Earthless are an instrumental band from San Diego, California, that plays psychedelic/blues rock. Along with many of their labelmates from Teepee Records, they bring back the sound of the 1960s and 1970s while still making their music unique and modern. Back in October, Earthless released the five-track double LP, From The Ages. It was their first studio record since Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky back in 2007. The band is also no stranger to putting out live records. They recently released In A Dutch Haze, a live performance with J. Mascis of Witch and Dinosaur Jr.
Not only is their music an original take on a classic sound, but the band knows how to write long, epic tracks. In A Dutch Haze is an impressive hour-long jam. The shortest song on From The Ages is the nearly six-minute “Equus October.” The title-track is the longest, which stands in at 30 minutes in length. As a fan and self-proclaimed music connoisseur, I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to converse with the band’s drummer and ex-pro skater, Mario Rubalcaba. I asked him about the band’s writing process, how these epic tracks form, and if they take time into account when writing a new album. We also discussed the psychedelic/blues rock revival and what it is like in preparing and going over a live recording. Check out what Rubalcaba had to say below:
I read that your writing style is rather improvisational. So, there are sections written out and practiced a few times, but you also orchestrate and compose on the spot. Was that how you guys originally started? Or did you try writing out parts and it developed over time?
I think that when we first started out there was a lot more of an improvisational thing going on, especially live. Sometimes we would go on stage with absolutely no idea of what we were going to play that night. “What are [we] doing tonight?” “I don’t know. Let’s just start out with ‘The Rumble’ and see where it goes.”
“The Rumble” was just this mountainous wall of noise and feedback and free jazz-inspired haze that could lead into all sorts of different moods. It was fun to see what would come out of it. We used to do that a lot in the beginning. Sometimes it worked killer, sometimes it didn’t, but that’s the chance you take.
There still is a lot of room for improvising with how we play nowadays. It’s never the same when we play. To us, it is pretty structured for the most part. I trip out when people think that we are just this “jam band.” I don’t think we do any “jamming” on stage. We do write parts and we usually play them and play with the groove and see what it falls into. A lot of times it just naturally leads into something else or someone will come back with something to add to it later.
In terms of song length, is any of it planned out ahead of time? Meaning, are some songs purposely in the five-minute area and others in the 15-minute area, or do they end when they feel right?
They just end when it feels right to end. Sometimes it takes five minutes for it to “feel right.” Oh well, fuck it!
Is meeting a specific time mark on your records a concern at all? Have you ever had to cut tracks down or remove them in order to meet a time limit on an album?
Yes. If we are recording to tape then most definitely. On Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky, I felt the pressure that we couldn’t fully “cut loose” on the recording because of the time constraints. We had to say what we wanted in around 22 minutes. That’s just not enough time. On the song “From The Ages,” we recorded on Pro Tools because of this exact concern. We thought that when all was said and done that it might have been around a 40-minute piece. The last thing I wanted to happen was to just about be done with this thing and then run out of tape. The bummer was that when we nailed the take of the song, and we totally could have fit it on the analog tape. Recording to reel tape is the best sound, I think. It still sounds sick though.
What is the fine-tuning like on a song as massive as “From The Ages?”
That song, when we first started with it, just naturally progressed into all these different moods and paces. That was back when we were able to practice as a band more often. We hadn’t played that song for a couple years and when it was time to think about recording it, I was very adamant about getting this tune recorded with a studio version.
The only other version of the song was on the Live At Roadburn LP, which is where we debuted that song for the very first time. It had changed a lot since then and there was so much that you could do with it in the studio as well. I’m so glad that we recorded that song in the studio. We had three days of practicing before we recorded it. I think we may have had around three takes at it. The vibe is what is most important and we were stoked with it.
What gear is most important to forming the Earthless sound?
We are a pretty standard Marshall/Orange loud amp kinda band. I don’t think the Fender Twin Reverb amps are our thing. I like bigger drums but they aren’t the end-all. We have different effects and stuff but at the end of the day, it really is the players that make the sound what it is. Isaiah [Mitchell, guitars] and Mike [Eginton, bass] can have no effects and it is still going to sound like them. I’ll make a 18″ kick drum work just as well as my preferred 28″ kick drum. I’ve grown up playing on shit kits.
Blues/psychedelic rock from the ’60s and ’70s is definitely one of the most interesting genres in music. It’s, in my opinion, one of the only styles of music that really connects several generations together. Fans can range from 15 years old to 50, and all love bands like Cream, Blue Cheer, and Hendrix.
Yeah, there are all sorts of folks that come to our gigs. It’s awesome to see the ranges in age.
Working with Tee Pee Records, you guys are also familiar with several bands that are reviving that sound and adding their own original twist to it, like Witch, Kadavar, Graveyard, amongst others. Who are some of your favorite stoner/psychedelic/blues rock bands out now?
There’s a lot of good stuff happening right now and a lot of it is right here in San Diego, which is great. Our buddies in bands like Joy, Sacri Monti, Artifact, Radio Moscow, Harsh Toke, Arctic… Hot Lunch from San Francisco kills it. Three Wolf Moon from Vancouver also kill it.
Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket is a recording of a live set with J. Mascis and Graham Clise of Witch at Roadburn 2012. When was the first time you jammed with J. Mascis?
The first time we played with J. Mascis was in 2009 at SXSW. I forget who set that one up but it was a lot of fun. It was so loud! It’s going be great to get on stage again with him in Boston on August 24 opening up for Sleep.
You guys have a couple live records in your catalog. What is it like listening to the live albums? Are you extra critical of your performance that night?
I don’t think we are overly critical. When you are playing things that are around 40 to 50 minutes long, you need to be a little flexible. I think that just as long as the live sound has a good feel to it, then we are stoked.
When a live performance is being recorded, do you feel more pressure? Is there even a thought, or it is business as usual?
Most of the live albums that have been released, we didn’t know that they were being recorded but even so, it’s business as usual.
You guys are also involved in various projects. Do these other bands and time away help keep Earthless fresh?
Yes and no. I don’t think any of us preferred to wait six years to put out another record, but time flies and here we are. A lot has happened in all of our personal lives as well. We are in a good place right now so there’s no complaints. We are really looking forward to getting back out east. It’s been too long.
What is next for the band? Anything in the works you would like to mention?
We have this short run of East Coast tour dates coming up. We hope to come back soon to the East Coast with a longer tour. We are going to Europe in October and November. Basically, we are going to be getting out there more and playing to the people. We hope to see you all at the shows!
Earthless will be playing at Philadelphia’s Underground Arts on Aug. 21, NYC’s Mercury Lounge on Aug. 22, and Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar on Aug. 23.From The Ages and Earthless Meets Heavy Blanket are available now. For more information, go to teepeerecords.com and facebook.com/earthlessrips.