Earthtone 9 Interview
Earthtone9 produced one of the best debut albums in a long time last year. They back it up with a string of live dates that seemed to re-enforce the quality of the band. Tonight is the last night of their current tour with Cynical Smile. Itís also the last gig for a while for guitarist Oz, who is swanning off to Australia for 6 months. Thereís been talk for a while about doing an interview, but itís just not got lined up previously. But tonight, as they say, is the night. Well, afternoon really, as thatís what it still is when I arrive at the Vic in Derby where the band are still partaking of the thrillathon that is the soundcheck. However, vocalist Karl, with whom the interview is to take place, demonstrates a feature not often seen at soundchecks, well, not to my knowledge. That of picking up the drummer, in this case Simon, by his neck. Itís an endearing little trick. Probably. Simon returns the compliment by performing a hilarious weightlifting mime of Karl. Really, it is funny. Almost as funny as the new haircut. But I didnít have the camera out at that point. Anyway, it kinda highlights the more lighthearted side of the band. A side which Iím sure every band has, must have to be able to survive the tedium and boredom that can go with elements of being in a band and touring. Not to mention having to put up with each other for so much of the time. Itís also a side which is kind rumbling away beneath the surface during the interview. Not sure youíll always pick up on the deadpan antics, or the subtle little cracks that go on. But they are there. With all bands and I hope in all interviews I do.
So anyway, after the soundcheck, neck lift and mime antics, itís time to talk. Initially we sit at a table with the rest of the band, but decide to move to a quieter corner of the pub. Thereís three guys sat across the room. The tape recorder comes out. Their eyes are trained. Great, an audience. Shouldíve tried to claim I was from Kerrang! Then I may have been able to offer to give my first autograph. Instead, we do this interview lark. Those eyes might interrupt at times. Theyíre scaring me.
And, having spoken to Karl a few times before, Iíve made the potentially dumb decision not to write down any questions. Wing it Dave, wing it. Not a problem. Which is just about where weíre starting. So strap yourselves in, and once more, into the breach ....
"So, what do you want to talk about" is the opening gambit from me. Donít really know mate. Díoh, means Iím going to have to think then. Iím sure there was a grin as he said it. "Ok then, in that case itís start with the serious stuff. Whatís happened to the hair in the band?" I wonder, seeing as Oz has undergone the snip this week, as has Simon, though with more unfortunate results. The hair? Weíre trying to cultivate a kind of casual look for around Nottingham town is the deadpan response from Karl. "So are you going to be the next victim?" Absolutely not comes the instant reply.Natureís going to sort out that for me. "You think youíre going to have problems" I protest while fidgeting with my hair nervously. Obviously youíre going to have to leave that out. Or Iím going to have to firebomb your flat. Nothing gets left out. And besides, Iím going to pass one of these on to the fire brigdage so at least they can nip round and save me quickly. "Ah no, the truth. Have to put my serious hat on." So with a small adjustment, we continue complete with serious hatted Karl.
"So, do you want to say anything about the new album?" Have you heard it? "Unofficially I might have done." Have you now. What do you think? Díoh. I hate it when things get turned around. Itís hard enough thinking what to ask, let alone what to reply. "It sounded good". So you like it then? "Well, I only heard it once, and was prevented from hearing the last track, the one thatís not going to be on the album." Oh yeah. The new album. I mean itís just a continuation. Itís kinda pushing the ideas further than we did on the first album really. Trying to encompass all the elements weíve done before and do them better, but without diluting the essence of what weíve been doing anyway. So thereís sort of melodic stuff and extreme stuff, probably in the same proportion as the first one, but trying to push the boundaries a bit further. Thereís no big game plan, no major change in direction at all really. Itís just better. Which quite possibly is what it always should be.
