The concept of music changing and growing as it is being produced also informs Earth’s attitude towards music as a tangible object. “It’s unfortunate that we have to engage in the fiction of music ownership, but that’s the world that we exist in at the moment,” Carlson says. Davies says, “I’m in a real struggle with myself about it because I do believe music shouldn’t be controlled, bought and sold. The other side of it is if you want musicians to be able to do what they do, they have to be able to pay for insurance and pay for a van and all of these other things.”
To combat the double-edged sword that is music ownership, Earth has become dedicated to making the tangible manifestation of their music something their fans will actually want to own. “I hate to sound like a businessman or a mercenary or whatever, but nowadays with the downloading and all that, you have to do something with your merchandise that makes it special and makes people want it,” Carlson says. The cover art for recent Earth albums has been particularly great, and Southern Lord is well known for the quality of their vinyl releases and packaging. “I like vinyl. I’m an old fucker. When the vinyl comes out, it feels like I’ve actually done something. Even in the early days with the first Sub Pop EP, there was no vinyl,” Carlson says. “Yeah, I got something out and I was excited about it, but I didn’t really feel like I had done an album until Earth 2 came out on vinyl.” Both Angels of Darkness albums feature cover art by Stacey Rozich, and the vinyl versions have images of her art etched on the D-sides. “I used to be a control freak about [the cover art], especially in the Sub Pop years,” Carlson says. “I designed the covers. Now I find an artist I like and pretty much let them do their thing. We usually give them an advance copy of whatever we have available. I do what I do and I let other people do what they do, and that seems to work better—I’ve yet to be disappointed by it.” It seems Earth’s fans have yet to be disappointed as well, since vinyl copies of their Southern Lord albums are increasingly harder and harder to come by.
This month, Earth will embark on a European tour. Rejoined by Karl Blau, who was absent from the band for much of 2011, this tour will mark the first time that Earth has played much of the material from Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II. After the tour, Carlson will head to England to record his first solo album outside of Earth. “It’s gonna be English folk songs, or at least my poor interpretations of them, especially when dealing with occult themes [such as] human and faerie interactions,” Carlson says. “I’m gonna do some field recordings at various sites of such occurrences in England. That’ll probably be primarily acoustic instrumentation. I have some friends who are going to do the vocals, it’ll be all female singers.” The ambitious project was successfully funded via Kickstarter in early February, and it will also include a DVD of Carlson’s performances at these sites as well as an illustrated book.
Maybe Carlson’s solo project will finally disassociate Earth with their early sound and move Carlson firmly away from the time when he included muscle cars on his album art. Or maybe this will further ingratiate him with the metalhead crowd, who have shown an interest in the occult since the days of Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Ultimately, though, neither of those things matter. If nothing else, the music of Carlson and Earth has strongly emphasized the fluid nature of music and understanding. At the end of the day, only one thing matters, according to Carlson: “Like I said, that’s always why I’ve liked rock n’ roll—that ecstatic feeling it gives you.”