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Dylan Carlson is a well-known figure in the music industry. However, the intrigue surrounding the guitarist of the band Earth goes beyond his contributions to the group.

Carlson’s guitar work in Earth, the band he founded in 1989 is characterized by slow, heavy riffs and a thick atmosphere, creating a hypnotic soundscape. This pioneering approach dubbed him the “Father of Drone.” His influences are a surprising mix, ranging from classic rock giants like AC/DC to minimalist composers like La Monte Young.

What intrigues me most about this enigmatic figure is his significant historical tie to the late guitarist and vocalist of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain. Dylan Carlson was Kurt Cobain’s closest friend and associate, often seen together indulging in drug use. Additionally, Dylan Carlson played a role in obtaining the gun ultimately used in Cobain’s tragic suicide.

This article explores the life of Dylan Carlson, examining his journey as a musician and his close friendship with Kurt Cobain. We will delve into his career, as well as the reasons behind his enduring bond with Kurt Cobain until the latter’s tragic suicide in April 1994.


Who is Dylan Carlson?


Born in 1968, this Seattle musician emerged in the late 80s with a groundbreaking sound. As a teenager, Dylan Carlson gravitated towards music at 15, drawn to the hard rock sounds of bands like Black Sabbath and AC/DC. A pioneer, Carlson solidified his place in music history with his band Earth which he founded in 1989. Like Kurt Cobain, he later discovered the Melvins, whose influence became a significant thread in their musical journeys.

Dylan Carlson and Kurt Cobain were drawn to Seattle’s exploding music scene in the late 80s, finding themselves label mates at Sub Pop. However, their musical styles diverged significantly. While Nirvana achieved mainstream success, Earth carved a unique path in the underground.

Dylan’s slow, heavy riffs and thick atmosphere create a mesmerizing soundscape that has earned him the title of “Father of Drone.” With Earth, Dylan has reshaped and remolded the possibilities of rock music.


Kurt Cobain and Dylan Carlson’s Friendship


In 1987, Kurt Cobain was living a solitary life in Olympia, Washington, without roommates. Feeling isolated, he was likely relieved when a guy named Dylan Carlson moved in. Carlson, known for his intelligence and musical talent, quickly impressed Kurt Cobain with his outspoken views on religion, race, and politics. These topics likely fueled many late-night conversations as they navigated their young adulthood.

Their shared need for income led them to take on short-term gigs laying carpets in houses, for example. These weren’t glamorous jobs but provided financial stability for the newly formed roommates. More importantly, the experience likely solidified their friendship.

At this point, Kurt Cobain hadn’t yet met Tracy Marander, the woman who would become his first serious girlfriend. During this pre-Nirvana fame period, Kurt Cobain reportedly steered clear of heavy drug use and alcohol. He was clean. In contrast, Dylan Carlson was already grappling with his struggles with addiction.

While dating Tobi Vail in 1990, Kurt Cobain told Dylan Carlson she was the first woman to make him so nervous he threw up. This experience may have influenced the lyric “Love you so much it makes me sick” in Nirvana’s song “Aneurysm.”

By the fall of 1990, Kurt Cobain’s short relationship with Tobi Vail had ended, leaving him emotionally distressed. Shortly after, he experimented with heroin for the first time. While some sources suggest the drug initially provided some relief to his chronic stomach pain, it ultimately exacerbated his problems and led to a downward spiral.

Their friendship extended into all aspects of Kurt Cobain’s life. In a testament to their closeness, Dylan was chosen as Kurt’s best man at his wedding to Courtney Love on February 24, 1992, even though Dylan hadn’t yet met Courtney. Later Dylan will say about Courtney Love: “In some ways, she was very good for him,” recalled, “and in other ways, she was terrible.

Ironically, as Kurt and Courtney’s relationship grew increasingly tumultuous, Dylan found himself serving as a mediator between the couple. At times, Kurt even preferred Dylan’s company over that of his own daughter’s mother.

Even as Kurt Cobain and Nirvana ascended to stratospheric heights of fame, Dylan Carlson remained one of the few friends who had access to the couple and maintained a close bond with Kurt. Their friendship extended beyond social interactions, as Dylan served as a trusted financial advisor to Kurt, reviewing his statements amidst growing concerns about his manager’s handling of finances.


