Earlimart : Q&A

<img src="http://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/earlimartinterview.jpg" alt=" " />Smack in the middle of their four-city ‘strings included’ tour, Earlimart’s singer & guitarist, Aaron Espinoza, and bassist & keyboardist, Ariana Murray, took the time...

  In it they, covered their recent dates, last week’s release of Mentor Tormentor (QRO review), creating ‘The String Dream Team’, why the fifteen-track record is actually shorter than it was supposed to be, their recording studio, “The Ship”, ‘The Ship Collective’, “The Proto-Ship”, Aaron’s changing feelings about his hometown of Fresno, their cat food-eating drummer, and how they handle always being asked to play their least favorite song…

QRO: How was San Francisco & Seattle?

Ariana Murray: It was great.  Great, great, great, great.

Aaron Espinoza: This tour has been more intimate, smaller venues.  We’re trying to get away from – there’s nothing wrong with it – but we’re trying to get away from the ‘rock club’ thing.  Sort of a little bit nicer, a little upscale.

QRO: Classier.

AM: Yeah.  ‘A touch of class.’

AE: It’s been going good, though.  They’re small rooms.  I think that’s probably for own good.  I think we fill them up pretty quickly.

QRO: How were your record release parties in L.A.?

AE: The record release parties were great.  We had two of ‘em.  L.A. is really huge, so we had one on the west side of town, where we don’t normally play, ‘cause we’re from the east side.

So we had one out there.  Again, this non-traditional thing: we played at this women’s club, it’s called ‘The Santa Monica Women’s Club’, which is like, exactly what it is, women getting together, knitting, baking, whatever.  They have like a 300-person ballroom there, so we got to use that.

AM: It felt like a junior high dance, too.  It was this big, wooden floor, kind of like the gym.

QRO: How’s it been, now that Mentor Tormentor is out?

AM: Well, we pretty much, since the day it came out, started touring.  So we jumped from city to city, and it’s hard to get a feel, a reaction.  I guess we’ll see.  Things seem positive – I don’t think Aaron or I have really read anything, maybe superstitiously…

AE: We don’t really enjoy reading anything.

QRO: Was there a lot of anticipation for when Mentor came out?

AE: Oh, man, well, it took us about two years to make it.  It was a hard battle, making the record, for a number of reasons.  I had a really good feeling.  I was like, “Wow, finally, the day has come!”

AM: Finally.

AE: Or even the week leading up to Tuesday, “I can’t believe the thing’s actually gonna be out there.”  Which is cool, ‘cause we’ve been working on it, living with it, for so long.  And now, at this point, for me, personally, when the record comes out, it feels like it’s not ‘ours’ anymore.  It’s out there; it’s gone.

QRO: How did ‘The String Dream Team' come together?

AM: That was a dream of ours.  We played a couple shows, with that feeling that we could get in the studio.  We didn’t know if it would be possible.  We started playing with this guy, Jason Borger, who we call, ‘The Professor’, and basically he took all the string parts that we had written for the songs – on keyboards – and transposed them.  And he has a bunch of friends in L.A. that are string players.  So he wrote everything out and made it possible for us.  Then we did it a couple of times in L.A., and we were like, “Okay, how can we do this as many places as possible?”

AE: We got invited to play the Getty Museum.  That’s the first time we did it.  It went so well, it was like, “How can we play again, without the string section?”  Then we thought, “How about we do the first week of the album release, just quick-fire around the country, with strings?”  And I think it’s a great idea.

QRO: What are the logistics of that?

AM: We’ll give the stuff a couple weeks in advance to some really amazing sight-readers.  So we’ll sometimes meet the string players, an hour before the show.  We’ll do like a quick rehearsal – They’re just a whole ‘nother ballgame of musicians.  They’ll have the recording ahead of time, but pretty much the first time they’re playing it is at the show.

QRO: What are you going to do for strings for the next of the tour [in September/October]?

AM: We’ll do synth.  We left all the synth on the record; it’s not like, once we had the strings parts, we didn’t strip away the synth.  It’ll still sound right; it’ll just gonna be minus that little extra.

QRO: How many people are there in The String Dream Team?

AM: Four.  It’s a quartet.

QRO: Is that hard, with the smaller places, with all those extra people on stage?

AE: Yes.

QRO: How was making Mentor Tormentor different than making your previous albums?

AE: Like I said, it took longer.  On the other records, we had firm deadlines.  On this one it didn’t really exist – we didn’t have a dead line.  Maybe deadlines can be a good thing…

AM: We began the album after Palm [Records, their previous label] had pretty much folded.  We just went in, not knowing who would put it out.  And we get wrapped up doing it, we forget about this stuff, and then two years later, we turned around and you’re like, “Oh yeah, we should probably think about that.”

QRO: Ariana, you wrote all of “Happy Alone”.  That was the first time you’ve done that on an Earlimart record?

