By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Los Angeles itself is a hard thing; it can beat you up if you don’t have the right surroundings,” says Espinoza. He speaks with a slight drawl that belies that tuned whisper of a voice that sounds from the other side of the speakers. “Say you live in Fresno and decide you’re going to move to Los Angeles, and you don’t know how big the city is. You could end up someplace completely isolated. And if you don’t know anybody, and you ain’t got no job, this town will whup your ass.”
Of course, living in the middle of California surrounded by vacant lots, the state’s biggest crystal-meth rings, rampant alcoholism and other disparaging displays of gradual societal decay can be equally . . . stultifying. Although some of the most compelling art can come from the most colorless conditions, it’s difficult to sustain for reasons both financial and communal. Espinoza recently discovered that his childhood school district made the decision to cut all music education from the budget. He returned home a couple of days ago — with Grandaddy singer Jason Lytle in tow — to organize and play a benefit meant to put money into local independent music programs, to strengthen community where community was failing.
“You’re gonna need some sort of a chance in a place like that. You’ve got to throw somebody a bone out there,” says Espinoza. He’s emphatic, and not condescending in the least.
“You’re surrounded by circumstances,” adds Fairchild, “and circumstances falling the way that they do, they lead to boredom and boredom leads to abusing yourself or just settling down. I’m proud of having come from a rural area, but it gets to the point when you have to make a decision. You swim upstream so hard that eventually you just run out of breath. You have to give up or separate yourself from it.”
Or build a big enough boat to carry you and all of your friends onward. As Fairchild’s thoughts descend deeper into the Central Valley, Espinoza’s return to the orange-red table in front of him. “I don’t know what actually qualifies as a scene,” he says, “but if there’s a scene here and we are a part of it, I would be really proud to say that.”
The significance of his words isn’t lost on the other four, who offer their various marks of silent approval. Fairchild recently moved down from Modesto. Graves only just joined the band (and at the bar later admits that his sheepishness is a result of his still being a fan). Latter seems the type to make friends wherever he lands, but he gets a brotherly glow about him when they’re all together. And Murray, an original member of Earlimart, has been with Espinoza from the beginning. Beneath their modest pride and their strength in numbers, the subtext of their silence rings louder than anything. It’s the loss that still looms tangible over the band, their scene, music in a greater sense, and Aaron Espinoza — the untimely demise of their friend and hero Elliott Smith.
When asked about the death of Smith (whom he worked with over the years), Espinoza freezes momentarily, legs crossed, fingers clasped, eyes unfocused on the coaster that’s collecting balls of condensation from his beer. “I don’t think we’re going to talk about it,” he says without moving anything but the air beyond his lips. “It’s nothing personal against you or anybody else, but it seems that you get to the point where you risk negating the importance of what certain relationships are or were to you.”
It’s hard to knowwhat more could be said than what’s already on Treble & Tremble. Rather than a final goodbye or a touching sendoff, the record plays like a lost satellite transmission that quietly asks Smith to take care of his heart until he’s reunited with the people who love him so. It’s also an open broadcast to anyone who’s listening — those who knew him personally, those who knew him through his music, and even those who may not have known him at all, but who understand what it is to love and lose. What happened on October 21, 2003, came as a sharp blow to Espinoza, but he’s found strength in the wake, and inspiration as well. Not to mention the fact that he’s just recorded his least solo record yet, and with a group of people that give him the security he’s been looking for.
“These guys are the best,” he says, his naturally mischievous grin starting to return. “We toured so much for the last record that all the little insecurities that we have, we’ve started to put away. And curtains are getting pushed aside, and the barriers that we have start to get broken down so that we can be in a room together and share ideas honestly. It’s the safest place in the world, and I think it’s really the first time that I’ve ever experienced that. Silver Lake is definitely in the band.”
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