Well folks, my recent birthday has officially put me more than past the halfway point to the grave. You’ll be rid of me soon (“not soon enough,” I hear some of you screeching). Usually, people in my age bracket (but not tax bracket) pull up the parking brake on their listening habits and start grousing about how music was better in the past and about how there’s nothing of worth being made these days. All those motherfuckers can take their immaculately-manicured laws, their picket fences and 2.5 kids, their tucked in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame souvenir t-shirts and 50+ inch flat screen televisions and shove it all up their creaky old buttholes. There’s tons of awesome shit out there to be experienced, if you choose to open your ears. One of the most awesome bands I’ve come across in the past few months has been Berlin’s Earthship. Part sludge behemoth, part quirky math metal monster, part psychedelic thrash, the band’s second album, Iron Chest, has recently seen the light of day on Pelagic Records and it’s well worth whatever eartime you can give it. I caught up with drummer Dennis Böttcher for an email chinwag and here’s what he had to say.
How do you feel Earthship has changed since being pared down to a trio? What have you had to do differently to compensate for the lack of second guitar to keep things as heavy as you’d like/want?
Well, first of all it´s easier to communicate `cause there are only three stubborn people left to get along with haha…But seriously, as you said the main problem was to maintain the punch of two guitars. Therefore [guitarist] Jan [Oberg] is using two full-stack amplifiers now which he can switch between, or blast them both. So, as far as the carrying of the equipment goes it still feels like there is a second guitar player in the band. Also, Jan is using some effects such as an octaver and harmonizer to do the double lead stuff as good as possible. It´s safe to say that playing as a three piece is more work for all of us ´cause there´s no time during a song where anyone could sort of “hide” behind a certain part or another instrument. It just has to be focused and intense all the time. As much as we miss [former rhythm guitarist, The Ocean member and Pelagic Records CEO] Robin [Staps]’s playing and his company, it’s better like this for everyone involved. And we’ve all known each other for so long that whenever we do get to hang out it always feels like a family-vacation or something…
It sounds as if the vocals have improved greatly since the first album and you’re experimenting with them here and there, like in “Athena.” Was this something you had to work a lot on to get to the point where you felt comfortable?
I guess it all comes down to more confidence in playing the songs off the first record live and getting more used to singing while playing the guitar or drums. That simply took time and practice to get comfortable with and it gives the songs a little more depth on another level. So, we tried to push that a little bit further and played around with some ideas in the studio without having some kind of masterplan of where we want to go. Some vocal lines developed in this phase of recording and there are still some parts where combining the playing with the vocals is tricky, especially in my case, being responsible for the drumming and the clean vocal parts live. But it´s a challenge, and that’s what one should be aiming for as a musician. But anyways, thanks man…glad you like it!!!
I read your bio and the explanation of the album’s title and I don’t get it. Can you explain it for people who are a lot dumber than you are?
We all might have been in a little bit of a mind-expanded state when we came up with that…haha! For me it works on a subconscious level; everyone’s got an iron chest inside of himself where he locks his trials, pain, humiliations and what not and that’s ok ´cause that’s the way we react to these things. And having a key on the front cover hints towards the important question: what, or better who (obviously, not any sort of religion), is the key to opening my personal iron chest? The door opens both ways. By having your soul secured in this chest, nothing won’t ever harm you anymore, but you´ll lose touch with the outside world and won’t be able to have experiences which might show you new perspectives. So you can either say “fuck all that” or you could say “fuck all that, but now show me something.” The choice is yours… Really, it’s a bunch of hobby philosopher’s bullshit…
How would you describe your “riff writing philosophy”?
As the song goes: “One bourbon, one scotch, one beer”!!! It’s mainly Jan who comes up with something new and we jam around on that tune or he´s got some riffs that belong together and we arrange them. We´re just trying to create songs we all dig and not to pay too much attention to what people may favor. It’s all about coming up with the music you wanna listen to yourself…
How did writing and recording Iron Chest differ from [first album] Exit Eden? Do you have any interesting or fantastical tales from your time in the studio?
On Exit Eden, Jan had most of the songs and riffs already written. We rehearsed them pretty shortly before the recording session and changed a little bit here and there, in order to keep some kind of spontanity involved, which we love. Later on, Jan and I sat down to write the lyrics and the vocal arrangements. We wanted the record and the riffs to sound as dissonant and unconventional as possible. Speaking of Iron Chest, there were only a few songs fully arranged before hitting the studio. All of the rest was jammed out a few times with the microphones fully set up, and then we pressed the record button. That gives the album a great live vibe I think. Theres still some spontanity but in a more fitting way ´cause we all play together now for quite a long time and know each other. You could say that Iron Chest is a way more homogenous record than Exit Eden. Studiowork was pretty focused… like drunken focused..
Despite hailing from Germany, Earthship’s sound has a bit more of an “American” feel to it. I don’t know if you agree with that, but have you found a difference between how different people from different countries have responded to your music?
Like I said before, we don´t try to sound like this or that… be it American or whatever else. But fair enough, all of the bands who made me pick up the drum sticks in the first place were American bands who had that certain bluesy groove going. Speaking of crowd perception, it´s pretty hard to tell. People in the east seem to dig our kind of music quite a bit, but even in “spoiled” places like Germany, UK or France there have been some good reactions. As long as I see some bobbing heads in the crowd I´ll take it as a compliment!
What’s next for Earthship?
Since at least two of us are stuck in full-time jobs, we´ll have to see how we manage touring. We all would love to tour more and there are plans for a European tour around Easter. What happens before or after that, we´ll just go with the flow. Besides we´re already are working on new stuff to put out as soon as possible.