Despite busy schedules and physical distance, the members of San Diego-based instrumental psych-rock band Earthless manage to stay on the same page | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Despite busy schedules and physical distance, the members of San Diego-based instrumental psych-rock band Earthless manage to stay on the same page

“We really don’t like to go too long without meeting up and playing on stage or getting together.”

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That the members of Earthless are able to achieve their unique brand of blues-based synchronicity — alternately focused and freewheeling — owes a lot to off-stage efforts to get on the same page.

The heavy-psych three-piece — comprised of bassist Mike Eginton, drummer Mario Rubalcaba (also of Off!) and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell — formed in San Diego. Their work in other bands has always placed time constraints on the project and now, more than a decade in, they find themselves in separate cities, as well. But despite the obstacles, Earthless remains a priority.

“We really don’t like to go too long without meeting up and playing on stage or getting together,” Mitchell says by phone. “We all have busy lives. Mario and Mike have families. I live in a different city, about 500 miles away from those guys, so … we do have to plan ahead.”

Earthless makes much from little. Its instrumental excursions, which often reach run times of up to an hour, are built upon the most basic components of blues-based rock, which are extrapolated to the furthest degree and performed with infectious fervor. The resulting sound — a swirling, spilling brew of relentless riffs poured over a driving and cohesive rhythm — would feel self-indulgent in less capable hands. Mitchell and company, however, ride the wave to transcendent revelation.

“Improvisation is the majority of it. We do have cues. We know when to go into the next parts, but those moments between cues, it’s all improv,” Mitchell says. Within these jaunts, the members of Earthless take a jazz approach in communicating their intentions to one another. A drum roll or guitar phrase is as good as a nod of the head. “I might want to come out of something at a certain time and then I look over at Mario, and he’s like ‘No, I’m not ready to come out of it yet,’ so we keep going," Mitchell says.

In many ways, Earthless is an exercise in harnessing happy accidents. “‘Acid Crusher,’ the new [song] that just came out, that’s a riff and it’s all improv, just in the moment and just throwing stuff on it,” Mitchell says. “It came out the way it came out. Improv is still the main ingredient for what we do and why we like to do what we do.”

It’s an approach that doesn’t always work. While the Earthless sound speaks for itself, the band’s yardstick for success is more felt than heard. It’s a fickle vibe they’re chasing. “There’s stuff I am proud of, but there’s other shows [that are] like ‘God, that was horrible!’” Mitchell says. “There are people that come up to you after the show and say, ‘That was amazing!’ and you’re like, ‘Ah, that was fucking horrible!'”

But for Earthless, the rewards outweigh the risks. “It’s not always easy to be super inspired, [to] be super on. You try your darnedest to be, but there’s just off nights,” Mitchell says. “But then the next night for some reason, ‘Whoa, I found myself again,’ it’s awesome.”

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