I last interviewed Fred Laird in 2006 when Earthling Society had released their second album, Plastic Jesus + the Third Eye Blind (CLICK HERE to read that interview). Since then the band have released five more full length albums, had a 7″ single out on the Fruits de Mer Records label, and contributed to several Fruits de Mer compilations. With each new release the band demonstrate that they remain on the cutting edge of the contemporary space rock/psychedelic axis. In the following interview, we discuss all the albums since Plastic Jesus, and bring the world up to date on all things Earthling Society since we last chatted in 2006.
CLICK HERE to visit the Aural Innovations Space Rock Radio page where I’ve posted an all Earthling Society radio special to listen to while you read the interview. Scroll down to show #318.
Aural Innovations (AI): Let’s pick up from where we left off in 2006 and work our way through the catalog. While listening to the third album, Tears of Andromeda-Black Sails Against The Sky, I was reminded of the band’s original mission statement that Earthling Society formed with the intention of creating music influenced by their heroes Funkadelic, Ash Ra Tempel, Can, Amon Düül II and Hawkwind. The album has the variety that I think has become an Earthling Society trademark through the years. You manage to cover a lot of ground while somehow remaining cohesively and distinctly Earthling Society. Wromg gets into a Neu!-ish groove. Black County Sorcerer is a floaty dreamy song. Lucifer Starlight goes into distinctly Amon Düül II Yeti territory. A Song For John Donne is totally spaced out psychedelic trippy. And the title track is a 20 minute Space/Psych/Prog jam.
Fred Laird (FL): Yes, no matter who we try to sound like we always end up sounding like Earthling Society; which I suppose is a good thing, although I do find us to be a bit of a curate’s egg to some people. Maybe because they can’t attach a specific tag to us. To me, Hawkwind, Funkadelic, Can, 13th Floor Elevators, and AD2 all fall under psychedelia and not spacerock, krautrock, acid rock. If it’s trippy and out there whether a pop song or a long jam then it’s psychedelia right?
AI: Beauty And The Beast is the most SONG oriented of all Earthling Society albums, though there’s still plenty of deep space-psych rocking. You’ve got alien pop-psych. A couple songs reminded me of a psychedelic take on the 60s band The Association. Parts of A Modest Flower have a Beatles feel. You really went into some different territory on that album.
FL: We just got signed to 4zero and we felt we had to do something a bit different. A lot of those songs were old, going back 10 or more years, stuff I had written in my previous band. I had this urge at the time to do a Moody Blues thing or that soul medley in ‘A Wizard A True Star’, were there were these nice pop standards that sounded like they were recorded in space. A utopian feel.
AI: I like how Beauty And The Beast opens with Drowned World, which has fascinating contrasting elements occurring at once. The odd rhythms and piano add a sort of avant-garde element, but at the same time you’ve got ripping psych guitar and spaced out atmospherics and effects. It’s very intense and disorienting. And THEN you follow it with the Country-ish Candlemass, which is a complete shock. Thinking about that makes me wonder what kind of thought goes into the order of the tracks on Earthling Society albums?
FL: Jon (drummer) wrote the bass line to Drowned World. Well he can’t play bass but he’s the greatest drummer and it’s the odd rhythm that he brings to the song. Kevy Canavan played some wonderful Aladdin Sane style piano on that which I think is the best bit of keyboard playing commited to a ES release. I used this old Teisco guitar that would do a little whistle between each chord, but the noise would send a signal down the mic to the 24trk and cause it to stop. It was a great song to record and is still one of my favourites. It’s definately on the VU meter. Candlemass came directly after it to show the transition from ‘Tears..’ to Beauty And The Beast as the opening track is more reminiscent of the former. But yeah, it’s a kind of WTF moment. I still think if some mainstream country pop act or whatever did a version of it, it would make me a lot of money… ha ha. Sadly, although we started to get reviews in the mainstream monthly magazines with Beauty And The Beast, it met a lot of indifference. It’s a strange one really as it’s retro but it sounds like Earthling Society; not just a band that thinks to be psychedelic they have to wear a nehru suit and play a vox phantom.
AI: On the longer Earthling Society tracks, of which there are many, you guys really do a good job of transitioning through multiple musical themes. This really stands out on the next album, Sci-Fi Hi-Fi. There are several examples on the album but I’ll single out the 20 minute E.V.I.L.U.S.A. It’s got some of the most high intensity rock I’ve heard from you guys, but it’s also got pastoral elements, classic Prog elements, and the finale is like a combination of old time sci-fi TV show theme and spaced out disco! That may sound all over the map to someone who hasn’t heard it but it all comes together seamlessly. How does Earthling society create tracks like that? Is it a combination of improv and composition?
