-- by Corey Moss, with additional reporting by Mark Bella
The majority of Earlimart's breakthrough album was recorded after the group parted ways. With two independent releases behind them, the original lineup disbanded in 2001 to pursue other projects. Singer/guitarist Aaron Espinoza and bassist/keyboardist Ariana Murray also ended their relationship, and at about the same time, the couple lost good friend Doug Kratz, a Virgin Records staff member who was killed in the Aaliyah plane crash.
"It was a bad year," Murray recalled recently.
Espinoza, "out of habit," started writing another record and summoned all the pain from the losses in his life into his new songs, which took on a far darker tone than anything Earlimart had done as a group.
"For me personally, [before] it was really easy to step on the distortion box and hide behind that," Espinoza said. "And it was really easy to scream instead of sing."
The songs were so uncharacteristic of Espinoza they scared him. Seeking a second opinion, he sent demos to his friends Jason Lytle and Jim Fairchild of the Modesto, California, band Grandaddy.
"They would tell me I was doing the best thing that I have ever done," Espinoza said. "They would come down here for a weekend and they would help record and play stuff and just be here. They were a big part of getting me through the whole thing."
Espinoza, who is also a producer (with Elliott Smith, Folk Implosion and the Breeders on his résumé), recorded the album in his own studio, the Ship. Since times were tight financially, he lived in the room for most of the duration, undoubtedly adding to the themes of isolation in the music.
"Some days I wouldn't have left here for like three days straight," he said. "And then I would have to go out and get beer and cigarettes or something and I would go into a supermarket and it was like all fluorescents and 'ugh,' there are all these people everywhere and it kind of freaked me out. It's really weird ... but I got to get a lot of work done at the time, so in that sense it was good."
When Murray heard the album, Everyone Down Here, she was moved enough to set aside her rocky relationship history with Espinoza and rejoin the band. They then recruited guitarist Solon Bixler (formerly of 30 Seconds to Mars) and drummer Davey Latter (Stanford Prison Experiment).
The group kept the name Earlimart, named after a small California town in between Los Angeles and Fresno, where Espinoza and Murray first teamed up. "It's got like a gas station and a bar and that's about it," Murray said.
"Fresno didn't sound that cool of a name for the band," Espinoza joked. "So it was either Earlimart or there was a town called Pixley, so we could have been the Pixlies."
Perhaps the Pixlies might have been more fitting, since one of the group's strongest influences is the Pixies, along with the Beatles and the Smiths.
"We all listen to pretty much the same thing in the van," Latter said. "We all seem to have the same influences and we all love the Clash and we all love X and we love the Cure."
Behind the buzz of Everyone Down Here, the latest incarnation of Earlimart found itself being courted by major labels and eventually signed with Palm, which released the album on April 22.
Espinoza insists the band is still as indie as ever. "We do everything ourselves," he said. "We make our own records and we go on tours with no tour manager and with no sound guy and no merch person."
Espinoza has always been quite the worker, with a variety of unusual jobs behind him. The album's first single, "We Drink on the Job," is based on his experiences working at a junkyard, where the employees were drinking by noon and his boss lost a hand in a heavy-machinery accident.
The video, shot in Fresno and Earlimart, revolves partially around the lyrics. "We cut out the part where the guy gets his hand cut off in the video 'cause it was a little, you know, gory," Espinoza said.
Earlimart plan to tour heavily behind Everyone Down Here before returning to the studio.
So, now that Earlimart are a band again, is Espinoza worried it will throw him off in the studio? "I don't know, maybe I'll just fire everybody," he said, smiling.
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