Interview with Earthless: Cosmic Nodding

EarthlessHeavy psychedelic power trio Earthless know how to kick out the endless jams. Featuring guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, these San Diego natives rock long-form songs sans vocals and literally make it up as they go along. Citing “cosmic nods”—their form of improvisation—as a main element of their eclectic mix of ’60s and ’70s psychedelic obscurities and Japanese hard rock inspired jams, these Tee Pee Records artists have cut their teeth in various other known acts over the years, forming Earthless as a means of exercising their astounding chops. To find out more about the heavy, trippy amalgamation that is Earthless, we caught up with Rubalcaba to discuss their humble beginnings, their recent live record, and their upcoming tour in support of stoner rock labelmates Witch.

How would you describe Earthless?

As primarily an instrumental, heavy, psychedelic kind of a combinational rock band.

How did you guys form?

Basically, just from sifting through each other’s record collections and personal tastes and kind of bouncing off ideas of what we were into compared to what bands we were in at the time. We were listening to a lot of different records and just decided to form a band that was inspired by those genres. And in finally getting together—from that first practice or jam—it just kind of always kept that same feel.

Having played in Rocket From the Crypt, the Hot Snakes and the Black Heart Procession before Earthless, how do you describe your stylistic journey to Earthless, which is a very different animal?

I’ve played drums in a lot of bands over the past 10 years or so, and I’ve always found myself in this position of playing in bands with really good friends, and playing really good songs, but I’ve always been limited as far as how I really play as a drummer. The only band that I’ve ever played in where I really had true freedom to do as I pleased was a band in the mid ’90s that was kind of an art, post-hardcore band called Clikatat Ikatowi. The formula of that band was very loose and free, and everyone kind of dictated what each other did themselves, no one told anyone “oh this is this part of the song’—things just formed together very naturally and organically. And so since that band which was ‘94 – ‘95, I’ve never had that kind of creative freedom to play drums how I really play drums until Earthless formed. Earthless is for me as a drummer, 100% freedom to just do whatever happens.

How does the songwriting process work in a free-form band?

When the three of us first started getting together and playing music, at the time I was in Rocket From the Crypt and touring a lot. We would try to get together when I was home from touring and would just get in the room and play and mess around with covers and fuse ‘em together. Isaiah is just an insane lead guitar player, and we would just always feed off of one another, and really feed off of the solid bass playing of Mike, and before we knew it we would be playing straight for an hour, and we were like man that was awesome. We were creating on the spot—just improvising and making up riffs on the jam. So we just kept going that way, and would kind of write riffs as we go, remember ‘em and kind of build upon that so we’d have these large pieces in the end.

Why no vocals?

It wasn’t super adamant at all, it just kind of fell into that direction and before you knew it we started playing a couple shows that way and we’re just like let’s not even worry about it right now, we’ll just take it as it goes. We’d talk about, like well do we need a singer? Do we want a singer? We just decided to play it like this for now and if something ever came up where we need vocals, Isaiah can handle it – he’s actually a really good singer. But we just never have felt the necessity for it yet. We do a couple covers here and there and Isaiah sings on em, but as far as our own music, we haven’t hit that yet.