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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell Talks About New Golden Void Album

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 10:26 AM

click to enlarge golden-void-promo1.jpg
Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell may be best known for the jaw-dropping pyrotechnics he unleashes as a member of the instrumental power-trio Earthless, but that may change once fans of psychedelic music get a taste of Berkana, the latest album by Mitchell's Bay Area-based quartet Golden Void. 

The group came together in 2009 after Mitchell moved to the bay from San Diego and reconnected with jamming partners from his teens, bassist Aaron Morgan and drummer Justin Pinkerton (who both played in prog outfit the Roots of Orchis and experimental kraut/psych band Eyes). After the addition of the guitarist's future wife and Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound keyboard player Camilla Saufley-Mitchell, the band recorded its self-titled Thrill Jockey 2012 debut.

With well-crafted tunes that deftly mix elements of muscular proto-metal and gauzy, swirling psychedelia that showcase Mitchell's largely unheard soulful singing voice, the album announced Golden Void as yet another entry in San Francisco's long lineage of celebrated neo-psych groups. While a follow-up has taken some time to get together given the guitarist's regular touring commitments with Earthless, this past spring the band convened with noted producer Tim Green (Melvins, Comets on Fire, Sleepy Sun) at his Louder Studios in Grass Valley.

Fans of Mitchell's incendiary guitar heroics will find plenty to love, but the multi-hued new effort Berkana finds Golden Void stretching into quieter, more emotional territory with the building, slow-burn intensity of "I've Been Down" and the moody, surf-tinged introspection heard on "Silent Season" and elegiac closer "Storm and Feather." To celebrate the new album's release, the band plays a summit of local six-string greats at the Chapel on Saturday, Sept. 19, sharing the stage with headlining SF psych/surf favorites the Mermen and opener Kehoe International, which features guitarist Bryan Kehoe (MIRV, Les Claypool's Duo de Twang).

Mitchell recently spoke with All Shook Down about recording Berkana at Louder Studios, some of the musical influences that come through on the new album and his future plans with Earthless.

When you went to Louder Studios to record, did you leave some leeway as far as developing the song further once the recording process started? Or was everything pretty well-rehearsed as far as the structure going into the studio?

I’d say 70 percent was pretty realized and nothing changed too much and the other 30 percent we weren’t fully settled on everything. That’s kind of why we wanted to go with Tim Green, because he’s really good at helping you finish songs and he’s a great producer as well.

So it wasn’t completely 100 percent realized and we were kind of under the gun. The label wanted us to put out a record and we were under prepared, so we did a lot of cramming last minute. It was kind of fun, because it really made us work, which we needed at the time. I was busy doing Earthless stuff and everybody was busy doing their life and projects and family and work and all that stuff. 
It was really nice to just have it be, “OK, here’s a deadline. Let’s meet this, no ifs ands or buts, or we’re going to wait another year. And that’s not good.” So that was really helpful. We didn’t have everything entirely finished. I think “Storm and Feather” was kind of loose-y at the end. “I’ve Been Down” was loose. And Tim helped round them out and added a lot to the other songs as well. They wouldn’t have sounded the same with anyone else, that’s for sure.

Would you say Tim’s instrumental contributions as far as actually playing on the record were more important to how the songs ended up? Or was it his ideas about arrangements and that kind of thing that shaped the songs more?

His musical contributions were awesome. He does this baritone guitar thing on “Astral Plane” that brings this spaghetti western spookiness to it that adds a lot to the song. That’s great production right there. But helping us figure out how to end something – slowly tapering down from a really high feeling and kind of mellowing out to end a song – that was helpful too. I don’t know, he’s just always helpful in anything that he produces.

Again, it wouldn’t be the same record if it wasn’t made with him. Every song would have a little different quality to it. You’d be using different instruments or omitting instruments, the phrases or melodies would be different, or guitar stuff. I kind of think all around would have been a different record.

On “Astral Plane,” I was kind of wondering if that might be Tim playing the flute?