Kurt Cobain and Dylan Carlson’s Music Partnership and Influence


While Kurt Cobain and Dylan Carlson shared common influences such as Black Sabbath and the Melvins, their musical styles diverged significantly. Kurt Cobain fused Beatles pop with punk-metal, and Carlson delved into the mesmerizing drone of slowed-down metal sounds.

Despite this difference, their friendship took precedence and they bonded over their instruments, even playing together. Amidst his efforts with the short-lived project with Mark Lanegan and Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain briefly ventured to Portland to collaborate with his friend Dylan Carlson’s band, Earth, for a studio session. In October 1990, Kurt Cobain led vocals on the song “Divine and Bright” and contributed to three more songs: “Bureaucratic Desire For Revenge” parts 1 and 2, and “Ouroboros Is Broken”.


The Story of the Gun Purchased by Dylan Carlson That Led to Kurt Cobain’s Suicide


In the fall of 1990, Kurt Cobain reconnected with Dylan Carlson again, and soon they were venturing down a path that Kurt Cobain had vowed never to tread: Dylan was an avid gun enthusiast. In a seemingly innocent manner, and with some hesitation from Kurt, Dylan would take him into the woods to demonstrate gun handling and usage. These seemingly harmless outings marked the beginning of a tragedy yet to unfold.

In March 1994, Kurt Cobain approached his friend Dylan Carlson about buying a shotgun. Police had twice confiscated firearms from Kurt Cobain in the past year so he couldn’t purchase one himself. Kurt Cobain reportedly told Dylan Carlson he needed the gun for protection against potential intruders. Tragically, Cobain would use the shotgun to take his own life six days later.


Interview With Dylan Carlson about Kurt Cobain’s Death

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In 1998, following Kurt Cobain’s death, Dylan Carlson participated in Nick Broomfield’s documentary “Kurt & Courtney.” The film explored the controversial theory that Cobain’s death was a homicide, not a suicide. Carlson later expressed regret about his appearance in the documentary.

Carlson has always maintained that Cobain told him the gun was for protection. It’s best to see the interview above for yourselves.


The Nirvana Song “Lithium” Was Inspired by Dylan Carlson

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In his biography of Cobain, Heavier Than Heaven, the author writes that the song from the Nevermind album, “In Bloom”, was a “thinly disguised portrait” of Carlson. I think he was referring to the lines “and he likes to shoot his gun”, which seems about Carlson definitely. Especially when we recall the shooting practice incident mentioned earlier in the article.


What Happened to Dylan Carlson After the Death of Kurt Cobain?


In 1996, Earth took an extended break in large part due to Dylan Carlson’s problems, including heroin addiction, rehabilitation, his connection to Kurt Cobain’s death, and incarceration. Carlson, later, attributed the break primarily to his heroin addiction:

At one point, music was everything to me. Then suddenly it wasn’t and something else was there, and that was something destructive and damaging. Heroin is part of your life – you don’t function without it. It’s not like, “I need to get it to write,” it’s at a much more fundamental level to your existence, like, “I need it to get out of bed.”

Dylan Carlson lives in recovery from heroin addiction and has survived a rare form of hepatitis B and liver failure. Carlson was married to fellow Earth member, and drummer Adrienne Davies for a time. In an interview with invisibleoranges recalls the first time she heard about the band Earth and how they impacted her:

I’ve known him more than half of my life, so it could get kind of rambling if I were too detailed (laughs). I met him when I was 17. I was a big fan of Earth before I had the pleasure of playing with them,” and continues “We ran into each other about 2000 and started playing music without any aims. It just fell into our lap, the opportunity to take it somewhere. But it was a little chaotic in the beginning.

Davies remains in the band despite their split-up. Years later, Dylan Carlson married a London-born artist, belly dancer, and performer named Holly. A picture of her profile was used as the album cover art for his solo album Conquistador.

Diverging from the sound of their early ’90s albums, notably the influential “Earth 2”, Dylan Carlson after rehabilitation emerged as a dedicated, prolific musician, collaborating with numerous artists, including his protégé Sunn O))), and since has embraced influences from traditional folk music, alongside collaborations with experimentalists like Kevin Martin, also known as the Bug.




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