AM: I’ve written songs before, but either out of laziness or self-loathing, I tend not to finish them.  And with this, Aaron was like, ‘No, you’ve got finish this one.’  So I did.

QRO: This is your fifth album – Why only now?

AM: Over the years, the band takes different formations.  I think with all of them, I’ve been more involved.  Collaboration takes a while to build.  I know for Aaron & I, however long it’s taken, but now it really seems to gel.

AE: Exactly.  Ariana and I are like the core of the band.  But now, with this record, she’s such a big part of writing – not only “Happy Alone”, but writing other stuff.  We trust each other more and more and more.  Me too –

I’m opening up more and letting her run the shit, not like controlling every little fucking moment.

  I’m an only child.

QRO: You’ve said that “Don’t Think About Me” is the first song you’ve written that wasn’t from your point-of-view.  Did that make it more difficult to write?

AE: That was one of those songs that just kind of came.  It sounds bad, but I think I was relieved – There were relationship problems with some people close to the band, and for once, it wasn’t mine.  It was a reaction to what different people were going through.

QRO: Mentor Tormentor has fifteen tracks.  All of your four previous full-lengths had twelve-to-thirteen tracks each.  Why so many?

AM: That’s what happens without deadlines…

AE: Once the ball started rolling, more and more songs started coming out.  We record songs as we write ‘em, basically.  It wasn’t like we had a batch of songs, and then we recorded them.  Things started coming, and that takes a while, you get two or three, then you record it, then you get five of them…

We wanted to write and record the strongest album we could.  We were kind of throwing away the whole thing, but then we were like, ‘If it doesn’t sound this way, that doesn’t mean it has to get cut, or whatever.’  That’s why Mentor is a bit all over the place, in a sense; there’s “Don’t Think About Me”, and then there’s “Everybody Knows Everybody”.  Instead of us putting a confine on ourselves, the only standards you had to have was, ‘Was it a good song?’  If that was true, we didn’t get rid of it; we’d worked really hard.

Then it turned into a thing where we had a bunch of really good songs, we thought were really good songs, and we decided to make a double-album.  It was initially going to be a double-album, but the ‘Powers That Be’ talked us out of releasing two discs.  Mentor is basically the closest we could get to a double-album.  We’re actually gonna release the vinyl ourselves, of the record, and we’re gonna make it the double-album.  I think it’s gonna have twenty, twenty-one songs.

I think that’s why it’s so long, because we fall in love with these tunes, it’s so hard to cut ‘em.  Fifteen was like, “Okay, we can’t cut anymore than that.”  So we decided to put a long one out.

QRO: You say you write a few songs, and then record them.  Do you think you do it differently than other bands because you have your own recording studio, as opposed to a regular band, without a recording studio, who write them all and then go in?

AE: That’s how it works.  I’ve never done it that way; we’ve recorded everything ourselves, so we’ve always done it this way.  I don’t think that’s the normal way; I think that’s why we do the things we do.  That’s probably why, how, we do things the way we do it.

QRO: Your last record, Treble & Tremble, got a lot of favorable press from big-name outlets [Entertainment Weekly, Interview Magazine, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Rolling Stone, and others].  Did that put any extra pressure on you, when you were making Mentor Tormentor?

AM: I don’t think so.  We’d toured Treble quite a bit, and it got to that point where you get antsy to get back into the studio and record again.  Going into it, we had like two years to dick around with ideas, of what we wanted to do, ways to do it.

Also knowing that the label thing was up in the air, I just don’t think it was about reviews, or labels, or anything; it was just about making the record for ourselves.

AE: Treble came out so long ago – three years ago – that maybe, we didn’t have that pressure following us, ‘cause it happened a while ago.  The only pressure there may have been is, ‘Well, people really did like that record.’  Out of all the records we made up to that point, that seemed to be the most popular one.

But as soon as Ariana and I started writing and recording this next one, we were confident.  It is as good, or better, than Treble, so it never even crossed our minds, to live up to Treble, ‘cause we’d already surpassed it.

QRO: When did you create your recording studio, “The Ship”?

AE: Well, “The Ship” was originally built by the band.  The first incarnation of the band, which was… ‘99 is what we’re saying, probably started in ’98 – our ten-year anniversary is coming up – that line-up of the band, we built that studio in 2000.

We didn’t have any labels, none of that shit.  Not that we didn’t think it would happen, we just thought,

‘Why don’t we create something for ourselves, build something, that no one can ever take away from us?’

  That, no matter what happens in the world…

AM: We can still make a record.

AE: We can still make a record.  So it’s not like we’re one of these bands, that don’t have one, where they have to sit around and wait for some guy with a bunch of money to come around and say, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’  We weren’t going to let that happen.

