Those of you who have been paying attention already know that Earthless are one of the best heavy rock bands going right now, but you may not have known that guitarist Isaiah Mitchell has another band, Golden Void, and they’re almost as good. Along with bassist Aaron Morgan, drummer Justin Pinkerton and keyboardist/vocalist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell, they crank out fuzz-drenched nuggets of arboreal splendor (although apparently the band would prefer not to be tagged as psychedelic rock). “Silent Season,” off of their second album, Berkana, may not be extremely extreme, but it’s extremely good and should appeal to the Queens of the Stone Age fans out there. Check it out below, along with an interview we did with three quarters of the band.
What inspired you to start Golden Void?
Isaiah: I moved up to the SF Bay Area in 2010 to be with my wife and GV keyboardist Camilla. Aaron and Justin already lived here and wanted to jam so we started playing with no certainty of what would happen. Justin and I were in our first bands together in grade school and Aaron was in bands we’d play with at parties back in San Diego so it was really easy and fun to revisit our youth. I needed some kind of musical outlet to fill the void due to not being able to play with Earthless all the time.
What do you feel Golden Void allows you to explore that Earthless doesn’t?
Isaiah: I’d say just a basic pop song structure with vocals. There’s still jammy elements to Golden Void and that can be interpreted as crossover from Earthless but we use that classic “intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, solo, verse, chorus” (something like that) to get the point across.
How does the chemistry differ from Earthless?
Isaiah: a lot of the songs are brought onto the table written outside of us getting together in a rehearsal room whereas Earthless has written a lot of the material just by jamming and being spontaneous. In Earthless there are songs that we’ve thought out and structured on our own then work it out at rehearsal as well but I feel Earthless works a lot in the moment.
There’s a little more of a laid-back vibe on Berkana than your debut. Did you approach this album differently?
Isaiah: I guess it’s just the songs this time around that chill it out a bit. It did seem a bit more out of left field to record something like “Storm and Feather” because it’s pretty mellow compared to songs on the first record, but that was very enjoyable to do. We’re just learning who we are as a band I guess. Being only the second record I feel that there’s lots of room for us to still explore new ideas and dynamics because we haven’t pinned ourselves down by sounding like this or like that. We love music and we want to play what feels natural and honest whatever that may be.
Justin: I don’t think the basic songwriting approach was much different than the first album. A bunch of ideas were thrown out there, some were used, some weren’t and we went from there. I think the only significant difference was we had a recording date set before we had a good chunk of the songs ready. So, it pushed us to get things done. Whereas, with the last record, we had more songs together and were able to play a chunk of them live before going into the studio. As far as the laid-back vibe, maybe we’re just getting old. I think we still have some aggressiveness in us, or whatever you want to call it. Just didn’t end up on this record. All in all, we’re pretty mellow people so it sort of makes sense.
Camilla: I think we wanted it to be different…wanted it to have a bit more depth which to me naturally might end up being a little less aggressive or full-on. We also had more money and time to make it! Thats definitely going to keep things a little more laid back energetically. That and the Scotch.
How do you feel you’ve grown since your debut?
Isaiah: we explored greater song dynamics more this time around than we did on our first album. We were willing to have a lighter touch. I think our first record we wanted to grab people’s attention by playing hard and loud and this album we’ve taken a few deep breaths and relaxed a bit.
Justin: On the first record we just sort of getting together, playing music, writing songs, didn’t really know where it was going to go; things fell into place and we had an album out. And, even then, we didn’t really know what was going to happen. Fortunately, people like what we do, so that helps. Now, I feel like we’re more of a “band,” and are conducting ourselves in that way; as opposed to just messing around. Otherwise, I think we’ve grown musically just by playing together more. Most of it in a live setting but regardless that always helps cultivate the seeds of creativity.
Camilla: Yeah, I agree with Justin. We have jelled more as people and musicians together since the first record. That makes a huge difference to me.
Are there any themes that the album explores (on a lyrical level)?
Isaiah: There’s a lot of nature in there. We seem to use a lot of nature in lyrics and album imagery.
Camilla: I wrote a couple of them and I tend to write when I’m wandering out in the woods alone. So there’s a lot of that – just taking time to observe the world particularly the natural world and letting it inspire how you look at life. Seasons, cycles, life, death…it’s all there.
Are there any songs that are especially meaningful to you?
Camilla: “Burbank’s Dream” really is because the lyrics were written in Luther Burbank’s old farm in Sebastapol. He was this early pioneer horticulturist that created all kind of strains of plants and fruits and such. I’d never been there before and even though there’s not much left, a lot of the trees on the property were planted by him and you could just sense that those trees and that whole place was his life’s dream – and here I was nearly a hundred years later soaking up the energy of that. Weirdly enough I went back months later and there was a little printed message on the door that wasn’t there before that talked about his spirit still being on the property and will remain there as long as we continue to “reverberate his dream”. I was shocked to read that because we’d already named the tune Burbank’s Dream based on the lyrics and the feel. I guess we’re inadvertently the continued reverberation of his dream.
Why did you choose to continue the cover art theme of “branches against a golden backdrop)?
Justin: I think we just liked this image that Camilla had. Maybe we naturally gravitate to that sort of stuff. There were a few images that were put out there and this one just stuck out, for me at least. It was only a coincidence that it sort of “goes” with the artwork of the first album.
Camilla: Welllll, I have to admit I have tried to create a theme that does kind of make all the records “match” in some way. I can’t help it…I’ve been a graphic designer my entire adult life and worked in branding for years and years so I guess it comes through in this stuff too. I figure we have a logo, we have a name, it’s natural that our albums might have a theme or brand to them too…it makes everything visually cohesive I think. I like to think of people lining up all our records and thinking that they’d all go really nicely together on a wall as a unit. As for trees…we hang out in the trees a lot! And Isaiah liked that this one also sort of looked like the moon from a distance.
What is it about the general “psychedelic rock” genre that you find so appealing?
Justin: I think it’s just what comes out. We’re not very “psychedelic” people. We’re not trying to play psychedelic music (and what is that anyway?). We all listen to a lot of different genres and styles of music and for whatever reason, the end result gets labeled as psychedelic. It’s not a bad thing at all, we’re obviously influenced by the music of the original psychedelic era, as well as modern stuff, so I’m sure that plays a role in it. But when are working on a song I don’t think anyone is consciously aware of making it “psychedelic” or not.
Camilla: Freedom maybe? It seems like if you’re not playing techno, pop or death metal and you use a delay pedal you’re potentially “psychedelic”. In all honesty it’s an overused and slightly generic term but I think that creates a really wide space to play within. If there are less limits on what falls into that genre we can bend who we are as a band and what type of tunes we want to write without totally alienating people who liked the last record.
***Berkana rolls out September 18 on Thrill Jockey. Preorder it.