Interview with Earlimart

A few years ago, I stumbled across an album by a band called Earlimart, and while it felt rough, it was edgy, it was interesting to say the least. And when new music from Earlimart turned up, I was excited. Over the years, principle singer/songwriter of Earlimart, Aaron Espinoza, has honed his sound, developing his own voice as he developed his songwriting and recording skills. His new work was every bit as good as I hoped it would get.

After releasing a stellar EP, The Avenues, and almost immediately a full-length, Everyone Down Here, Earlimart went on the road in support of, of all bands, Ozma. I guess it makes sense; to some extent, Earlimart’s sound is defined by fuzzed-out indie rock. But there’s another side of Earlimart, shown by softer, more mellow and beautiful songs that feature lovely guitar and strings. It may sound a bit of a contrast, but the conflicting styles work extremely well together.

I caught up with Aaron Espinoza while he was enduring a long ride on tour and talked to him through a sketchy cell phone connection. Still, I think the gist came through, and we talked about the development of Earlimart’s sound, its conflicting nature, and his other big project: The Ship.

Delusions of Adequacy: Give me some history of Earlimart. Are the other members of the band permanent, or is it basically you and friends?

Aaron Espinoza: Earlimart has been a band for about five years, but the lineup has changed over those years. I do most of the records myself, then I got a band together to tour for the record. But the band we have now is pretty solid, hopefully pretty solid. Arianna Murray is the only original member from back in the day.

I think I’ve done maybe half and half of the album with the new band. Sometimes I need to just close the doors, unplug the phone, and figure stuff out myself. I’ve never really done a full-band record.

DOA: Where did the name come from? I guess it’s not, in fact, some kind of 7-11 style grocery store?

AE: No, not at all. I grew up in Central Valley, near Fresno, in a farm town in California. Earlimart is actually a town outside Fresno. It’s super-small, really just a little shithole farm town. Band names are just silly. You get stuck with it and have that name for 10 years down the line. It’s like you look around one day and realize you’re still call the Smashing Pumpkins. But Earlimart is just a Central Valley thing. It sounded better than naming the band Fresno.

DOA: Do you ever go back? Do they know they’re famous?

AE: Ha, I don’t know. I’ve done some research, and the town is known for its produce. I would go by on weekends and their main draw was their produce markets open in the morning and every weekend. I remember a lot of fruit stands. But really, it’s sort of a midpoint between Fresno and LA, where I live now. I guess it’s between where I was and where I’m going.

DOA: How has your music developed from the early stages of Earlimart?

AE: It’s changed a lot, really. Initially, the very first record wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a record. I was just learning how to record stuff and learning how to write songs at the same time, so it was pretty rough around the edges. There were some cool moments on there, but it was pretty rough. You kinda learn as you go.

I had kinda become this Pixies knock-off rock band for a while, which was fun. That’s fine and everything. The band at that time had dissolved, and I had gone through a lot of personal break-ups and things, and I didn’t feel like making that same kind of record at the time. So I started playing piano more. As soon as you do that, you screw everything up. You start writing totally different.

I have been working a lot in the studio for other bands too, so I started to get better at recording. I guess all those things had something to do with the change in sound. I guess it changed because it was just myself doing it and not having a band. And I didn’t want to scream any more. I guess I’m getting old.

DOA: Yeah, that happens to a lot of bands, I guess. You have a lot of strings on your new albums. How did that come about?

AE: Well, I’ve been really lucky with that the whole way. I have a friend who lives in Chicago who is an amazing cello player and string arranger. I had done (recorded) the new Road Kill record, and we did all these beautiful arrangements. She did the string parts for a couple hundred parts. I never thought I’d be able to have a record with real strings on it, but she blew me away. It was awesome, she was so nice. I think it gave the music a touch of class.

DOA: Definitely. So what has the response been to Everyone Down Here and The Avenues so far? Are you excited about the new album?

AE: It’s been really really positive. I think it’s been doing pretty good saleswise. Radio is doing real well. I guess it’s all good, better than anything I’ve done before.

DOA: Why do an EP of all new songs so close to the release of your full-length? The sound on the EP seems a little different, more soft and intricate.

