Mario Rubalcaba figures he's been with more than a dozen bands — he is, after all, a drummer — but that Earthless is the one he was meant for.
As it turns out, there's not a whole lot of common ground between the San Diegan's current psych-rock trio and his best-known previous bands. The justly celebrated Rocket from the Crypt, for instance, played punchy, R&B-influenced punk rock, while the Black Heart Procession leaned toward all things ethereal and mopey.
But Rubalcaba's largely instrumental outfit with bassist Mike Eginton and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell rocks long and hard, with studio tracks frequently exceeding the half-hour mark. Live compositions can easily double that.
"We've played songs that were close to two hours long," says Rubalcaba, when asked how long he can play without dropping. "Our Live at Roadburn album actually clocks in at 90 minutes."
True, but wasn't that actually two songs?
"Yeah, there was a little bit of a break in there," he admits, "but not by much. I had to stretch out my calf, so I had to stand up for a second. Otherwise we would have gone straight through it. But we didn't leave the stage, we didn't leave our instruments at all and, you know, there was feedback still continuing on. And then we went right into it."
When Rubalcaba and Eginton aren't on tour, they can be found selling the music that inspires them at Thirsty Moon, a specialty record shop they started five years ago. Tucked away behind a San Diego Rite-Aid, the store is stocked with vintage Krautrock and Japanese psychedelia, neither of which are known for being particularly concise. (In the words of Thirsty Moon's Web site, the shop also acquires "used LP's and CD's from human's, bum'z, junkies, terrorists, grave desecrators, corpse pissers and animal lovers ... from all over the world!")
The idea was, in Rubalcaba's words, "to turn on more people to a lot of the music that we felt strongly about, because in San Diego there wasn't anyone that was really pushing that stuff." And whenever a store would get in something along those lines, he or one of his bandmates quickly snapped it up. "No one else would really ever be able to hear it, so that's kind of how that all came about — and also for us to be able to get more records for ourselves."
It's no surprise, then, to hear Earthless paying homage to groups like the Flower Travellin' Band and Can, whose guitar work Rubalcaba admires for being "sparse and funky at times, and then also a really wild, just kind of hairball style of guitar playing."
Hairball, as in coughing up a ... ?
"Yeah! The whole dynamic of that band was very inspiring to me."
The trio also wins over British blues-rock obscurists with its cover of the Groundhogs' "Cherry Red," and routinely earns press accolades with what one critic described as "sets that have been known to be one long, face-melting song."
So has anyone's face actually melted at an Earthless show?
"Not in a heat sense," says Rubalcaba, "but more in like a Play-Doh, sliced turkey sort of way."