Earthless (Photo by Camilla Saufley)
For more than 15 years, Earthless has been snaking its way through extended psych improvisations, plunging into musical uncertainty only to find a complementary riff or phrase to spin out for a few more minutes. Somehow, the instrumental psychedelic rock band has never played Richmond, despite harboring a sympathetic allegiance to Black Sabbath’s plodding approach to metal that the city’s music scene seems indebted to.
The trio’s recorded output, which most recently swelled to include a collaborative album with Harsh Toke, brims with live recordings and collaborations. And while working for so long within the constraints of riff-heavy psychedelia could have resulted in metal-hued stagnation, some gratifying developments have cropped up thanks to a dose of serendipity, says drummer Mario Rubalcaba over the phone from his San Diego home.
Richmond magazine: Earthless’ last three releases either have been splits or collaborations. So, why work with White Hills, J. Mascis’ Heavy Blanket and Harsh Toke?
Mario Rubalcaba: It hasn’t been too thought out, but we have friends in a lot of bands we’ve played with throughout the years. And someone always comes up with an idea — ‘Let’s make 1,000 of these [albums] or do a live collab.’ I know a lot of our fans like to get the live [recordings] — I think of it in terms of someone like the Grateful Dead. Their fans like those live recordings, and every one of our shows is different.
RM: On the split with Harsh Toke, there’s some hand drumming and organ. Those sounds seem like new ideas being incorporated into the Earthless aesthetic.
Rubalcaba: That was a beautiful accident in that we were just in the studio to work on that project. That jam we came up with was just something me and Mike [Eginton, bassist,] were messing around with while [setting up] the mic. It kind of has more of a Funkadelic vibe to it — really laid-back with an Eddie Hazel thing going on. It wasn’t intentional, but we just like that old groovy kind of stuff. … If you listen to it on headphones, you can hear it phasing [between stereo channels], just trying to get the studio-engineering thing out of our system.
RM: Do you think improvising in a rock context is given short shrift compared to jazz?
Rubalcaba: I definitely think what we do kind of leans toward jazz. But that wasn’t where we were coming from when we started the band. In the course of doing this for so long ... we’ve realized we’re kind of on more of a Coltrane trip than a psych-band thing.
Earthless and Ruby the Hatchet play Strange Matter Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m. 929 W. Grace St., $15 to $18. 447-4763 or strangematterrva.com