Now, if youíve heard the debut, well, nice one to start with, but youíll also know that theyíre not the most obvious band around when it comes to song titles and understanding the deeper, intrinsic fundamental conceptual meaning of the lyrics. So is this one going to buck that trend? Is it doobery. Here comes the evidence. "So, is it going to be any more obivous this time, or is it going to be a continuation of the obscure?" Well, I know it is cos Iíve seen the titles, but that would spoil it for you dear reader. Yeah, yeah it is (going to be more obscure.) Theyíre obvious to me, but you have to read the words and I wonít give anyone the benefit of doing that to work it out. "So why is that then?" Yeah right Dave, like youíre going to get the answer. Iím just pretty tired of the obviousness. The thing at the moment is that youíre leaning towards the hardcore lyrics, theyíre pretty obvious in their nature, about honesty and brotherhood and stuff like that. And Iím just not really interested in writing about stuff like that. So I come up with an idea and write lyrics about it and then the title is a parallel to the idea. Itís not necessarily about the song. Like it could be that we heard the music and decided it was that sort of thing and come up with a title from that. But there areníy any specifics. I kinda like that Chris Cornell vibe rather than sort of straight ahead. "Do you think that people can read all that and think itís sort of pretentious though and that itís not something that "the kids can relate to" like fucking dead bodies in Jonathon Davisí case. I mean, EVERYONE can relate to that!" Yeah, well I donít really think of it as being clever he pauses, I donít really about it that much actually. Which wouldíve been a really boring answer. Thankfully he thinks a bit more about it now. Itís just a progression of an idea. Weíre not going out, well I donít think Iím going out of my way to make it long and clever. Itís just something that looks interesting on paper. So what do other people think it means? Is it really supposed to have any meaning? People are always looking for a sort of end in itself, and there isnít a particular answer. It just may be a cool sounding word or I might have read them and thought, Ďahhh it relates to that a bití and so thatís what Iíve decided to call it. But I donít think thereís any wisdom to be gleaned out of anything.
"Somewhere in some of the reviews there seems to indicate something of a hardcore element within the bands sound, I guess Will Haven. Now those kind of gigs, one of the big things about it, apart from the unity etc, is the infamous Ďletís all sing into the mikeí thing with the singer. So, by not providing the lyrics do you still find people trying to singalong.
No, not really. Does it bother you that you can sometimes look out and just see blank expressions in the crowd. No, itís funny actually because people are trying to make an effort. Yeah, I have no idea what words Iím saying when I try to mouth along. Iím trying to sing. Just the idea, the melody. But Iím not really into that at all. If you want to get up onstage join a band. Not into the stage diving thing then? I mean itís fine, but, it all ends in tears doesnít it really, with damaged bits of equipment, people getting narked and people ending up getting hurt. So I donít want anything to do with it really. If it went off I wouldnít do anything about it really, but in an ideal world no-one bother. But itís good fun to look at. Yeah yeah.
In the stuff that Copro have been sending out, thereís something about the new album describing it about being about something like "pre-millenium tension". Any opinions on the millenium.
No, Iíve just got this thing where I dislike the fact that the mainstream press always look for an angle for a story. So what I do is give them a lie, and see if they run with it. So thereís nothing to do with the millenium? Nothing whatsoever. I just wanted Jason Arnopp to print something funny that I could laugh at. What you mean like a picture of himself? Well that would be funny, but I told him they were about millenium tension, and he printed it. Ah, it mustíve been Kerrang! then, cos I thought it was with the stuff that Copro sent out. My mistake. And yeah, I know, catty remark. Yep, a picture of me would give you a laugh, but I ainít doing it, so tough.
Do you have any opinions though about the millenium? Is it going to be worthwhile or a damp squib. I think itís going to be a good party. I donít think anything is going to happen or that thereís going to be an apocalypse except that which the fundamentalists make. Do you think it will be a good party though. Will people be interested by the time we get there or are people just going to be sick of it? Itís hard to say. I always have a good laugh at Christmas, and thatís been going a little while.
The eyes are piercing, along with a few giggles from that corner of the bar. Scaring me. Gits!
How do you feel then about changing the name of the band to Indecision and becoming a New York hardcore band I ask in reference to the fact that Kerrang!, when they printed the pre-millenium stuff, used a picture of the band with the caption about Indecision in the "ones to watch" or whatever itís called slot. Uh, well it was something that we had to do. We just thought that it was the right thing to do and time to move on he replies with the tongue firmly in the cheek. Obviously the questions that I answered earlier were fibs, and weíre actually completely into unity and relocated to New York. No, thatís yet again a fine example of Kerrang!ís inability to file things.
You can blame magazines, which I tend to do quite regularly, but do you think that they do serve a major purpose for bands? Um, I think they do to an extent, but I think that the underlying issue which always comes out of lack of coverage for underground bands is a self serving argument, because if they werenít underground bands then theyíd always be in the press. And because theyíre underground, not that many people are into them, and major magazines will only put important bands in their magazine to make it more attractive to their readers. I completely agree with you that a certain amount of space should be designated to people otherwise theyíll never get a foot on the ladder. And underground? In a country of 55 million people, attracting 2000 to a gig isnít really mainstream is it? Yeah, it is relatively speaking, a minority music. Itís just one of those things, an argument that gains a disproportionate amount of attention I think. Itís obvious to me that people like Kerrang! should be cultivating the music because theyíre in a position to be able to do it and bring it to peopleís attention. But I also understand that they are basically a commercial venture, and they have to put things in the magazine which are commercial. In a purist sense I think they cover the same things week after week and itís purile and of no interest to anyone who has an inkling or an interest in music. But it has so much clout. Yeah.