FL: Well when I write a long song like that I try to keep the same chords for each piece, simple as that really. All I do is change the style of the song to reflect the mood. I really can’t be doing with music that has one chord going on for 30 minutes while the guitarist tries out his 30 pedals, so I’ve always worked with the ethic of changing the mood and style to keep one interested. I think we were really lucky to get away with that ending to E.V.I.L. It’s borderline kitsch. The keyboards are that bad they are almost taking the piss!!
AI: Tell me more about the topic that E.V.I.L.U.S.A. is addressing. The lyrics stand out… “Can you feel the evil of America”.
FL: I was reading the book ‘Shadow over Santa Susana’ by Adam Gorightly about Charles Manson, MK Ultra, the smuggling of nazi war criminals into the US like Josef Mengele, operation paperclip, that kind of thing. It’s about the darkness that lays beneath the American government and the CIA. How Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan, Lee Harvey Oswald could be linked in a Manchurian Candidate kind of way. Well that’s what the song is about…
AI: Is it safe to assume that Temple ov Flaming Youth is a play on Genesis P. Orridge and Temple ov Psychick Youth? That’s an interesting reference for Earthling Society.
FL: It’s a nod to Psychic T.V and Kiss. The reason for the latter is that when I was recording the melody I kept on singing ‘Flaming youth’ over the top messing around. Not sure where the PTV reference came from!!
AI: One of the things that struck me about the next album, Stations Of The Ghost, is the strong presence of acoustic guitar. The Last Hurrah starts off sort of space-folky with a Country-ish vibe. Child Of The Harvest has a strong acoustic element, though across its 14 minutes it goes in a variety of directions. I love the combination of acoustic guitar, ripping electric guitar and atmospherics on The Halloween Tree. Even Night Of The Scarecrow, with its Stoner space riff rock, includes strumming acoustic guitar space-folk passages.
FL: I think the acoustic guitar is a very important instrument to use in colouring songs. Something that struck me years ago when listening to ‘Forever changes’. It gives a power and reinforcement to the songs. It also gave the album a kind of rustic vibe like those early 70’s bands like Mighty Baby. It suits the mood of the album which is very Autumnal.
AI: Your latest album is Zodiak. When Nasoni first released it on vinyl, other than the brief Silver Phase, this album was all about side long jamming epics. Was that just the mood you were in at the time?
FL: I don’t know. We just replaced our bass player Luis Gutarra who was on SOTG with Kim Allen. Luis is a very good but busy bass player that suited the tracks he played on. But the problem was playing live was not an enjoyable experience. The songs were like playing maths, it was horrible. So I wanted to strip it back and Luis’ playing style was not suitable. I wanted to enjoy playing live again and Kim was the perfect remedy. The whole album was written, rehearsed and recorded within 6 weeks on and off. SOTG took over 12 friggin’ months!!! It was like a reborn ES. We were listening to QSMS ‘Happy Trails’ and Live/Dead at the time. It was like the psychic playing that you hear about in the Can stories of how they read each other’s minds during rehearsals. It just came together in a very connected way.
AI: Tell me about the themes of those two lengthy tracks, Zodiak and The Astral Traveller. The music on Zodiak has lots of great rocking grooves and really feels good. But pay attention to the lyrics and you realize how disturbing the subject matter is. It starts with “I need a witness. To document my sickness”, and ends with “Jesus can’t save me. A shadow baits me. I hate all human kind”. I assumed this is about the Zodiak killer who terrified northern California in the 60s-70s. Ditto for The Astral Traveller. Like the title track the music feels great but has lyrics that are more akin to doom metal, like “Oh my darkly sweet, sweet Satan. I kiss your hoof”.
FL: I think there’s this notion especially in doom metal and Goth that a serial killer must dress in black, wear makeup and listen to NIN’s all the time or Electric Wizard. I find it quite cliched. I think the serial killer is having a jolly old time on his killing spree and is probably tuning into some nice country channel or putting on the best of the Carpenters into his stereo cassette player. Zodiak was more about ‘Henry Lee Lucas’. When he was arrested he told the Sheriff, “I done some real bad things”. That’s what the theme started from, that one sentence. As for Astral Traveller, well I just thought it had that mournful empty sound, but it’s hard to really explain. There’s a melancholy to the track that somehow explains the loneliness of the occultist’s main goal. Now that actually sounds very pretentious!!
AI: When 4 Zero reissued Zodiak on CD you had several additional tracks, plus the title track had several minutes tacked on. Would you have preferred the Nasoni release to have been a double LP set?
FL: No, the aim was to make two seperate albums, although some people think the album more complete without the extra tracks. Can I just expalin that Silver Phase is on the CD release. All that track was was the final few minutes of Zodiak faded in and out. So the Zodiak on the CD is both the title track and Silver Phase combined.
AI: Is Nasoni only doing vinyl now? For a long time all their releases came in black vinyl, a limited number of colored vinyl, and CD.
FL: Not sure really Jerry. They only offered us a vinyl release which we was happy with.
