Dylan Carlson has had his ups and downs. In the 90s, though, it was mostly downs. Back then, he was living in Seattle, signed to Sub Pop, making a string of sludgy guitar-feedback records like Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Edition and Phase 3: Thrones And Dominions that totally upset anyone who bought one hoping it might be a catchy grunge record that sounded a bit like Pearl Jam.
Ten years later, and a total 180-degree reappraisal would see these records hailed as genre classics and a key influence on contemporary drone-doom groups such as Sunn0))) and Boris. At the time, though, Carlson was generally viewed as a bit of a skeezy guy, in large part due to his fondness for guns and heroin (a taste he shared with his friend, Kurt Cobain).
After Cobain’s death, Earth released one more album, 1996’s Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons, before the band petered out in a haze of drug addiction and petty theft. That, most right-thinking people assumed, was the last they would hear of Dylan Carlson. But Carlson wasn’t finished. In 2005, he returned at the helm of a revitalised Earth line-up and has gone on to make some of the greatest music of his career. The new Earth stuff has a whiff of English folk-rock and this turn to paganism has also fed into a new fascination: fairies.
Now, Carlson has announced his first ever solo record funded via Kickstarter, inspired by his supernatural experiences with faire folk on the streets of London town. If Wonders From The House Of Albion is going to be a reality, Carlson needs to earn another $12,000 by this Sunday. So, if you want to make an old grunge survivor a happy man, it’s time to reach into your pocket.
VICE: So, Dylan, when did you begin to get interested in the fairy stuff?
Dylan: I’d always read folklore and mythology as a child, and lately I’ve been listening to a lot of English folk music. But it was after my sightings that my reading really went into overdrive, specifically in regard to the English cunning folk and fairies. On a press trip in London late last year, I had an encounter and when I was over again a little earlier this year, I had another encounter. The plan for the album is that I travel around the UK to make field recordings, atmospheric stuff, in areas where there have historically been encounters between humans and faire folk. Then I’ll layer these sounds with my interpretations of classic English folk songs of meetings between humans and fairies. It’ll be packaged with a film of me travelling around Britain, a book with some artwork, explanations of the lyrics of the songs, and a bit of folkloric information.
According to your blog, your first sighting of a fairy was in Camden.
Yeah, right by the tube station. Camden Tube station actually has some folkloric significance. It’s on the site of a house that was owned by a witch called Jinney Bingham, or 'Mother Damnable'. It’s a tale that the Camden Underworld has since exploited. But there was also a gibbet there, at the crossroads, where they used to hang people and the Fleet River used to run by there – fairy sightings often take place by liminal water boundaries, rivers and the like.
This figure, you saw them quite early in the morning?
Yeah, it was around 7AM. It was dead, no people. Nothing was open. Apart from a couple of coffee shops.
The figure looked different to someone you’d usually see in Camden? They definitely weren’t, like, a cyber-goth?
*So, where was the second sighting? *
I was at Waterloo Station, and I was trying to decide if I could make it out to Mortlake to visit [16th Century scientist and occultist] Dr John Dee’s house. I’d come to the realisation that I’d left it too late in the day and I was going to head back. I was right where you come up from the tube station to ground level, maybe 30 feet from the big clock that hangs in the middle. This sighting was a lot quicker, but it was equally intense.
What differentiates these figures from humans?
The size, that’s part of it. They’re not tiny, they’re not midgets – they’re about my grandmother’s size, about five feet tall. They have a piercing gaze. When I see them, there’s a real sense of a change in perception. Reality becomes sort of brighter, I guess. Things fade into the background. It’s a weird feeling. And it’s different from other weird feelings I’ve experienced, be it seizure-related or drug-related or whatever.
I guess you’d know about that.
What are ‘cunning folk’?
The cunning folk were like magical practitioners, but they specialised in cures, determining if someone has been bewitched, finding lost or stolen items, identifying thieves, love spells. Fortune telling, I guess, was their bread and butter. They would tell people where to dig for treasure – that was kind of like your lottery in the old days, people running around looking for buried treasure. In February I’ve got a cassette out on Tapeworm about Edward Kelley. He was an associate of John Dee and he was a scryer. He would communicate with spirits. Dee would ask the questions and Kelly would write down the answers. The difference between the cunning folk and witches is that witches would use demonic familiars, but cunning folk would get their powers or information through encounters with fairies or dead people.
*Back in the Victorian era people were obsessed with fairies, but it’s really died out in the UK now. In Iceland they’ll still zone roads around the places where fairies live. *
Yeah, around the elf-dwellings. I watched Stephen Colbert when Björk was his guest. He was like “I understand that in Iceland you believe in elves…” and she was like, “Yes, but in America you believe in ghosts!” Everyone has their own supernatural figures. My grandfather had an experience during the war. He was a medic, he worked in a hospital. He used to see these Grey Ladies, or White Ladies. If he saw her image and heard her shriek someone would die. One night some of his colleagues tried to get him to leave the base and go to a cock fight, but he didn’t go. That night, he heard the Grey Lady, and later, when he was doing his rounds, he heard that his friends had been killed on the way back.
*Heavy. So, what happens if you raise the cash? *
Well, at the end of the Earth tour in April, I spend a month in England. The original plan if things work out is to go to some up North – there’s a bunch of sites up around Leeds. There’s a place in County Durham, a place in Ayrshire. I won’t be playing music, it’s to get atmospheric stuff. Some sites are famous for having people hear fairy music, stuff like that. But if I don’t make the money through Kickstarter, I’ll stay closer to London and there probably won’t be as many copies. There will still be a book, I hope, but it’ll be a lot more limited edition.
*Well, good luck with the project, Dylan. I’m sure you’ll get there eventually. *
All fairy quests end in penury or madness. Why would this one be any different?
To donate to Dylan's Kickstarter fund click here.
Click here to watch a film about an Icelandic woman who claims to have had sex with elves.