San Diego’s Earthless has just rolled through Australia for the second time, churning out their unique psychedelic-flavoured instrumental rock. As they took a break on the road between Brisbane and Sydney, Loud caught up with journeyman drummer Mario Rubalcaba about how things were going so far, their new limited edition vinyl and life in general as a professional musician in the modern era.
So how has the tour been going for you – or, in your case, how have both tours been going?
It’s been a treat! Out here playing music, looking at koalas and eating good food, hanging out and having some good times.
What’s it been like for you personally? You’ve been playing in two separate bands all over the place.
It’s not so bad. I flew out here with Hot Snakes and we played a couple of shows before the Earthless guys got out here, and then met up with them at the Meredith Festival. Earthless played its first show there and then I played another show the next day with Hot Snakes. As long as we get there on time, it’s all good.
I guess you’d been used to working schedules around each other now, but have there been times when there’s been clashes between Earthless and other bands that you might be doing?
Oh yeah, well the last two years have just basically been all touring and playing with Off! and Earthless… this is the first time we’ve toured in the last two years since we came to Australia two years ago. This last year we’ve only played two or three shows before coming out here, and our guitar player plays in another band too, so scheduling has definitely been harder than usual, but we’ve managed to make it happen now, so it’s all good.
It seems that’s the way it has to be for a lot of musicians now. Not only to play as often as possible, but in as many bands as possible also. Do you feel that way?
Yeah. It’s definitely happening a lot more now, playing in bands that share two or three members… certain musicians just trying to make music their full time gig and a lot of times you can’t always do that with one band, because someone has a job at home or family obligations, so if you have two or three bands you can kinda spread it out more and hopefully make your schedule align (laughs). But that’s not always the case, though.
You’ve got a special tour release out now that’s on vinyl. That seems to be something that’s coming back now. With the sort of music that Earthless plays, it’s almost the perfect format.
Oh yeah definitely! For this tour specifically, we did a tour 7″ with TYM Records out of Brisbane. That started off as a subscription online pre-order, which sold out almost immediately. That was on blue vinyl. Then we did a red vinyl for the actual tour to sell at shows, and then a buddy of ours in the US licensed it and he’s gonna sell about 300 purple copies. So there’ll be three different coloured vinyl versions of it. It’s fun and the fans love to buy special limited edition pressings, and it’s fun to buy that kind of stuff when you go to shows. It did really well.
In the last few years there seems to have been an almost exponential growth in the number of bands playing instrumental music. Have you noticed that yourself?
I’m aware of the amount of instrumental bands. I don’t particularly listen to them. When Earthless started in 2002 we weren’t consciously trying to be an instrumental band. We had people offering to audition to sing for us and Isaiah is a perfectly capable vocalist and we do a couple of songs with vocals on them, but it’s always just kinda been done this way and that’s what we’ve always played. We didn’t really struggle with it too hard, unnaturally.
There’s been a bit of a crisis in Sydney and Melbourne over the last couple of years with there being fewer and fewer places for bands to play. Is there a similar situation in America?
Well, there’s always been a change of venues, that’s for sure. There’s always in the big cities the major clubs that all the bands have gone to for the last decade or so, but the smaller, secondary market there’s always going to be a change of venues in how they’re run or managed, and it’s definitely… certain cities are hurting from not having any live music venues or any all ages venues especially. It’s definitely getting harder in those places, but it’s not something that I notice it too drastic where I live at least. I’ve been lucky to be able to attend some of the same clubs I’ve been going to for the last twenty years.
You must have seen the way things have changed for musicians over the last twenty years. So what do you see for the future for a guy like yourself who is basically working as a musician?
You know, nowadays it basically comes down to touring and selling your merchandise and creative marketing as far as having your band stand out graphically, artistically. That’s the only way to make money unless they want to do film scores and commercial things and stuff like that. It’s really hard. You’ve really gotta be out there and get your hands dirty and dig it deep. But you know, for myself I’m just trying to go with all the opportunities that come my way and take advantage of them and hopefully something always leads to something else. Things just pop up and you just go with as it comes. That’s really all you can really do right now. I don’t really have too much of a long-term plan at the moment. Me and the guys are just enjoying it (laughs).
The enjoyment factor really needs to be there. I guess you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t enjoy it, and it sounds like you are.
Oh yeah. I have no problem if I have to get a job when I get home again. That’s what we’re all used to. I’m very fortunate and lucky to have been busy enough that I haven’t been able to get a job for the last couple of years or so. I’ll just kinda see what happens in the future.
Where does the future lead for Earthless after this tour?
We really wanna get in the studio and get a new record recorded and get a new record out there and hopefully get a little bit of touring behind it. We really want next year to be a little bit more productive for Earthless and just get a new record out there and take it from there.
Is there anything left to do in Australia that you still want to do or see while you’re here?
We just left the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. For Mike and Isaiah, that was the first time they’d got to go check that out. I was lucky to see it last year with Off! but it was even better this time, doing it the second time around. I really like just hanging out here in Australia. There’s great people here – really nice people and they’ve been very welcoming to Earthless. It’s great for bands to go so far to play for people that really appreciate it. We’re super thankful.