Isaiah Mitchell: Interview With Earthless & Golden Void Supremo
Hey Isaiah! How are things? I’m very pleased to get to speak with one of my favourite guitar players and thanks very much for taking the time! It’s a pleasure to have you with us here on The Sleeping Shaman!
Hello! Thanks for reaching out and for the kind words! 🙂
November 2012 sees you fronting a new band and releasing a debut self-titled record with Golden Void. I hear this is not an entirely brand new act however… Can you tell us a bit more about the band: how you got together and what are the ideas behind the music and the record?
I moved up to the San Francisco area in 2009. Drummer Justin Pinkerton and bassist Aaron Morgan whom I’ve been friends with since Junior High, already lived up here. I’ve been playing in bands with Justin since the high school days and Aaron played in bands that we played house parties with. When I moved up here to be with my now wife Camilla, who also plays keys in Golden Void, I got in touch with Justin and we started to get together and play music. Aaron and Justin had just recently played in a band called Eyes who broke up, so Aaron was available and down with playing as well. As for ideas behind the music that we wanted to create: we wanted the music to rock, or if it was mellow be moody, or have some alchemy in there. We have a few songs we scrapped because they weren’t jiving properly. So I guess to sum it up: we wanted to write music we like.
What about the other guys in Golden Void? Are there any other familiar faces and what are their past ventures?
Before being in Eyes, Justin and Aaron were in a band called Roots of Orchis which dated back to their high school days. Camilla currently plays in Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound. I highly recommend you check out their new album “Manzanita” if you haven’t yet. I also play in Earthless and Howlin Rain, and in the past I’ve played with Drunk Horse, Nebula, Candye Kane and The Freeks.
Why the wait until now to release your debut album?
It took us a while to get enough material together for the album. Other bands touring, multiple marriages, honeymoons and life kept us from getting together consistently. I think the band’s vibe right now sits better in the Autumn months more than the other seasons. It worked out perfectly this time around. We did also release a 7″ – ‘The Curve’ – on Valley King Records which might still be available.
So you’re now behind the microphone full-time as well as the six-strings! We’ve heard a little of your vocals before on the last couple of Earthless releases, but listening to the Golden Void self-titled record, you really get the chance to completely let your voice loose. Was this a big step for you or does it simply feel more natural to sing as well as play guitar on this set of songs?
I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was young. I have previously played in other bands where I was the lead singer. I have been a total closet vocalist; I guess because I’m in Earthless and we’ve primarily been an instrumental band since Day 1, it’s kind of weird to hear or see me sing. Earthless does not at all sum me up as a musician. I’m sure I’d make some die-hard fans’ heads explode if they heard the twinkly-fairy Enya shit I like to create! I love singing and I love good vocal melodies and harmonies – the voice is an important instrument and should be used when needed.
I don’t meant to sound over-complimentary, but I’ve been listening to the album a lot and it really is a sublime piece of work! Are there any plans to play live with Golden Void at all?
We’re very happy you like it! That means a lot. We’re setting up a record release show in November. Outside of that we’re working on the next moves. We’ve only played out live a few times. I feel the record coming out will hopefully be a motivator!
Moving on to talk a bit about your more well-known work with Earthless, how are things in that camp? You guys seem to have ridden wave after wave of success in recent years: two well-received records, main stage at Roadburn Festival, the live album, plenty of tours – what’s coming next?!
Earthless is going to Australia in December for a quick tour. We have enough material for a few albums! The 3 of us have been very busy with life and other bands the past few years. We just turned 10 years old this year and a little break was needed I think for those guys as well as for me. We play when we want, but we don’t force things. That tends to make things slow going but we’re not in a rush right now. We are very grateful for all the good things to have come our way over the past 10 years! I am very grateful!
Whenever I’ve seen Mike, Mario and yourself hit the stage, it’s as though there’s so much chemistry and so many ideas coming together perfectly all at the same time. How much of what happens with Earthless is live improvisation and playing to each others’ spontaneities? Or are all those huge jams very finely rehearsed in the background away from us all?
There’s a skeletal structure to the songs we play. We have designated spots for improvisation and a certain “look” or head nod brings us back to the structure. In the depths of a song there are parts that are pure improve – they can last however long they want. A drum fill or a guitar or bass riff can signal that it’s time to move on. We just do it somehow! I think it’s best not to think too hard about it and just fly. We only rehearse the structured parts and discuss when to go into the next parts.
What’s been your favourite of times out on tour?