And in a fine tradition set during most previous interviews, itís time to take a complete about turn from here, and return to some stuff about the new album. Good job it isnít a rollercoaster or something really. The g-forces would likely break your neck. Anyway, during the soundcheck, Karl mentioned how heíd had to visit the doctor during the recording of the album. Seems he was putting quite a bit into the vocals.
Nearly dying? Oh yeah. Trying to push the extreme vocals, just went a bit far. Nearly exploded my head. Quite bad. Iím better now. Nah, it was just a bit nasty a bit of a dodgy headache and Iím a bit of a hypochondriac about stuff like that. Oh my throat, oh my head. But I was slightly worried there for a little while. Fortunately my Chinese medicine friends sorted me out.
One of the things that I seem to have picked up from reading Kerrang! is that you donít drink and are vegan?
Yeah, Iím vegan. Sounds almost like youíre straightedge then if you were a hardcore band. Yeah, well I used to be into that actually because Iím a big Henry Rollins fan and I was just into that sort of vibe and really looked up to it. I still am vegan because Iím interested in that sort of lifestyle. I sort of believe in karma, so that speaks for itself. But the not drinking thing, itís just one of those things that it became habitual going out and drinking. And I was like "why am I doing this?" "I donít really know." So I stopped drinking. There wasnít any sort of pre-meditated problem. But now, five years later itís the same thing happening. Iím not drinking and not thinking about it. So sometimes I enjoy a bottle of wine, but Iím not a social drinker.
The reason that I was asking is because in the next issue thereís going to be something about sXe and veganism that I ripped off the Rock City messageboard. I proceed to tell Karl the same stuff I told Karl from Earth Crisis (confused yet?) about the message. My God, this sounds like a court trial. "Exhibit A muhílord" This whole sXe seems to me to be quite militant in its attitude.
Itís cobblers innit! To use the technical term. Do you think the holier than thou attitude and the cowardice of saying youíll spill someoneís drink and then walk away or point to someone else is going to endear them to others.I just think itís boring. Boring to know that people are talking about things that people are not necessarily interested in. And you know if heís really into hardcore, then he should be into honesty for a start. Which doesnít particularly sound synonomous with his masterplan for stopping the world from drinking - spilling their pints. And the whole thing about sXe that makes me laugh is that Ian Mackye just came up with this idea to say that thereís loads of people getting fucked up, because thatís what punk was about. And he was saying that by doing that youíre as much a part of a systematic idea as the ART that youíre supposed to be against. That all sounds serious. He came up with an idea which was to think about what youíre doing for yourself, and now all of a sudden itís developed into this huge militant idea which young teenagers buy into. And itís just part of the package again. I think it has a lot of validity, but itís one of those things where anything that ends up becoming a movement, ends up being diluted. And I fundamentally donít agree with that. I mean, part of the problem is of course, until people get behind it and it becomes a movement then it canít make a difference. But Iím just not into that ramming things down your throat. Thatís the bit that I think isnít going to make a difference. You either agree with it, or if youíre like me, donít smoke or do drugs. Drink, but donít think Iím dangerous, but then when I see things like that ...I mean. Yesterday I went to a hardcore all dayer in Nottingham, and there was so much about this there. And some people were wearing 2 crosses on their hands. Whatís that? Does it mean youíre twice as straight edge as anyone else.
Just as a sideissue here. From what I understand, as much as what Karl said Mackye coined the straightedge term for, it also has itís grounds in underage people having their hand marked with a cross when they entered a club. To indicate they were underage and therefore shouldnít be served alcohol. Fine, no problem. Good idea and much more acceptable than turning kids away from clubs. This then grew to become a symbol of being straightedge and abstaining from drugs, alcohol and promiscuous sex. But, why the need then for 2 crosses? Sorry, letís return.
