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Community Values 

Earlimart takes you with them

Thursday, Oct 14 2004
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Photo by Dan Monick

Here’s a story about community that begins in Fresno with a songwriter named Aaron Espinoza. There’s a point along the way that involves a great deal of personal loss for him, and we’ll get to that, but not just yet. Because there’s a later moment when he’s surrounded by four people he’s just finished recording an album with and they’re laughing. It doesn’t really matter what about — a moment ago it was the idea of a diner that sells coffee, sandwiches and guitar strings — it only matters that they’re doing a lot of it (laughing), and that he’s at ease and so are they.

“Yeah, we’re pretty excited,” says Espinoza through the grin he’s working to contain. His bandmates Ariana Murray and Davey Latter have their heads together — literally — and are feigning snores while fighting back giggles. Espinoza continues: “The record came out a couple of days ago and . . . well, it’s just kind of out there now. There’s no turning back; people are actually listening to it in their houses and on their computers and in their cars, so basically it’s everybody else’s record now.”

Murray opens her eyes, leans forward and squeaks: “No take-backs!”

Also in this issue
Heartbreakers: ALEC HANLEY BEMIS on Elliot Smith’s unhappy dream life; JOHN PAYNE on Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill — a great album by a great man

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Within the city of Los Angeles, within the greater community of Silver Lake, there is a collective of bands and like-minded artists called “The Ship” — a community within a community. And within the Ship is a band called Earlimart that can be broken down into the five people who are currently sitting on the patio at local historic restaurant El Cid, crowding an orange-red table with a silver tape recorder for a centerpiece. Right now Espinoza, Murray (bass, keys, vocals), Latter (drums), Jim Fairchild and Joel Graves (guitars) are interview subjects, and two hours later they’ll be performers. But thanks to all of this crowding (into studios, into vans, onto stages, into restaurant booths), they’re friends and compatriots. And as such, they give each other that sense of plain old community, which happens to be the best kind.

“It’s funny. I always associated Los Angeles with scenesterism and, like, headshots plastered on a bathroom wall,” says Fairchild, a recent addition to the band and a longtime member of the Ship’s more established Central California siblings Grandaddy. With his denim-covered legs crammed under the table and his body protruding angularly, he looks a bit like an overgrown farm boy in indie garb. “But I started hanging out with the people in Earlimart about four or five years ago, and it’s like being in Modesto again — just a bunch of friends hanging around doing what they do. Fortunately they all happen to be focused on making something.”

Earlimart just released their fourth record, Treble & Tremble, and tonight is meant to celebrate that. It’s a beautiful album — textured, fragile, and overflowing with local significance (most notably a weighty dedication to the late, great Elliott Smith). From the opening orchestral whisper of “Hold On Slow Down,” to the build-and-crash last shudder of “It’s Okay To Think About Ending,” Treble & Tremble drifts through feelings of loss and clipped memories like a heavy-eyed child, hopeful and unwilling to let go. Pretty white noise and layer upon layer of piano and synth create a lushness that never sounds overwrought, and above it all Espinoza’s voice croons gentle and reassuring.

A lot of familiar faces will gather tonight to hear the new songs played live and channeled through whatever ghosts gather in the low-lit room, to hear this collection of huge sounds that Earlimart made, shrunk down into tiny plastic form, unpacked for the first time in public. There are six years of neighborhood history in this record, and it’s all going to spill out over El Cid’s century-old floors before the night is out.

Espinoza’s been creating out here for quite some time. A onetime carpenter, he built something rather large and arklike in 1998, though it started humbly enough. He and Murray had saved up until they had enough money to assemble a studio in nearby Eagle Rock, which they dubbed the Ship. For three years and two records (Filthy Doorways and Kingdom of Champions), Espinoza funneled his earliest, noisiest influences — the Pixies, X, the Breeders, Sparklehorse — into something equally experimental, though ultimately unstable. Earlimart imploded and in the midst of questioning the project’s viability, Espinoza found himself recording Everyone Down Here (2003) — a nuanced collection of guitar-heavy, piano-driven indie pop that initiated the band’s much-needed rebirth, and a growing swell of attention from press, fans and peers.

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