My favourite time on tour was with The Freeks when we toured Europe in 2008. It was a total super group! The personnel was Ruben Romano (Nebula, Fu Manchu), Andy Duvall (Carlton Melton, Zen Guerilla), Carl Horne(Zen Guerrilla, Supersuckers), Glenn Slater(Wellwater Conspiracy, The Walkabouts) Ralph Rjeily (the sound man for Baby Woodrose and countless others), Luke Trimmer (light man, ass kicker), and Egbert Holtz (tour manager and a lovely human being). It was a 3-week party that can never be duplicated! You wouldn’t believe the stories: an unbelievable time. I’ll never forget it. We all look back and reminisce over it now! Never has there been that many tears shed due to laughter. Amazing. I had my first date with my wife on that tour as well! The stars were aligned, let me tell you!
Have you got any other major stand-out moments personally as a musician?
I’ve been fortunate to travel around the world and make money doing it. That’s a big one for me. I’ve made my father proud. I’ve met some of my heroes. Played with people I never would have thought I’d have the privilege of playing with. I’m very grateful.
You’ve guested on the last two Saviours records too! What’s it like working with those guys? I imagine “heavier!” and “more drunk!” is only the half of it?!
Those guys are great chaps. The first album I played on was Into Abaddon and Joe Barresi was producing and engineering the album. Fortunately I didn’t know who Joe was so I was able to be more relaxed. He’s produced some pretty major records that I’m a huge fan of so I liked it better not having that in my mind. It was a party scene, nothing crazy, just having a good time making a record. The last album Death’s Procession was recorded with my friend Phil Manley who also recorded Golden Void. Recorded in the day time with no partying, just hanging with my friends and being stoked for their accomplishments.
As well as all of the projects mentioned above, I hear you’ve a few other developments in the pipeline too? Feel free to take the reins as much as you like and tell us all what’s in store!
Camilla and I play in another band called Harderships with Carl Horne (The Freeks, Zen Guerilla) and Jefferson Marshall (Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound). Its Rock n’ Roll, soul, garage, sea shanties….. We haven’t played in a while due to other bands and life again, but we will pick it back up when we all have the time. A super fun band to be in. We have some great songs and we really need to record them. Everyone gets along and we are really close. I’ve also been working on a solo album that’s getting closer to the finish line. It’s a psychedelic surf album with a Native American theme: mainly instrumental but there is a song or two with vocals. I’ve got lots of friends playing on it and I’m having a lot of fun with it!
Which guitarists would you say have influenced you most, as an individual, since you began playing?
Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Freddy King, John McLaughlin, Dimebag Darrell, Randy Rhoads, Ry Cooder, Johnny Winter, Richard Thompson, Tony McPhee, Peter Green, Lyle Preslar, Gregg Ginn, Eddie Hazel, Rory Gallagher, Dr. Know, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Mark Knopfler, Carlos Santana… and I’m leaving out a bunch!
If you could choose just one: Zeppelin or Hendrix? Who would you pick and why?
That’s like choosing between apples and oranges, but hands down: Jimi Hendrix. He was the greatest of the innovators and was above anyone who could play blues rock guitar. My musical self has always had a closer relationship with Jimi than pretty much anyone else.
What was it that first got you into playing music? Has music always been a big part of your life?
My dad’s a musician and his band practices were always at our house. I was surrounded by it. I knew all the words to Frank Zappa songs when I was 4. My grandma loved Elvis and she got me hooked on him at a very early age. I grew up around music pretty much 24/7 and it’s always been a big part of my life.
I’m guessing that you’re not a full-time musician? Assuming not, what do you do when you’re not playing guitar? Is it hard to juggle a job with all the music, tours and your other commitments?
There have been periods where all I did was play music for a living and was able to pay my bills. Now I teach music to kids and adults and I do some landscaping and other manual labours. It’s hard to keep your students but you have to be aggressive and get more if you want to survive being a teacher. Fortunately I have a loyal clientele who are OK with me being gone sometimes.
Are there any other new records or bands you’ve been enjoying lately?
I’ve been listening to Mark Knopfler’s Kill to Get Crimson album lately. Lots of Chrome. I’ve got the new Witchcraft album. But it’s also been the baseball season lately so games and sports-talk radio has been the main thing I’ve been listening to.
Thanks a lot for taking the time out to talk to us Isaiah and best of luck moving forward with all your new projects, the Golden Void album and with Earthless! Is there anything further you want to add?
Thank you for supporting the Golden Void album! It’s our first venture as a band and we want to spread the word. Really appreciate this opportunity! All the best!
Keep up to date with Golden Void over on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/goldenvoid and you can read Pete’s review of their debut album here.
Interviewed by: Pete Green