Thereís just no validity in it. I mean, I completely agree with the idea of it, but as soon as thereís 16 year old kids going round doing the same thing, then the potency of the message isnít there because itís preaching to the converted. What, thereís 200 kids there doing the same thing to each other, trying to out vegan each other. Things like that. Iím not really into it. Do what you thinkís right and thatís all there is to it. I mean, people saying something to you doesnít make any difference. Itís like smoking. How obvious can it be that itís bad for you. Anyone that has any idea about sort of an abstract thought pattern realises that youíre going to do something bad to yourself. But that doesnít stop half the population from smoking. So how can you being annoying and having a cross on your hand change the way people think.
I also found it kind of ironic that the end of the message was about a "vegan deathcore" band. Isnít vegan and death a bit ... Yeah, well I mean, itís all getting so, the parameters are being blurred more and more and ideas are being mashed together. Basically what youíre talking about is short haired kids playing death metal and wearing big trousers, talking about an idea that is 18 years old which was about being an individual. Standing there with the same fucking rucksacks on and the same fucking keychains. Rucksacks, keychains. My favourites. Well, along with Kerrang! of course. You understand it. Itís just ludicrous. But Iím sure that I was the same at that age.
The vegan part of it. Are you, me being nosy now, are you vegan because of the health thing or because of the animal thing. The whole animal thing. I donít really have a problem with eating animals, because thatís like Darwinian theory, itís just law, the way it is. But itís way industry has been created around it that I donít really like the idea. You got animals, kill them. Thatís your business. But to set up and the whole idea of animals being fed animals is pretty repugnant to me. I was a vegetarian for a while and then it occurs to you that the same chain of events is occuring in the production of dairy products. And also I was interested in various Eastern diets. Thereís a diet called the macrobiotic diet, which is basically vegan by default, and so thatís how it came about. I mean Iím a vegan in diet. I still wear leather because itís pretty fucking hard to find clothes that arenít. And how far do you push it? Yíknow, if you drive a car, the interior is held together by horse glue. I mean where do you draw the line? You have to compromise in life and itís very easy for people who are priveliged who donít have to make these value choices to be holier than thou about it. It comes across to me sometimes as people just trying to be different for the sake of it. Hey, I know, why donít you just not bother eating, because everyone eats. And also the bottom line is that itís a commercial line. It goes hand in hand with music. If you say youíre a vegan straight edge then youíre going to have an audience thatís ready to listen to you, but youíre not achieving anything because youíre preaching veganism to people who are vegan, because thatís how you got your audience.
So what do you think of all this genetically modified food business. I think itís pretty fucking scary is the immediate response. Because I eat a lot of soya. Iíve not really followed it that much. Basically whatís transpired is that Soya was the first genetically modified product by the sound of it. But, again, itís just the idea of producing greater yields by manipulating nature. Eventually that is a cyclic thing that ends up causing problems because itís not something you can continue doing indefinitely without there being repercussions. Itís like I go out and try to find something that says "not genetically modified" because potentially it could be a very dangerous thing. Itís one of those things, by the time you hear about it, itís too late. Itís always the way. Do you think the media helps in this in the way they portray anything. It seems that the scaremongery tactic. Youíve also got the menengitis scare going around, e-coli. But itís all sensationalism. And itís probably disproportionate. Particularly this e-coli. The thing that strikes me is that hepatitus bug that manifests itself and thereís no antibiotic for it and it basically eats away flesh. Itís been happening for the last 20 years, but the cases have been very isolated. But there happened to be 2 in one hospital and suddenly it was epidemic. But the media gives you the story and so itís like an idea already planted. Itís not you being given the information and formulating and idea, itís it being given to you. But, by the same token, thatís their perogative to do that, because they provide an opinion. You canít get opinionless news really. Because itís subjective because someoneís writing it. Yes, but donít they have a right to give as many facts as possible and it seems that they just give you one side. For example, it appears to have taken a few weeks of reporting before theyíve explained say what to look for in terms of meningitis. Well thatís it. You never get real information because itís all soundbites. Soundbites are what sells. But BECAUSE itís such a mass media at the moment and everyone seems to rely on TV and radio for their information, then it should re-enforce their duty to the public. But their duty is to earn money. Primarily. The fallback of that is to provide information. Theyíre all commercial interests. Itís not like an information bureau as such. I think thatís the problem. Everyone has their own agenda.
It strikes me that a bit of what I think youíre saying is wrong, is the interfering with nature. So, leading on to something different yet related by nature, I was wondering if you had any opinions on the euthanasia business.
Itís a tricky tricky thing isnít it. I mean I certainly donít think Iím qualified to come out with any statement on it, but, I think every individual has a right to choose their own path. And if youíre of sound mind, then you should have the right to choose when you finish living.