So, in a way, it started as a place for us to rehearse, a place for us to hang out, a place for us to record.  That was the initial idea of the studio.  It’s grown a little past that, it’s a little more professional now, in the studio sense, but in the beginning, it was like a real clubhouse, a real ‘collective’-feeling, a real gang clubhouse.

AM: I think one thing he wouldn’t say, but Aaron is really self-educated.  By doing the Earlimart records, and he did a lot of other bands, and then pretty much every spare dime he had he invested in that studio, so it really became his.  Over the course of a couple Earlimart records it went from being a clubhouse into now a pretty legitimate studio.

And it’s kind of made us spoiled, too, ‘cause now it’s like, “Why would we go record our records anywhere else?”  We put all this time and effort into it.

QRO: When did you start taking on other bands, like Silversun Pickups and Irving?

AE: The first two albums that we recorded are probably not even known to the world, these two releases in 2000.  We were recording in a bedroom in a house that we all lived in.  That was like the first incarnation of “The Ship”.  But once I got brave enough to ask another band to come in, ‘cause I wanted to keep doing it, ‘cause I was just getting better and better – obviously, the more you do it, the better you get – right around that time, in 2000, we made friends with Irving.  Irving was sort of the centerpiece, the other half of the puzzle, with Earlimart, and Earlimart friends, and then there was Irving, and Irving friends.  Let’s Go Sailing was a spin-off of Irving, and Sea Wolf’s a spin-off…  Silversun Pickups popped up a little bit later.  Pretty early on, we made friends with them, and I started recording ‘em in about 2000.

But they’ve gone on and done great things.  I’m not recording everybody’s records – and it’s good that I’m not.  They’re going to other studios, and establishments…

AM: It’s like a stepping-stone, a lot of it.

AE: I mean, I would love to maybe do another Irving record, or another Silversun record.  I think that would be kind of cool, like full circle.  I think “The Ship” and Earlimart in a sense were sort of like this ‘nest’ that we could all, together, we were growing, but we had to push each other out of the nest, to fly.  Us included.

QRO: “Cold Cold Heaven” features the entire ‘Ship Collective’ singing together.  How did you make that happen?

AM: A few phone calls.

QRO: Who is the entire ‘Ship Collective’, anyway?

AM: If you go to the-ship.com, you’ll see a list of those bands.

AE: That was a bunch of Miller Highlife and some phone calls.  It was a cool thing for us to do, ‘cause ‘The Ship Collective’ has been such a vague thing.  Like, ‘What is it?’  We could finally now say that we did something together.

AM: But always operated individual bands.  That was probably the first we ever all did at the same time.  We’ve had a couple ‘Ship Shows’.

AE: I think the press have taken angles on it, and made it that we had played on everybody’s record, play on each other’s records.  That happens to an extent, but it’s not this big, secret society, or anything like that.  It’s much more loose and vague.

Now we could actually define a moment where we got together, a ‘Ship Collective’ choir moment, recording moment.

QRO: Do you have any new, post-Mentor material?

AE: There’s a cool little EP that comes along with the record, if you buy it in an independent store.  All the independents have this EP, I guess rubber-banded with it or something, and it has two songs that aren’t on the record, then it gives you a URL to go to the website, and you can download two songs that Ariana I just did like… like a week ago.  So there’s some real new stuff…

Mentor TormentorQRO: Where did the idea of the suburban, one-floor housing album art on Mentor Tormentor come from [see right]?

AM: Well, one of the reasons is it’s like where Aaron’s from.  But also it’s just more symbolic of having something really ordinary, or something that you take for granted, suggestive of other things…

I don’t know how to verbalize it, really.  Let me think about it.  Let me get back to you.

QRO: You’re playing the Treasure Island Festival on September 16th, and previously opened up L.A.’s new EchoPlex venue.  How does playing an outdoor, festival-type show compare with playing an indoor, ‘regular’ show?

AE: I don’t know – The sound goes away a lot quicker?  They’re hard.  Outdoors is hard.

AM: Weather.

AE: It’s usually bang, bang – get on, get off.  It’s a little crazy; more control, but less control?

QRO: Do you prefer one over the other?


I think I like the idea of the outdoor, but I prefer the intimate sound of indoor.

  It just goes away so quickly; it’s hard to feel connected to each other.

Sometimes at a festival-like thing, you’ll have a bigger band – maybe Treasure Island will be this way – the band like five bands after us will be Modest Mouse or something, so they’ll have like a big, fucking stage, and we’ll be really spread out, but then I can’t hear Ariana, way over there.

QRO: How did you two meet?

AM: We started out as roommates.  We had mutual friend in Ashod [Simonian], who was in the first incarnation of the band, he and I met in college, he and Aaron knew each other from Fresno, and that’s how we all ended up in the same house.  The basement of that house was where sort of our first studio.

QRO: “The Proto-Ship”?

