The ethereal, spacey earthlings? are not so much a band as they are a collective, recording material with friends and musicians who happen to stop by at their desert recording-studio, Rancho de la Luna.
That's where the bonds are formed, and where the music is born.
"I'm always amazed, staying at the ranch, how many people just stop through to say 'Hi' and then end up on tape," said earthlings? lead singer Pete Stahl, formerly the vocalist for the legendary D.C. punk-band Scream.
Some of those musicians -- including Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl (who played with Stahl in Scream), folk-rocker Victoria Williams and ex-Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme -- have ended up on earthlings?'s self-titled, desert-born, debut LP, which was released over the summer by the German label Crippled Dick Hot Wax.
The album, which is heavy on eerie, trance-inducing rock, as well as some psychedelic melodies reminiscent of German avant-rock pioneers Can, veers between distorted, Hendrix-like guitar-work and spaced-out jams full of interplanetary imagery and futuristic metaphors.
Some of the band's sonic experiments add to the impromptu feel of the dreamy album.
On the song "Happiest Day Of My Life" (RealAudio except), Stahl phoned his vocal parts into the studio from the market down the street; on "Reaper (Don't Fear This Child)" (RealAudio excerpt), Stahl preferred to sing his vocals through an old Navy-intercom unit.
Two years ago, when earthlings? percussionist Fred Drake was squatting inside an empty hot-tub recording drum tracks, he never dreamed the result would end up on the band's debut album.
"Pete [Stahl] was out on the front patio and he had headphones on so he could hear the drums that were being played from the hot tub," Drake said. "This tub ... the acoustics were just really scary in there."
The groundwork for the band was laid when Drake (who played in various L.A.-based bands, including House of Love and Code Blue) stumbled on a property in the desert near Joshua Tree, Calif., five years ago. After setting up a studio, dubbed Rancho de la Luna, he and the rest of earthlings? began recording their music. But in the process, the area's unique landscape began to lure a slew of well-known musicians to the ranch to record material of their own.
"Right now, Rancho's going through a transition where they got rid of some gear and they're going to pull in some new gear," said Homme, whose new band, Queens of the Stone Age, has done some recording at the ranch. "Normally, we just ping-pong back and forth. We recorded one track [for Queens of the Stone Age] at Rancho, but we wanted that tight, dry sound. Rancho's more like, 'Set it up and go' and track vocals in the kitchen and stuff."
The earthlings? are eager to turn just about anything they can find into a musical instrument. One of Drake's favorite's is an old metal-detector wired up to a theramin, which triggers odd-sounding keyboard-effects. "I hope they don't give me hassles when I try to take it to Europe; it looks a bit like a bomb," he said.
Currently the earthlings? are shooting a video for their first single, "Saving Up For My Spaceship," and gearing up for a two-week tour of Europe in mid-November, opening for Queens of the Stone Age. Since the band has played only a handful of live dates -- one of which was a barbecue at Stahl's house in Los Angeles -- no two shows are expected to be quite the same.
In addition to the earthlings?'s debut album, the musical atmosphere of Rancho de la Luna has been the subject of a series of 10-inch records released on Man's Ruin Records and dubbed the Desert Sessions.
Volumes one and two have recently been combined into a single CD and the series features an army of guest musicians, including Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain, ex-Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd, Homme and other ex-members of Kyuss.
So many musicians are flocking to Rancho de la Luna (18 albums have been recorded there so far) that Drake and company are being credited with the creation of a "desert sound" comparable to the Seattle sound of the early '90s or the San Francisco sound of the '60s.
However, Drake credits the landscape itself.
"I think it's the desert that sneaks onto the magnetic tape," he said, "and just affects everybody's mood and they start playing better and really cool things happen."