Father Earth: “I’ve always felt like the thing that really motivates me is, ‘Is the riff something that’s worth repeating, and does it convey my conception of the song?’” says Carlson. Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
Let’s talk about gear. How important is your gear to the songwriting process?
I’m much less gear-centric than I used to be. I realized over the last few years that no matter what I use, I’m going to get my sound and be me. And obviously, there’s slight variations based on gear choice, but I realized I could have saved myself a lot of time and money in the early days.
What guides your preferences?
I don’t like a lot of pedals. I think there’s almost too many to choose from nowadays. [Laughs.] I see some people’s pedalboards and I’m, like, confused. I think some of the prices on gear lately are ridiculous. You don’t need to spend $10,000 to sound good. I’ve always been a big MXR fan. I use a Custom Comp, which is the sort of nicer version of the Dyna Comp. I love the regular Dyna Comp, too, but I find that the Custom Comp has a lower noise floor. And then I like the Shin-Juku Drive for distortion. Then, I just got this HBE Dos Mos, which is a dual MOSFET preamp. I really like it because it allows me much more textural options, where the distortion becomes a texture, too, so I can also do a loud cool sound. In the studio, I’ll end up using more modulation to separate the tracks and to color them. Live, I reduce the number of effects I use.
What about amps?
I’ve actually gone solid-state. [Laughs.] I have a bunch of tube amps lying around and they all need servicing and are annoying to carry around. Right now I’m using a DV Mark 50-watt solid-state head, and I have a Crate Power Block solid-state head. I think a 50 watt is the largest head you’d ever really need. You’re never gonna get to the sweet spot on a 100-watt head, you know? We all grew up with pictures of Hendrix with these huge amp stacks, and that was because they were playing without PAs. Nowadays, you don’t need to do that.
One of the best shows I think we ever did was opening for Neurosis in London, and I was playing an old WEM Dominator, which is basically a 15-watt amp. People were saying how great we sounded that night, and no one thought we were too quiet or not loud enough. Because a 15- or 30-watt amp will scream. People seem to forget that you double the wattage of the amp and you’re only increasing the actual volume by 3 dB. All you’re increasing is your headroom. If you want the harmonic enrichment, you have to drop the headroom.
I guess my favorite guitar would be the Tele. Right now I’m on a bit of a Strat jag. I’ve played other guitars, but I always seem to come back to the Fender style. I find them the best for touring, ’cause they have the straight neck instead of the angled headstock, and they’re not finicky. They get the job done and they take the road really well—whereas set necks and headstocks that are angled are accidents waiting to happen.
How did you first get into guitar?
My parents were into music, so I grew up with a lot of music around me. But no one really played an instrument. And then when I got into music, as in buying my own, AC/DC was the first band I got into, and that’s what made me want to play rock ’n’ roll, I guess. For a long time, I wanted to play guitar, but never really got around to it. Then one day my dad suggested it, so I bought one finally on my 15th or 16th birthday. A good friend of mine at high school who was a big prog-head showed me a few chords, and that was sort of my beginning. I immediately started trying to write songs rather than learning other peoples’ songs. I taught myself the rudiments of theory. Although, the thing I’ve always tried to remember is, the music comes first—the theory grew out of that, not the other way around.
What influences your guitar playing?
I’d have to say the guitarists I really gravitate to serve the music or serve the song—people like Steve Cropper or Cornell Dupree. I’ve always felt like the thing that really motivates me is, “Is the riff something that’s worth repeating, and does it convey my conception of the song?” I always find it very interesting when people talk about a song I’ve done, and they’ll say it’s similar to something I may have thought about the song, and the landscape I may have envisioned for it.
Earlier you mentioned how the music industry on the whole has somewhat lost sight of the album. Do you think this would ever shift your approach to your own music?
When I was young, Buzz from the Melvins was talking to me and he said, “There’s two ways to do things.” He was speaking specifically of music, but I guess it could apply to other things. “You can try to jump on the trend, or what’s happening at the moment, and you might succeed famously, but you might not. Whereas, if you do what you do and you just keep doing what you do, eventually people are going to pay attention to it, hopefully.”
I’ve always tried to follow that advice. I just do what I do, and just try to keep doing what I do, and it’s obviously not the quick route, but it’s seemed to work up to this point. I haven’t had to take advice from record labels, or play songs by hit songwriters I don’t know or don’t like, or dress up in clothes I don’t want to wear. You may not have a mansion on MTV Cribs, but you can go to sleep at night and look at yourself in the mirror, hopefully.