That’s Camilla. We’re super stoked about that. She had more of a hand in the process of all the songs. She had her input on this album, whereas before, she just came in last minute because we wanted keyboards and she filled in that role just fine. But on the first record I did all the vocals, she didn’t do any.

So on this record, she’s an actual full-fledged member of the band, which is awesome. A lot of these songs are a little mellower and kind of call for a gentler tone. We were all really excited to get the flute in there. It’s a nice texture.

The solo trade-off at the end of “The Beacon” between you and Camilla – unless Tim happens to be stepping in on keyboards there – is one of my favorite points on the album. It sounds really in the moment, but did you already have that planned as a way to close the song?

That’s just Camilla and I trading off and then sharing the last part. I think before it was a guitar solo, but I didn’t want it to be an all-out guitar solo kind of thing. It’s nice to hear other instruments and other sounds to make it more exciting than just guitar all the time.

I’ll give Tim credit on this for making it go back and forth between Camilla and me. He had this keyboard, I think it was a Wurlitzer, totally cranked. It sounded pissed off! A really pissed off keyboard sound. That was Tim. That song needed a lot of help as well I think. We had it pretty realized, but going into the studio, stuff still changed. You’ve got to meet certain time requirements, not going over time-wise for the record. I think he helped shave that down and shape it to what it was. But I’m pretty sure it was Tim that offered the suggestion of going back and forth.

It’s funny that you’re bringing the Mermen out for the release show, because there’s something about your playing on the new album that strikes me as more surf-influenced. There are sounds on “The Beacon” and “Silent Season” that definitely remind me of Mermen guitarist Jim Thomas.

I remember when Justin brought that in – “The Beacon” is Justin’s song – and we were practicing over at our place. It wasn’t sounding right, but then that came out and I remember stopping and thinking, “Crap. I have been listening to a lot of Mermen lately.” Jim is one of my favorite guitar players, so no surprise there.
As far as influences I hear, I’m catching a touch of David Gilmour and Pink Floyd on a couple of songs. I especially hear it on the mix of acoustic and electric guitars on “Storm and Feather” and on the solos of a couple of other tunes.

Oh yeah, totally. On “Burbank’s Dream,” after I played the solo, we were listening back to it and Tim was like, “That was awesome! Let’s use that one.” And I go back and I’m like, “Ah crap, it’s “Comfortably Numb!” And he says “No it’s fine! Don’t worry about it...”

But Camilla and I were listening to a lot of earlier Pink Floyd, and I already love David Gilmour and listen to Pink Floyd enough already. We were listening to more bootleg live stuff. She wanted to tap into more of Rick Wright’s stuff, his style of playing and tones and all that, she wanted to touch on that. It’s kind of like the Mermen; if you listen to enough of it, it starts coming out in your playing and it just happens. You’re definitely not thinking about it.

It’s kind of musical osmosis.

Yeah, totally. Some people could take that the wrong way, like “Oh, they’re trying to copy them” or whatever. But if I listen to a bunch of Band of Gypsies before a recording, I’ll naturally, accidentally play some Hendrix licks because I’ve been listening to it; the same with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. I don’t know; it just happens. But I dig it, because it’s a little capsule of what you’ve been up to at the time and what you’ve been listening to.

Do you have a timetable as far as making a new Earthless record? It seems like the band is always touring in different parts of the world a few times a year.

Yeah, we’ve been talking about getting together down in San Diego to work on new stuff. I feel like we’ve got a lot of ideas we’ve been messing around with the last couple of times I was down there. We’ve come up with some new stuff. We definitely have stuff for a new record; I just need to get down there and get it finished.

Mario has been super busy with OFF! but next year I think he’s going to be laying low a little bit more. I hope we can record a new one by next year. But worst case, I think we should have material to record by next year. Like everyone else, we’d like to not wait six years for another record. I think it’s already been two years this October. Time is flying! Maybe by four years at the latest [laughs]. That’s still long, but that’s the way we’ve been doing it forever. We just do it on our own terms when it feels right, not pushing anything to make it not natural.
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Dave Pehling

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