Earthless: Homecoming Kings

Earthless' Isaiah Mitchell talks about coming home for a two-night Casbah stand

Camilla Saufley

If you’ve ever had the itch to take up the guitar, you might want to ring up Earthless’ six-string shredder Isaiah Mitchell. Turns out he gives guitar lessons when he’s not busy mesmerizing audiences with his band’s thundering, experimental, instrumental hard-rock jams. Even while he’s on the road.

“Sorry, I was just finishing up a guitar lesson over Skype,” Mitchell told me after returning my missed call. “I was working with a kid in Iowa.”

Ah, the magic of the Internet (it’s not just for porn anymore, folks). These days, you can take a guitar lesson online via video chat with an influential rock guitar virtuoso. As Marty McFly would say, “That’s heavy.”

“It’s awesome,” Mitchell continued, after I voiced my surprise. “I’ve been teaching for 16 years, but I’m only a couple years into doing it online. I do it independently. Hit me up, PayPal me or whatever, and we just set up a time that works. As long as you got a good Internet connection, it works great.”

So maybe I’m behind the times, but all that sounds pretty awesome. When I was wee lad, my own guitar instructor was a washed up, frizzy haired, Southern-rock lovin’ hippie who attempted to teach me boring scales in between bong rips. You, on the other hand, actually have the opportunity to learn from one of the best. After all, if you were to poll any band in the “stoner rock” category (a label which Mitchell admits bothers him: “We don’t even smoke weed!”), they would not only unanimously love Earthless but also undoubtedly rave about the trio's musicianship. In an ever-expanding scene of psychedelic-rock noodlers, the band -- and its band members -- are, unequivocally, the real deal. How do these admittedly low-key guys (along with Mitchell, the band is composed of drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bassist Mike Eginton) respond to the idolatry among their peers, friends and fans?

“A lot of great bands that we’re playing with now, they mention us in interviews from time to time, and that’s really amazing,” Mitchell told me. “It’s really flattering. You’d never originally set out to have that be an end result. You just go out and play and over time, hopefully you earn a little respect. So, it’s really flattering and humbling.”

For a locally grown band (who, by the way, are set to play a two-night stand at the Casbah Jan. 14-15), they’ve come a long way since their 2001 inception -- joining hard-rock goliaths like Graveyard, Witch, Baroness, Elder and Russian Circles (among others) on various tours throughout the years, and spending most of their time playing shows the world over. But no matter how massive they get, or what faraway places they tour, they’ll always be a San Diego band to us, and Mitchell wouldn’t have it any other way. We talked about their early days.

“We all grew up in San Diego, and I think we’ve definitely been embraced there. At first, it was slow starting out. But of course, people knew who Mario was,” he said about Rubalcaba -- who also drums in two other beloved San Diego bands you may have heard of: OFF! and Rocket From the Crypt -- “that helped a lot,” Mitchell continued. “But we’re in our 14th year now, and we just kept playing and playing. And now we’re doing these two shows at the Casbah, and it’ll be packed and sold out. That says a lot about our support in San Diego. Maybe we weren’t supported across the full spectrum or anything when we started out, but there was definitely a corner of San Diego that was into us.”

Their most recent San Diego Music Award win for Best Rock Album (for “From the Ages”) in 2014 is a good indication and reminder of how much this band is revered in town. Although it doesn’t hurt that that particular record is also their most adventurous and experimental full-length to date. Mitchell said that’s kinda the goal.

“I think our first record was primarily one theme and just improv and improv and improv. The next records after that, we were writing more ‘songs.’ The more we’ve been playing -- and especially lately -- I think our music has been getting weirder. I think people will be like, ‘What the f---?’ when they hear it? But it’s all about having fun and growing as a musician.”

Spoken like a true guitar teacher. With the world as their oyster, and months spent on the road trotting the globe, how does it feel for those three San Diego guys in Earthless to return home for not one, but two shows?

“It’s cool, man,” the ever-humble Mitchell said. “It’s an honor. This is the first time we’ve done back-to-back shows -- and we’re treating it like a homecoming.”

Earthless play the Casbah Jan. 14-15, 2016, with Sacri Monti, Loom, Joy and Harsh Toke opening the shows. Tickets are $16 and are available online here.

Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Diamond Lakes and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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