by Kat Parsons

Earth Tongue: Near Death Experience

by Kat Parsons

Earth Tongue: Near Death Experience

Released in August, the latest single from Auckland-based Earth Tongue is called Miraculous Death, an exciting new track that combines heavy psych rock with gothic horror, and comes accompanied by a stunning self-directed music video, both made with the support of NZ On Air Music. Amid their NZ tour, the duo of Gussie Larkin (Mermaidens) and Ezra Simons (Red Sky Blues/Soft Bait) sat down with Kat Parsons to chat about the Earth Tongue sound and the single. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

“Well, first of all, we like to be loud and fuzzy and full,” states Gussie Larkin, guitarist/vocalist. “I think we are driven mostly by what we enjoy playing. Sometimes the riffs that we play can be a bit complicated and hard to wrap your head around, and so there’s something satisfying about being able to play these weird time signatures or interesting feels.”

“I think we’re obsessed with finding melodies that are unexpected but really hooky,” adds drummer/vocalist Ezra Simons.

The Earth Tongue duo began their journey together back in 2016 with the release of debut EP ‘Portable Shrine’ and gigs around their hometown Wellington. Their psych rock sound plays homage to the ’60s/’70s era of the genre, whilst also pushing the boundaries with odd-ball rhythms and eccentric zeitgeist. Earth Tongue’s dark and heavy instrumentation intertwined with hypnotic vocals has cemented their appeal. After their 2019 album debut ‘Floating Being’ dropped, the pair toured Australia, Europe and the UK, and they’ve received praise from the likes of BBC Radio6.

Mostly their songs start life with the guitar part, as Larkin explains.

“Sometimes it starts with the drum rhythm, but usually myself or Ezra will have been playing by ourselves, and we’ll come together and figure out that guitar riff with the drums. Then we just play it around and around; get our heads around it because sometimes they’re sort of off-kilter rhythms.”

Miraculous Death is a trance-inducing track that combines elements of monk-like chants, grungy guitar and heavy, expressive drums. Aggressive yet elegant, Larkin and Simons’ ‘other-worldly vocals penetrate through the instrumentation adding a sense of eerie charm to the song. 

“I remember coming up with the chorus,” Simons relates. “It was in lockdown number one, which was such a weird time to be writing music, and we found it really hard. We were trapped in the house feeling strange. This was very collaborative. I came up with the chorus, [she] came up with the verses, I came up with the breakdown.”

“It’s hard to go deep on our lyrics because they’re really just fantastical stories that sometimes have a starting point from something we’ve seen in a movie,” Larkin continues. “Or, we’ve got lots of books about witchcraft and demonology and strange phenomena, so sometimes ideas or phrases come from those books.”

“It’s more of an aesthetic than it is a meaning for us,” Simons offers thoughtfully. “Which is probably quite different to how most people go about lyrics, but we like to have that kind of otherworldly content.”

“I guess the guitar of the chorus riff has a sort of medieval Gregorian chant about it,” smiles Larkin. “Maybe that’s where we came up with this sort of medieval imagery.”

The track was co-produced with Jonathan Pearce (The Beths) at their home and Pearce’s Karangahape Road studio.

“We’re pretty particular with the recording that we do, especially with the drums,” Simons affirms. “We got Jonathan’s old eight-track tape machine and I think for this one we even used a 1970s Ludwig kit that we borrowed. We also always delve very deep into guitar tone, so it was a great working relationship with Jonathan because he’s got a huge collection of old vintage NZ gear. It was fun having a big sound explore!

“We’ve been very slow with our recording because we’re particular, and also I think working with Jonathan is quite a careful process – loving every guitar tone that you’re recording,” agrees Larkin. “I really like working that way but it takes a lot of time. We did a bit at home. We’re set up to record guitars and vocals and so we often do overdubs at home as well.”

Emulating a ghoulish 20th-century novella, Earth Tongue’s self-directed music video captures the essence of the single through the lens of a 16mm film French cinema camera from the early ‘90s. Set in a gothic mansion and reflecting themes of the occult and horror films of the ’60s – ’70s, their clever use of lighting, colour, and jarring cuts catch the eye at every turn.

“We’ve made all our music videos ourselves. We really enjoy it and can’t imagine anyone else doing that,” explains Larkin. “I think the tone of our videos is unique and that’s something I think that sets us apart from other heavy bands. We don’t really play into the tropes of the genre with really dark, serious music videos. It’s a bit tongue in cheek and I think people find it refreshing.

“I guess the location is the star of this video,” she continues. “I kind of went through a few different ideas, trying to conceptualise what we were going to do, and they were all requiring an epic, spooky house. The house that shot it, we found on a film shoot website. We went and checked it out and the guy that owned it was nice and let us run wild, which was lucky because it’s very fancy. I don’t think he realised that we were like, ‘This place is so creepy’. Like big Victorian horror vibes.”

Simons reveals a fun farce to look out for.

“In the dining room scene if you look pretty closely, she’s got one of those fancy metal things over the food, and in one shot she reveals that it’s just an egg and soldiers,” he laughs.

Earth Tongue are known for their tight, head-banging live performances. Despite only being a two-piece, they manage to create a full-sounding set. Between shows of their August tour, the duo is adamant that practice makes perfect.

“Playing live compared to recording is totally different, because we don’t get to do overdubs and there’s nowhere to hide,” contemplates Larkin.

“The way Gussie’s guitar set-up is it’s basic guitar, but it splits the signal off to a bass amp as well,” Simons explains helpfully. “So with each chain of guitar pedals, we kind of get a bass player and a guitarist playing at the same time. We feel like we need to be very well rehearsed!”

“We’re all about a live show,” Larkin adds. “So we try to be as tight as we can.”

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