When taking in Earth's newest album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, the first thing that really struck Orlando Weekly hard was the cover – and we know that sounds superficial, but did you know in the distant past people used to buy records based on a cool cover? – a magnificent, timeless photo of main Earth dwellers guitarist-founder Dylan Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davis, backs to one another, focused in on just their heads, steeped in the kind of rich, stark color palette one might find on an old Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton record. It's timeless. It's the perfect encapsulation of Earth circa 2019.
This is the first time that Carlson has allowed a band photo on the cover of a record; usually they've gone for art that's more sepia or stylized. But not this time. Full Upon ... presents Earth unadorned, as they are.
"It's something we've never done before," Carlson says. "It was such a great image of the band and a classic band photo, though. This album was all about showcasing the two of us, the core of the band. And it felt like the right cover."
Carlson speaks the truth. It's fitting because what's inside the record sleeve matches the outside. Full Upon ... sees Earth stripped down to the twin poles of the band, playing together, locked in, with no outside hands and a minimum of fuss and effects; the results, spanning four sides of wax, are stunning, a career high up there with Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method or Earth 2, even.
"Most of the material was written fairly quickly in the months leading up to the recording sessions," says Carlson. It was composed by the duo in a fever of inspiration, divided between the aforementioned writing and jamming sessions, some improvisation in the studio and several themes adapted from a live soundtrack that Earth did in Belgium for Eiichi Yamamoto's brain-melting animated film Belladonna of Sadness.
In recent interviews, Carlson has called it a personal favorite, and when talking to Orlando Weekly, he's still beaming with pride: "It shows Earth doing what we do, that no one else can do. ... My writing has improved and my melodic playing has improved and it's also the first album where the drums have been allowed to step forward and shine like they're supposed to."
Despite the minimal personnel, Full Upon Her Burning Lips has a lush sensuality and sweat to it, putting them ever-increasing light years away from brothers in drone like Sunn 0))). Earth have moved beyond the feedback manipulation and volume punishment of early albums like Extra Capsular Extraction. Their music has a widescreen sensibility and the percussion of Adrienne Davies is in full force, giving them more than a hint of, dare we say, swing. "All of the music that I love, I feel that dance and wanting to move to it is a big part of it. It's an element of rock that's been abandoned," Carlson explains. "Music should touch you not just in the head, but in the heart and the hips as well. I feel like with so-called heavy music it's become very hyper-masculine and over-intellectualized. ... The world is woefully out of balance, and the fact that women are so underrepresented in music and that so much of rock is a boy's club is ridiculous."
When Carlson spoke to Orlando Weekly on a long stretch of California highway, headed to a two-night stand in Los Angeles, his spirits were high. It's a long way from early shows in their Pacific Northwest home base, when grunge mania was whipping up into a frenzy as Earth started playing out. "Our second show in Olympia, everyone went outside when we played because it was so loud," Carlson chuckles. "Things have changed a lot."
Things have changed a lot is an understatement for the long and winding road that is Dylan Carlson's life in music. His is a story that takes in gratuitous distortion, drug addiction, guns, a friendship with Kurt Cobain, serious health scares, alliances with labels from Sub Pop to Southern Lord, creative alliances with everyone from Joe Preston to Boris, a sprawling discography that's never been afraid to leave the past behind and a laser-like focus on music, even during the darkest times. It's one hell of a story, and it's amazing that he's made it out the other side, happy and healthy.
As our conversation is winding down, we have to ask Carlson, arguably the musical patient zero for a generation of feedback and drone worshippers, what started him on the path of low and slow. "The Melvins definitely had a part to play in it. Slayer's South of Heaven and King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black, that would be part of it. And then just feeling like, at the time, there were so many bands trying to be as fast as possible," he pauses and deadpans, "so just be a contrarian." And then he laughs, and it's a damn good sound to hear.