AM: “The Proto-Ship”, exactly.

QRO: Aaron, you’re originally from Fresno, California.  What was growing up in Fresno like?

AE: I think it was actually a good place to grow up.  You can like play in the streets and stuff, there’s fields to play in…

It kind of has this ‘glass ceiling’ over it.  It’s just like a lot towns.  Though Fresno’s expanding like crazy.  But, like a small town where you have this glass ceiling over it, where you always feel like you can only go so far.  Like, I always say it’s not a town for dreamers, necessarily.  It’s a good town to be from, but not necessarily to be at.

I used to be down on Fresno a lot more, when I was younger, ‘Oh, that shit-hole, the people are all backward…’  The Central Valley of California, in that sense, is in essence, ‘Oklahoma, California’.  There’s definitely a ‘redneck’ thing there.  It’s like anywhere; there’s some bad shit.

Now, I realize, instead of being down on it, I kind of embrace it a lot more, it being a part of me.  The thing is, you always have to have something to rebel against.  If I didn’t have something to rebel against, right?  If I didn’t have something to rebel against, I probably wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing now, I don’t know.  Now, I realize, Fresno sucked because I needed it to suck; it got me to where I needed to go.  But now, I’m glad it had its effects on me, good and bad.

QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?

AE: Where are you liking these days?

AM: I like playing “Nevermind”.

AE: “Nevermind The Phonecalls”?

AM: Yeah.

AE: I really like playing “Gonna Break Your Heart”.

AM: We brought back some old stuff, too, because of the strings.

AE: Yeah.  We’re playing “Heaven Adores You” off of Treble, and we play them with the strings section.

AM: We’re playing “Lazy Feet”, which is one we hadn’t played before.

AE: Yeah, “Lazy Feet”, off of the album before that [2003’s Everyone Down Here].  We’d actually never played that until this tour, never played that song.

“Heaven Adores You” is really cool, ‘cause obviously, the song means a lot to myself, and I’m sure to everybody, Ariana…

But with the strings, it’s like, I swear…  I get chills when they go for it.  Great string part.  I hadn’t heard it like that before, played it for years, and hadn’t heard it like that.  It’s like a brand-new song.

QRO: Are there any songs you don’t like playing live?

AE: It goes back and forth.  I think “We Drink On the Job” is the worst song I ever wrote, right, but that happens to be one of the most popular ones.  I think we have found little things to make it fun for ourselves.  We have much better songs than “We Drink On the Job”, but we still should play it, ‘cause people like it, so we have to make it kind of fun and new for ourselves.

I think that was probably one that’s gone through a phase of, ‘I don’t like the song’, but now it’s got a new lease on life.

QRO: You’ve got a tour coming up.  Are there any places you’re particularly looking forward to going to?

AE: I’m really looking forward to going back to Canada.  We haven’t been back there in a while.  She was born in Montreal.

AM: I have family there.  I really like Canada.

QRO: You’ve been playing together for several years now.  How have things changed?

AE: I’ve gotten heavier.

AM: Older, heavier…

AE: Ariana and I…  She’s a giant part of my life – she always has been – but now, after all this stuff, after all the good and the bad, over the years, now we’re like this really neat, level playing field, with respect, and love, and trust…


We got all the drama out of it, out of our relationship.

AE: When we were younger, we weren’t open to listening to other people’s opinions, necessarily, all the time.  But now, today, we just start to respect other people’s opinions more.

QRO: Do you have any great tour stories?

AM: We have a lot of tour stories…

AE: One time, we dared our drummer to eat a can of cat food, salmon-flavored cat food.  Twenty bucks…

AM: You see, we had started the dare, at a certain point, so we bought the cat food.  It took him like a week to agree to this dare, but in that time, the cat food sat in the van, the hot van.  For a week.  On the dashboard.  And then one day he just broke…

AE: We’d keep bringing it up.

AM: Davey’s gotta get credit for that.

AE: Davey Latter.

AM: Davey Latter.  One in a million.  And he ate that can of cat food.

AE: He pulled over in the middle of nowhere.  It wasn’t even a gas station; it was just a rest stop.  He was like, “Alright, I’m gonna do it, right now.”

We all got out; it was kind of drizzling.  I’ll never forget it.

AM: It was like one of those horrible little rest stops…

AE: Oregon rest stops.  It was drizzling, and he just like… I think he was contemplating how he would do it.


We were really into dares…

AE: He just took that can of salmon-flavored cat food, and plunked into his hand, and shoved it into his face.

QRO: Did he manage to get it all down?

AE: Yeah, ‘cause if he threw up–

AM: We had a ten-minute rule.

QRO: No ‘Reversal of Fortune’…

AE: He kept it down.  He’s a competitor.

AM: He will win.

AE: The competitive soul inside of him.

  • Anonymous
  • No Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Album of the Week