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22 Feb 2018

Small Band, Big Sound: Earthless Earns Accolades With Its Instrumentals—Although a Brand-New Album Includes Some Vocals

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It’s unbelievable that Earthless puts out such a big sound with just three musicians.

Think of Earthless’ sound this way: Imagine an instrumental version of Led Zeppelin, occasionally with a darker, psychedelic-rock sound. If you want to hear for yourself, check out “Uluru Rock” and “Lost in the Cold Sun.”

The group’s new record, Black Heaven, is coming out March 16; it was recorded at the Rancho de la Luna recording studio in Joshua Tree, with studio owner and Eagles of Death Metal guitarist Dave Catching as the producer. To celebrate, the San Diego-based group will perform at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Thursday, March 8.

Earthless is made up of Isaiah Mitchell (guitar), Mike Eginton (bass) and Mario Rubalcaba, who is also the drummer for the punk band Off!

During a recent phone interview, Mitchell said he often hears people criticize Earthless for not having a vocalist.

“It’s not for everybody; I know that much” Mitchell said about the band’s music. “But I don’t pay attention to (the criticism) and don’t really notice it. I know a lot of people are like, ‘I can’t stand instrumental music. You guys just jam on forever.’ The people who like instrumental music are pretty into it.”

Earthless writes songs in a variety of ways, Mitchell said.

“There are all sorts of different ways to do it,” he said. “Mike and Mario had a couple of songs that were already pretty well worked on and finalized as far as the instrumental bits. … I went in and altered them a bit to make them the songs that they are now. There’s no one way of doing it, especially on this new record. Before, on previous records, Mike would have a riff; I’d come up with a riff; and we’d go back and forth, and it would be one song. Some songs come out of a jam. There’s usually a moment of creativity we all really dig on—and there’s a motif for a song. I haven’t thought of a way that we don’t use to write.”

Mitchell said he has not found his band to be a hard sell for live shows due to the lack of vocals.

“If you have a reputation, word of mouth is really the best way for that reputation to get around,” he said. “We’ve had some people who have never even heard of us go to a show, and they couldn’t believe it. Their minds were blown. I’m not saying we’re blowing minds all the time, but for a lot of people, it’s an experience they’ve never had before, and have never seen anything like it.”

However, things change—and on Black Heaven, there are some vocal tracks.

“I think it might have had a lot to do with time constraints, with getting together and working on multiple large pieces of instrumental music. This just came more naturally with the time we had,” he said. “We do have other instrumental songs that are longer, but we feel like we just haven’t ironed them out yet. They’ll be ready for the next record, though.

“It’s fun to do something different. We’ve done some stuff with vocals before, but not on an album—only splits or compilations. With the time we had, it just felt natural, and it’s a fun experience. We have to block out time for getting together. I live in San Francisco, and everyone else is back down in San Diego. We have to plan it out in advance. I have my things going on; Mario has his; and Mike has his.”

Beyond the vocals, Mitchell said there aren’t too many differences between Black Heaven and Earthless’ previous recordings.

“I think if you listen to our other instrumental songs, the title track ‘Black Heaven, or the track ‘Demon Lady,’ those songs are definitely in line,” he said. “It still sounds like us, instrumentally or with vocals, from our past recordings. There’s a song called ‘Sudden End’ that’s slower with vocals; that’s probably the song that’s so unlike us on that record, because it’s darker and moodier.”

Some instrumental bands find success in scoring films.

“I would love to do that,” Mitchell said. “I think there was something offered to us not too far back for scoring for a film. We’ve done stuff with Vans and surf-movie footage, but it wasn’t the big screen; you’re watching the video and composing on the spot. But I would absolutely love to do something like that and put something together along with a movie.”

Mitchell spends a lot of time teaching guitar lessons via Skype through his personal website—at a pretty reasonable rate.

“I just got off a lesson right as you called me. I stay pretty busy doing it, which is a lot of fun,” he said. “Getting people to come to your house in person, or going over to someone’s house in person—that eats a bunch of time up. So having that schedule on a computer is great. Advertising on the band’s website and social-media pages is also really helpful. People see the ads and think, ‘Oh, I’m in Russia, but I can take a lesson with this guy and pick his brain.’”

Earthless will perform with Kikagaku Moyo and JJUUJJUU at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, March 8, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53668 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20 to $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

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