (Laughs) I just fell into temptation and if I like it, I buy it, it doesn’t matter if it belongs to a genre. I might not like the genre as a whole but maybe one or two people from that genre.
I: There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I fucking hate that shit. If you like it, you like it: be proud of it!
Mr. Chumbo: What do you usually play while touring, in the van?
M: Well, it is quiet sometimes (laughs).
I: These days we were into Shuggie Otis, Townes van Zandt, Flo and Eddie…
M: We just switch it up all the time.
I: We don’t listen to super-stoner stuff.
M: I mean, we have a time and a place for that too, but now we’re into soul and even some reggae jams.
Mr. Chumbo: To me, one of the most remarkable things about your live performance is the fact that you don’t stop playing almost at all at every show.
E: The idea is to create sound the whole time, in a continuous motion.
I: I don’t like it because if we would stop, it would be just dead silence, and we’ll have to start again but without all the momentum going, that would be weird. Just say hello at the beginning and that’s all.
Mr. Chumbo: And finally: obviously there is no need to get high while listening to your music. But do you think that, at some level, there’s a certain harmony, like a feeling of being in the same wavelength than you, if drugs are involved?
I: Sure. They can be helpful for anything, but you don’t need them.
E: It is a very different perspective on the music if you’re sober or you’re high or whatever.
M: It’s always fun to hear someone on the perspective, that doesn’t do drugs, or never has done drugs, and they say they come to our shows or listen to our music and they felt like “that is what it must be like”. It’s interesting to hear that, which we’ve heard, a few times.