AI: 4 Zero released the Moon of Ostara album last year, which was a Fred Laird solo project. I liked the space rock with ambience and electronica with a dash of Berlin school and some Manual Gottsching styled guitar. How did Moon of Ostara come about as something separate from Earthling Society?
FL: Well we finished SOTG and I was getting very frustrated with the band at that point. the gigs as mentioned earlier were crap, the band wasn’t connecting as a unit and quite frankly the wrong people were on board. I just needed to do something on my own, secretly hoping I could jack it all in and go solo but having Jon (Drums) come along too. I was listening to a lot of Manual Gottsching and the first 5/4 Eno albums and just went for it. It came together very quickly. However, I didn’t realise that ES was a bigger beast than I thought and that I just couldn’t walk away from it.
AI: As of Beauty And The Beast I see that the band was still the original trio of Fred Laird, David Fyall and Jon Blacow, plus a different keyboardist. I don’t have credits for Stations Of The Ghost but see on Zodiak you have a new bass player and you and Neil “Vert:x” Whitehead share keyboard/synth duties. Neil has been posting about Earthling Society shows on Facebook. Is he a member of the band now? I believe I saw him post that Vert:x had come to an end now.
FL: Dave (Fyall) left the band during Beauty and the Beast. He played on one track and before that on Black Country Sorceror on Tears of Andromeda. His last FULL album was Plastic Jesus. He had a lot of personal demons at that time and he moved away. I believe he’s ok now which makes me happy. Sadly we haven’t been in contact for over 4 years. Neil (Vertx) is our main guy on keys now. I always wanted to be a guitar driven band with the keys/noises in the background, but Jon with his progressive background always wanted a ‘proper’ keyboardist. That issue has been resolved now and I think the line-up we currently have is the best, if not better than the line-up around 2007 and Roadburn.
As for Vertx, I think it’s just sleeping…
AI: You’ve made several contributions to Fruits de Mer Records compilations and even had an Earthling Society single on the label. There were some interesting and varied covers you did. Fleetwood Mac’s Green Manalishi, Amon Düül’s Paramechanical World, The Chocolate Watch Band, and The James Taylor Move which I’d never heard of before. How were the cover choices made, or are they assigned to you?
FL: No, we made the choices and FDM just say yay or nay. The James Taylor move was requested to us from long time friend Jules Normington who used to be Radio Birdman’s manager. He has a wealth of musical knowledge which is quite staggering.
AI: I liked your contributions to Fruits de Mer’s Strange Fish series. You were on Strange Fish three, the theme of which was “Kosmiche/Motorik/Sequencer/Neu!/Schulze influenced music.” The first two shorter tracks had a nice spacey cinematic quality. And Kiss Of The Vampire was like Motorik Klaus Schulze, but then goes off into a trippy dreamy acoustic psychedelic segment.
FL: To be honest I wasnt sure about it. It’s ok. I actually thought it would get rejected but FDM really liked it. It’s had some great reviews, comparisons to Broadcast etc; I was surprised by the reaction.
AI: Have you been playing many live shows/festivals?
FL: A few festivals and the odd gig. We’ve been more busy than the previous couple of years but it’s still not enough. The genre is so small. Apparently there’s a psychedelic revival happening but we’ll probably miss the boat and get left behind on our little desert island. Nevermind. But yeah, we’d like more gigs and more festival please… anywhere… especially abroad!!
AI: Earthling Society formed in January 2004. So as we exchange our emails you’re coming up on your TENTH anniversary!
FL: Jeez I don’t know what to say about that. In 2004 it was just a happy little project. Happy near anniversary Jerry and thanks for your support all these years…
AI: Any current/upcoming projects or news to share?
FL: Yup look out for our next album ‘England have my bones’ in 2014. It might just be the album to bow out to….
EARTHLING SOCIETY DISCOGRAPHY
Plastic Jesus And The Third Eye Blind (2006)
Tears Of Andromeda: Black Sails Agains The Sky (2007)
Beauty And The Beast (2008)
Sci-Fi Hi-Fi (2009)
Stations Of The Ghost (2011)
Moon of Ostara – The Star Child (Fred Laird solo album)
Fruits de Mer Records contributions
2-song 7″ single (cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi” and The James Taylor Move’s “And I Heard The Fire Sing”)
Strange Fish 3 (3 originals)
The Crabs Freak Out (1 original)
Head Music (cover of Amon Duul’s “Paramechanical World”)
Sorrow’s Children: The Songs of S.F. Sorrow (cover of The Pretty Things’ “I See You”)
Keep Off The Grass (cover of The Chocolate Watch Band’s “Dark Side Of The Mushroom”)
For more information you can visit the Earthling Society web site at: http://www.earthlingsociety.co.uk/
Interview with Fred Laird conducted by Jerry Kranitz