Iíd agree. My personal opinion, is that if theyíre on about doctors taking the role of playing God, well they already are by administering any medicine discovered this century.Death is a part of life, so by NOT administering any treatment, youíre effectively allowing nature to take its course. Yeah, I mean again, itís a very contentous issue, and thereís the sensationalism again because like you say, itís already in effect. So just by making a statement like that youíre not paying any attention to anything made after the invention of penicillin. If they have no quality of life and they are deemed to be able to make a sound judgement, then they should be able to make the decision.
The lead in to this is that just before Xmas in the States there was the case of Dr Jack Kervorkian performing an "assisted suicide" on television to bring the matter to peopleís attention. Do you think thatís the wrong way of going about things? I think, I suspect that was a last resort. Well I believe he said he wanted to be arrested to prove the point. Iím not a very militant person, but you have to respect the fact that someone who feels very strongly about it has tried to take a specific course. And if that is what they deem to be the logical conclusion of that, thatís what has to be done. I mean it takes militants to change things. And then they bring something to the fore, and people agree or disagree with it, and it becomes a forum for discussion. People just speaking about issues doesnít change anything I think. Itís too complicated really. Personally I think he was right. It provides people with a sense of dignity before they die, and thatís something they deserve. I think itís obvious that itís right, but I think itís down to the popular concensous, and the people in power have to maintain a friendly image. You canít make decisions like that because it affects other foundations. Like religion. The foundation of this country is religion, and one of the ideas of religion is that God giveth and God taketh away and if you legally give people the right to do something which is technically within their capabilities and therefore within their right, then youíre threatening other perceived important areas of culture.
Do you believe in God yourself. Yeah. Do you believe in the afterlife or reincarnation? I donít really know. I think you can become very fatalistic if you donít believe thereís a bigger picture than yourself. Either that or you become highly egotistical. I often wonder. I remember reading an article, where it was asked in America what people thought would be in Heaven or whatever. And most of them thought there would be a Baseball park And so I wonder if there will be something or not. I just think it will be what you want it to be. Because itís a conceptual thing, itís not a realistion thing, so given the nature of it, it will just be what you want it to be.
I certainly hope so. Iíll be able to see whatever gigs I want then, the people I want to like me actually will, and interviews like this well get typed up automatically instead of me working until 1.45am to get it finished. So letís return to lighter things. The music. Thought of what to say about the album yet? What you hope it will achieve for you?
Well, Iím really proud of it. I think weíve improved what weíve done, and also allowed more space for us to move forward in the future. And I just hope to build on what weíre doing. Iíd like to think thereís a chance for us to able to be successful in this genre of music and be able to concentrate on that.
Any plans to try and get out on some major tours to push the album that step further?
Yes. Weíve actually had to turn down quite a few tours this year because of various work commitments and so forth. And also because of wanting to concentrate on recording a new album. The perception of it may be strange to record a new album 8 months after the last one came out, but those songs are really old to us, so it was just killing us to play the same things night after night. The point of us being in a band is to write music, not play music for people to watch us to. I mean thatís a by product. We just really wanted to write some new songs and get them out.
There seemed to me to be a strong Tool element in the first album, and also a Will Havenish type of thing. Has it gone towards either one of those more?
No. The proportions are the same I think, itís just honed. I donít think itís lent any way particularly. If this album was a pot, then it would have the same mix of ingrediants as the first one, just that itís fuller. Itís more 3 dimensional I think. I donít think weíre as spacious as Tool. I mean, theyíre a brilliant band. In terms of dynamics thereís something that I think every band that has a brain should want to aspire to. But weíre much more direct than them.
The bottom line about all this stuff, the reason why the lyrics are obscure, or perceived to be obscure which is more to do with the fact that theyíre not really intelligable than they are actually obscure, is just that Iím not really interested in broaching issues. Itís just music is just a sonic idea, and if itís strong in itís own right, then itís strong in itís own right. I donít think you personally have to have any particular attachment, or an easy line to hitch into. A lot of people say you are given a forum and therefore it is your obligation to be saying something important. But the people should be able to relate to the strong music and the good sound. Because thatís the dominating idea of making music. And that is the underlying thing that we do. There are a lot of things that weíre interested in, like you pointed out the veganism, and Iíve got very specific opinions on that. But I donít want to infect our music with those ideas.
But people should be infected with the music Earthtone9 are currently producing. Since this interview took place, the album has been released, and Oz is back from Oz. Touring is underway again, and the reaction to the album from the mainstream press means that the E9 profile should deservedly start to elevate further.