Photo: Press (Earthen Sea)
After a slew of CDr and tape releases, Earthen Sea first showed up on the radar of dance music enthusiasts with an album and an EP on Ital’s Lovers Rock imprint. It was far from being the first time Jacob Long and Daniel Martin-McCormick had crossed paths, in fact the two have played in about half a dozen bands together, most prominently in the Post-Hardcore outfit Black Eyes and Thrill Jockey’s Mi Ami. Long’s work as Earthen Sea however dives deep into a sonically rich sound that ventures into the depths of Ambient music and Dub Techno. His mix for our Groove podcast is a quiet affair, however it questions the notion of a soothing sound world that has nothing to say about the world surrounding it.
You’ve made a name for yourself in the Post-Hardcore scene in bands like Black Eyes with Daniel Martin-McCormick, now known under his Ital moniker and as the label owner of Lovers Rock on which you’ve released several records. How does a former Dischord artist end up releasing Ambient and Dub Techno on kranky?
I’ve actually been listening to and making Ambient and/or electronic-ish music for almost as long as I’ve played in Rock/Punk/etc. bands. I grew up playing violin and because of that I was sort of pushed at times to be into more modern classical music because as I got to be a teenager playing classical music was not very exciting for me so I ended up finding out about Philip Glass and Minimal Music as an early teen and enjoying it a lot. From there I guess I found out about Ambient music through some chain of events. Details magazine had a 2 page spread family tree of Ambient music that I learned about a bunch of music like Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, spacey 70s Miles Davis, etc. that I love. Reading Alternative Press in the 90s is how I found out about the more underground strains, definitely that is where I first heard about Labradford and Flying Saucer Attack. Around that same time I got a cassette 4 track and started making some – what I’m sure was bizarre – sort of collage-ish Ambient music with loops made from sound FX CDs and keyboard overdubs. From there, I kind of always had some sort of home recording thing going on that was more mellow than the bands I mostly ended up playing in. Over time, that went through a few phases but it picked up more when I moved to California first as a more open ended Drone-based project and then morphed over time into a more song-based thing and then rhythmic elements and beats were added to that over time.
Your new album An Act Of Love was made in a period of your that you have described as emotionally difficult and stressful, with the album serving as a somewhat therapeutic and optimistic way out of that. How was the working process like and was it any different from how you usually approach your releases?
I would say working in general I find to be pretty therapeutic in that it gets me in a mental state that I can kind of be focused on only the music I’m working on and block out everything else going on around me and in my life. I wouldn’t say any of what was going on in my life made how I worked on this album much different than how I’ve worked on music in the past, but some of what was weighing on me certainly comes across in the overall mood I think.
An Act Of Love is characterised by its sonic density. Your collaborative project with Martin-McCormick, Sleeper Cell, relied heavily on the hardware you’ve used in the working process. Which gear was important for the making of this LP? It sounds even denser than your previous work.
Honestly, with the exception of a few FX pedals that were used on a couple of things, this whole record was made using my computer. Though most of the sound sources were soft synths that I recorded onto either my digital 8-track or my cassette 4-track that I then chopped up into pieces and loaded into Ableton, which I used as a sampler and drum machine. So yeah, almost no analog equipment and basically nothing that would really be considered hardware were used in the making of the record. I have spent a long time kind of coming up with approaches and methods of working with sound and I have translated what I used to do with more FX units into how I work with Ableton, but I’m pretty committed to using the laptop for most of my production these days.
In the past, you have also taken care of your records’ artworks and also An Act Of Love seems to have been made by you. Why is it important to you to control also that aspect of your music?
It’s not so much having control over that aspect but it’s more that I enjoy having an outlet for artwork that I am making and I feel there is a relation between the language I am interested in working in visually and musically with a focus on texture and density. Especially the charcoal work I’ve been doing lately makes sense to me as a compliment to the mood of the music.
Your mix for our Groove podcast fuses Ambient tunes by Avantgarde composers like Ekkehard Ehlers with more contemporary sound art by Jan Jelinek or Klara Lewis. What was your concept for this mix?
There wasn’t really any big concept behind the mix. I had a general vibe in mind and a couple of pieces or artists I knew I wanted to include and went from there. That Klara Lewis record is a recent discovery I’ve really been loving a lot. Without really thinking about it I ended up including a couple of other kranky artists as well.
The mix ends on a poem by Claudia Rankine which deals with police violence towards Black people which creates a stark contrast to the rather soothing sounds before. Why did you include that particular piece and why exactly at the very end of the mix?
There were a couple of reasons I included that piece. One is that reading her work, especially Citizen, in the past year or two was something that weighed heavily on my mind and my thinking in terms of some of the music I made for this record and just the world in general. Secondly, I thought that the soundtrack for that piece – which I believe was made by her husband John Lucas, the audio is from a video that they collaborated on – fit well in the overall sound world that the mix had constructed. And thirdly, I put it there to raise that exact question: Was the previous music “soothing”? Does it really have nothing to say about the world? Or is there something in this sort of sound world that can or does suggest something deeper in terms of its interaction with us and the world at large? I personally am aiming for that more than for something that is “soothing”.
When Bandcamp announced that it would donate all of its proceeds on February 3rd to ACLU, you uploaded a collection of unreleased tracks called A Serious Thing to support the cause and donate money from your own sales as well. Which options do Indie artists from the US have these days to get politically involved under a government that cuts funding for the arts and geopolitically isolates itself?
I can’t say that I have any real answers to that one. All of us will have to figure out what that means for ourselves and collectively, but I figured the little I could do for now was to go through my archives and put some music out there that wouldn’t have been available otherwise and hopefully raise a little bit of money for some people trying to help make my country and the world a better place – or keep it from becoming an even worse place.
Last but not least: What are your plans for 2017? You only seldomly perform live, will this change in the foreseeable future?
I would love to play more live it just hasn’t really happened much yet. I guess but I have a few things coming up. A brief trip to the West Coast, a few shows in the Midwest later in spring, hopefully some things around New York after that and then I’ll see. I would love to play overseas at some point this year if that happens so I’m going to see if I can make that work!
Stream: Earthen Sea – Groove Podcast 94
01. Hazard – Stile
02. Klara Lewis – Want
03. Stephan Mathieu – To Describe the George Washington Bridge
04. Slow Walkers – The Flood
05. 154 – Apricot
06. Ekkehard Ehlers – Plays John Cassavettes Pt 1
07. Third Eye Foundation – Donald Crowhurst
09. Jan Jelinek – Moire (Piano & Organ)
10. Earthen Sea – Horizon Of Thinking
11. Rob Mazurek – Waxing Crescent #1
12. Vladislav Delay – Ele
13. Chris Herbert – Chlorophyl
14. Anjou – Readings
15. Claudia Rankie/John Lucas – Stop and Frisk