[Smith] was one of the most outstanding songwriters in the last 20 years. In my head there’s no denying his stuff was pretty infectious and I’m sure some of it seeps into our subconscious and stays there.
story by Sean Foran
photo by Dan Monick
Named after a farming town nestled between Fresno and L.A., Earlimart has built a sound far less constrictive than the fertile two square miles of California agriculture. “There’s a gas station called the GasWhore and a liquor store,” laughed keyboardist Ariana Murray, resting between shows in Utah. “Now there’s a Taco Bell, which is really exiting.”
Murray and singer/producer Aaron Espinoza are the original members in a cast of revolving players that have traded their amped-up guitars and distortion pedals for quiet melodies and euphoric crescendos. On their latest release, Treble and Tremble, piano-laced harmonies and orchestral textures lend a narcotic rush that floats above the ethereal voice of Espinoza. Like a haunted house, Treble is full of creaks and drafts with faint whispers fading into the rattle of a tape hiss.
Revolving lineups between four albums can shake a band’s cohesion, but Earlimart has forged strong ties amongst an emerging scene in Central Valley, California. “We’re a conglomerate of everything you’ve listened to,” said Murray, describing the band’s communal relationship with local musicians. “We’re all friends who support, influence, and inspire each other.” The gathering point has been The Ship, a studio tucked between industrial sewing factories in Eagle Rock. The band records in this creative enclave and hosts an impressive guest list including Modesto neighbors Grandaddy, who have supplied guitarist Jim Fairchild on permanent lease.
One listen to Treble and Tremble and you’ll immediately pick up on another influence that has shaped Earlimart’s music. Elliot Smith, a close friend of Espinoza and Ship alumnus, died a tragic and well-publicized death while the band was starting to write their new record. The album is dedicated to Smith, and Espinoza channels the late singer’s soft voice throughout the 13 tracks. “He was one of the most outstanding songwriters in the last 20 years,” remembered Murray. “In my head there’s no denying his stuff was pretty infectious and I’m sure some of it seeps into our subconscious and stays there.”
Murray, who dates Smith’s former drummer Scott McPherson, sounded weary of all the attention the connection has received in the press. “It was an honest, basic friendship but when it’s written about, I can’t help but feel it comes across as lecherous. It just never reads the way you hope.”
Earlimart’s lush symphony will make its way to Chicago in November, showcasing a band that has grown into its own skin. For now, Murray is content to take a breather from the road and refuel at the home of their label rep’s mom. “She’s the sweetest lady in the whole world. We’ve been able to shower and eat like pigs. It’s amazing.”
Earlimart :: with Pinback :: Metro :: November 7.