AE: The album and the EP were recorded at the same time, I just split them up. I had a new label and kind of a different sound, so we wanted to just test the waters going forward. We put the EP out to see the reaction, and it went really well. We’re slowly getting the name back out there. Basically, I hadn’t done anything for two years, so I guess I’ve sort of fallen off the map for a while.

DOA: Your music seems to take two approaches: the softer and more lush tracks and the more fuzzed-out indie rock feeling ones. Do you feel the two approaches mix, and tell me about your impetus in each.

AE: I always wanted to be able to make music that’s something you can go to bed to or wake up to, which I think are different sides. Hopefully they still make sense together. I was thinking maybe for the next record of doing a double record: one would be the rock record, and one the go-to-sleep record. I’m kind of infatuated with that idea. I hope it’s not too bipolar, though.

DOA: Not at all. It works well together. I always see a lot of comparisons between your music and Sebadoh/Lou Barlow. Are you a big Barlow fan? What are your influences?

AE: I’m a huge fan of his. I recorded the new Folk Implosion record, actually. He took us on his first tour for our EP, and we became really good friends. I’m definitely influenced by him. You know, I wasn’t so much into his music during the time when he was the big thing, I didn’t really know it, but now I am for sure. Maybe I’m influenced by him personally. I guess I’m the same way with my friends.

DOA: What do you think of the comparisons to Sebadoh and Grandaddy that I hear a lot?

AE: I get a lot of Grandaddy comparisons too, and I think that’s fine. They’re some of my closest friends, they helped make the record.

DOA: What are your musical influences?

AE: Definitely the Pixies. They changed a lot of the ways I thought about music. They were a huge influence. I’m real excited to see Sonic Youth in New York. We have the same publicist, so maybe I’ll get to meet them. Let’s see, who else? Maybe Wilco.

DOA: So what exactly is The Ship? It sounds like it’s more than just your recording studio? Did you start it?

AE: It’s kinda a big mess is what it is. Essentially The Ship is a recording studio that we own, the band and some other friends in LA. It’s where we make our records, and a lot of the other local bands make records there. It started as a collective of friends who pooled our money together, got the space and got some gear, and we started practicing there and making records there. We’re sort of a support group, trying to build our own infrastructure while supporting each other.

DOA: But you’re releasing music too?

AE: Yeah, we just started our own record label, called Wild Hotels at the Sea. One of the bands we recorded and affiliated with The Ship, Pine Marten, was our first release. It’s out now. But being a new label without distribution and stuff, it’s hard sometimes. You can get it online. We’re also doing the new Panty Lions album. That guy used to be a member of Earlimart, and he has his own thing now. He’s on tour right now.

DOA: What else have you recorded?

AE: Mostly local LA stuff, but I’ve worked with some really good bands. I got to work on some of the new material for the Breeders record, just demos and stuff, but I got to work with Kim Deal. That was awesome. I did a little stuff on Elliot Smith’s new album.

DOA: That’s pretty impressive. And you’re self-taught?

AE: Pretty much. In college I took a recording class for a semester, but I got an F in it. Over the years I just kinda learned what not to do. I think going to school is not a bad idea. Sometimes you get those guidelines, though, where they put you in a box where maybe you know too much. If you don’t know the guidelines, you have no rules, so you make up whatever you can. Sometimes that’s better, I guess.

DOA: So what’s the future for The Ship?

AE: There will be more albums for the label. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back in and make some other records.

DOA: How about touring info or new recording for Earlimart? (Note, this interview was conducted more than a month ago – sorry.)

AE: We’ve been touring a lot. [I went to] Europe in June to support Grandaddy.

DOA: That one makes more sense than supporting Ozma like when you came through here.

AE: Yeah, I know. Then we’re going to do the States with Grandaddy in August. We’ll stay on the road for a while, but I’ve got some good stuff coming up.

DOA: Any new bands you’ve been listening to you want to tell us about?

AE: The new Pine Marten record is really good. There’s a band called Dios in LA, that’s my friends’ record. And Irving…they’re really, really good.