Even though it seems like a weird match, it’s totally logical that Seattle heavy-rock mystics Earth and grimy UK dub outfit the Bug have collaborated. You can hear the results on an immense, grave EP titled Boa/Cold (due out Nov. 28 for Record Store Day, on Ninja Tune). Since the late ’80s, both artists have trafficked in some of the heaviest music in the rock and electronic realms. Led by guitarist Dylan Carlson, Earth basically invented ambient metal with Earth 2 and producer Kevin Martin, in addition to the Bug, has helmed many forward-thinking acts (God, Techno Animal, Ice, King Midas Sound, etc.) that push an extreme sonic agenda, favoring stylistic mutation and an ill textural vocabulary.
I caught up with the Berlin-based Martin by phone on Sunday while he was in San Francisco, the afternoon after playing a show with Wolf Eyes. He’d only been awake for five minutes when I called. The Bug (with MC Manga) performs at Nectar Lounge, Thursday November 13.
How did this collaboration come about? What was the inspiration for it?
It mostly happened because I'd become a good friend of a guy called Simon Fowler, who I commissioned to the artwork for my next album. Simon had already worked with Earth and Sunn O))) on artwork for posters and album sleeves. I met him through Kiki Hitomi of King Midas Sound [Martin's lovers-dubstep project]. I met him at a show where metal band Corrupted were playing with Copeland in London. Through the conversation, he became interested in the Bug, started coming to Bug shows more and more often. He said he came from metal and noise rock and he said he became disenchanted with them and got obsessed with my shows. I said, 'I know you know Dylan [Carlson]. I'm working on my new album and I'm looking for an instrumental for it. Which will continue to stretch the parameters and atmosphere of what I was doing on London Zoo. I want someone who will lay down a hugely distinct atmospheric pressure on a track in the center of the record.' He said it was a great idea and contacted Dylan and Dylan said he'd love to.
Ironically, after I approached Dylan and we'd been in conversation about it, I subsequently found out he'd already chosen a King Midas Sound track for a podcast he'd done for a label called Small But Hard that Fowler runs. Weirdly enough, we seemed to know each other through other people. Dylan's a good friend of Justin Broadrick [Martin's old bandmate in Techno Animal], as well.
Did you ever meet in the studio with Dylan, or did he send you parts and you worked your studio alchemy on them later?
It was all done by mail. I met him in passing at Unsound in Krakow, Poland, just after I'd sent him the sketches. That was actually the first time I'd met him. He'd already got back to me saying he loved the sketches. Those sketches were my bastardizations of reinterpretations of classic dub-reggae rhythms. I decided to reproduce bass lines to the 'Cuss Cuss' and 'Tempo' rhythms and slowing them down even more and adding layers of incidental drone. I sent him those as sketches. He then recorded his guitar parts. I was so blown away by them, I fucked off the original sketches and rewrote music around his guitar parts. It was a work in progress, a continual mutation in the time I was working with him. It was a good inspiration.
“Boa” and “Cold” sound a bit like Techno Animal to me, especially the heavy rhythms.
I guess that’s inescapable; I was half of Techno Animal, you know? [laughs]
Hard to get that out of your DNA.
Exactly. It’s in me. I like thugged-out, bass-heavy hiphop rhythms that are slow and monolithic. [Carlson] likes thugged-out rock rhythms that are slow and monolithic. It seemed like a perfect match. Any resemblance to Techno Animal obviously isn’t conscious. It’s interesting that you and one other guy mentioned that. Justin Broadrick from Godflesh was completely blown away [by the collaboration]. He said it reminded him of a new version of “The End” by the Doors. That was pretty astute, as well. But again, it was obviously not in my mind at all. I needed a big centerpiece track for my record and I knew that Dylan would fit the bill.
The first time I heard Earth 2, I wasn’t sure what the fuck to make of it. It seemed like this gray, droning, slug-like music. What the fuck is this? That’s a great reaction from me. Because when something perplexes me, it becomes something I get very intrigued by and love getting immersed in. Earth’s music is about total immersion, and I feel mine is, too—particularly when I move away from working with vocalists. I wanted something deeply impressionistic, something unfathomably deep, and something that was environmental for my record. With London Zoo and Angels & Devils, it’s all about constructing this parallel universe that’s part geographic and part hugely internalized. I think Dylan’s a master of doing that.
Did you hear Earth 2 right when it came out?
I did. I was interested because the reviews ticked all the right boxes for me. I always want to like metal, but nearly every aspect of it turns me off. Bands like Earth, early Swans, Godflesh, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, Sunn O)))—they do all the right shit for me. They get rid of the cartoon, theatrical shit and bring it down to the basics of metal: hallucinatory atmospheres, super heavyweight rhythms. A lot of those acts I just mentioned, they’re almost dub-like; it’s the space between the notes that becomes so important for most of those artists. They don’t fill the canvas with unnecessary bullshit, musically or philosophically.
Are you into all of Earth’s music?
After Earth 2, I hadn’t paid them much attention. I’d heard Hex in passing and was really intrigued, but somehow didn’t get back into them. It was only when they did the Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light records that I went back to them. There was a huge gap. I’d become more interested in Sunn O))) in the intervening period, through the Monoliths record. But when I went back to the old Earth records, I was head-blown by Pentastar and Phase 3. Angels of Darkness became my cycling soundtrack around London. Generally, I’m a night owl and I cycled around the city when it’s virtually empty, because it’s the only time you can stay alive without being knocked down by homicidal car drivers. Earth was the perfect soundtrack to that. I became more and more obsessed by that record and hence started to investigate the old stuff. I realized just how good they were. Every single record is huge. Dylan is an incredibly talented guy. I’m humbled by his involvement and positivity toward the project. When I did send him the sketches, he said he’s like for me to potentially get involved in remixing the [Earth] back catalog, dub style. But my idea of dub style isn’t going to be some wanky, fake Jamaican, fake reggae thing. It’s gonna be creating something inspired by Jamaica but not trying to reflect it in a cheap, cheesy way. At some point, I hope to have a crack at that. It’s just time.
Earth’s music hits me like heroin in the head. You get lost in an opiated, hallucinatory haze in your mind, you get lost in the spaces between the notes. Even though Bug was drifting to a much more visceral, much more physical and less cerebral [sound], in most cases, I still wanted to continue the idea. The reason I didn’t put the Dylan tracks on the [Angels & Devils] album is because they were so valid in their own right. I was so excited by them, I didn’t want them to be seen as just part of my album. They stood out as potentially an ongoing project in their own right. I haven’t heard anything like them. They sound like areas of my new album that exist in some mid-Atlantic, underwater parallel world. We both want to do more together, but we both been washed away by album commitments: Dylan with Primitive & Deadly and me with Angels & Devils. It’s funny: He has a snake logo on his record, we ended up having a snake as part of our logo. Looking back on our collaboration, it’s fantastic that there are so many weird crossovers. It’s almost like it was meant to happen.