Fucking rock

By Seth Combs

Epic solos! Epochal riffs! Epiphanous james! Earthless are equal-opportunity mind-blowers

Most drummers throughout rock history have had a bad case of frontmanitis. It's a syndrome that goes by many other names and has degrees of severity, but the symptoms are all too familiar: Wistful glances followed by scornful glares at the lead singer. Overcompensating solos. Temper tantrums about the sound coming out of the monitors. You know the type.

Mario Rubalcaba does not have frontmanitis. For 10 years now, he's pretty much been the star of the show as drummer for local rock trio Earthless. He's developed a huge local following over the years by playing in a who's-who of San Diego bands—Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes and Clikatat Ikatowi (a stint as a pro skater didn't hurt, either). Yet most fans had no idea how deep Rubalcaba's musical obsession ran until Earthless appeared on the scene.

“For some people who followed what I was doing before, it was a complete 180,” he says. “I was more surprised that the people who were into Rocket or the punk bands I played in, they were pretty receptive to it. It still had this ferocity and urgency in the playing that maybe transferred over from the punk bands. I have a lot of different tastes, and I like to play a lot of different stuff.”

To describe Earthless' music is a bit like describing a dream, or why a particular part on the new South Park episode is so funny. It's not going to mean anything to the person you're describing it to because they weren't there. They'll lack the contextualization and more than likely just stare at you in bewilderment. For the sake of argument, I had two friends and a 7-year-old describe the Earthless sound off-the-cuff: They sound like The Grateful Dead if they'd been influenced by The Mops and Metallica.

It's what I'd want to listen to if I was fighting the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. Epic, space-rock, dude! I only listen to them blazed.

Wow, this is crazy. I want to break something. Mom, can I break something? What can I break?

Whether it inspires you to break something or blaze one up, Earthless—which also features guitarist Isaiah Mitchell and bassist Mike Eginton—set out to play what Rubalcaba describes as “Japanese-psychedelic-heavy-Kraut-rock.” The vast majority of the songs are instrumental, and while Rubalcaba's description is apt, even he agrees that a “Japanese-psychedelic-heavy-Kraut-rock” section in Hillcrest's Thirsty Moon Records (which he owns) would be a stretch.

“When you talk about Earthless and you try to describe it, even to me it sounds like I wouldn't know if I'd be into it,” he says, chuckling. “Jam-metal? A band that jams, but has an edge? I don't know, but when we play it, to me, it just has a sound that takes on its own identity.”

In fact, there's nothing altogether straightforward about the band's sound except, well, that they fucking rock. Yeah, let's go with that description: Fucking-rock. Hell, just look at the last comment a female fan (I assume) left on the YouTube stream of their cover of The Groundhogs' “Cherry Red”:

I rub my clit to this song. Well, damn! But, perhaps the most interesting thing about Earthless is their ability to appeal to seemingly different musical cliques. They're psychedelic and jammy enough to pack in a room full of hippies at Dream Street in O.B., but they also have enough riffs and street cred to attract metalheads and indie geeks. There's just something in Mitchell's colossal guitar solos and Rubalcaba's feral skin-pounding that's perfect for throwing up some devil horns one minute and a peace sign the next.

“Realistically, I just want to play to people that appreciate a groove and like to trail off and get in a zone,” Rubalcaba says. “We've played with metal bands like Baroness and Russian Circles, but we've also played shows with Dinosaur Jr. and Tortoise. It's a challenge to play to different crowds, but most people just get it.” Their last release, the monumental, two-disc, four-track live record Live at Roadburn, came out in 2008 and was followed by extensive tours of Europe and hitting up summer festivals. Mitchell has since moved to the Bay Area, where he's originally from, but he and Rubalcaba use file swapping via e-mail as a means to keep playing together. Contrary to the immediacy and intricacy of the band's music, all of Earthless' members approach the band with Zen-like patience. That's not to imply that they don't take it seriously; it's just how they planned it from the beginning.

“By the next time Isaiah comes down, he's probably going to have a thousand ideas,” Rubalcaba says. “We haven't found time lately to keep playing and developing the music, but it's working fine and it always has for us. We're not too worried about it. We're lucky that we don't work in the typical way that most bands rely on. We just take a look at each other and say, ‘What do you wanna play tonight?'” CB

Earthless perform with 400 Blows, Rats Eyes and Widows on Saturday, Dec. 4, at The Casbah. myspace.com/earthless