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EARLIMART: SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL
Somewhere between the desolate drive from Fresno to Los Angeles lies one of the many quiet communities of the great Central Valley - and Fresno native Aaron Espinoza decided to name his band after it. Welcome to Earlimart, Caflifornia: population 6,583.
While reminiscing in an inconspicuous bar located a few miles down the street from "The Ship," the band's recording studio, Espinoza recounts a conversation he once had with a familiar name in music.
"Kim Deal (the Pixies) asked me 'what the fuck is Earlimart?'" After two margaritas, a couple of beers and shot of Maker's Mark, he answers, " I told her, 'It was either that or the Pixlies.' And she said, 'You should've named it the Pixlies,'"
But why did Fresno Famous really drive all the way to L.A. to talk to the scruffy-looking songwriter and producer? Not to talk about his endless amounts of alcohol or ex-girlfriends, or Earlimart's latest full-length record Treble & Tremble, but rather to find out why he has talked so much trash on our "beloved" town in past interviews with the press. Well, we wanted to know other things too, but first let's get to the dirt:
"I feel like I'm one of the only people to get out alive; Fresno will kill you."
"I've never had my car stolen except for when I was living in Fresno. That's funny."
"It gets so fuckin' hot there that I swear people lose their minds and start shooting each other and stuff. It's insane."
Granted, Espinoza had a point, but some of his anti-Fresno comments didn't sit too well with his friends.
"I've definitely received some flack from old comrades back home about being able to do what I'm doing now with the band and studio and whatnot."
He recalled the days of the Fresno "Fulton" era where he played in bands like IG-88 and 406. "It was this sentiment I felt Fresno had that no one gives a fuck about what we're trying to do."
Although Espinoza has had some beef in the past with certain aspects of the Fresno "mentality," he admits that his music and life wouldn't be the same today without his upbringing in the city.
"I would say the best thing Fresno ever did, is that people there let me rebel against it, which has gotten me to the point where I am now. If you have nothing to rebel against then you're just going to be a little lamb."
"It's pretty obvious; if I stayed in Fresno I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now. I'm not saying it's impossible, it just wasn't for me."
And exactly where is Espinoza? He just got married. He runs a successful recording studio in Eagle Rock, where he has recorded Elliot Smith, The Breeders, Grandaddy and the Panty Lions. His band has toured across the country and overseas.
The L.A.-based musician made his move down south in 1997 after living "Fonzie-style" in an attic on top of a garage of a guy named "Gay Ray."
"That's what we called him; he was awesome." After making the move, Espinoza "coaxed some [Fresno] friends into coming down." After being in "a couple bands here and there," Espinoza finally buckled down and formed Earlimart. Today, he is the only original member of the band.
Through playing music in Los Angeles, Espinoza says has met some of the greatest musicians of his time, most notably the late Elliot Smith.
"He would come to our shows and he'd always pay - never allowed himself to be put on the guest list. And he would stand right in fucking front! He would say, 'that's where I like it, that's where I want to watch the show,'" Espinoza remembered. "Even though we were really good friends, he would make me really nervous."
He fondly remembers Smith as a musician and close friend who taught him some of the most important lessons of his life, adding that Earlimart's new record is "like 90 percent about Elliot - completely."
"[Treble & Tremble] is not a tribute album, it's a record. And I think it's a record that he would've liked. It's not a tribute to his legacy, but there are some personal things intertwined in the songs." Espinoza describes the new record as "end of the movie music" that juxtaposes death and love, both of which he was experiencing while writing the songs. One new track, "All They Ever Do Is Talk," is a direct reference to Fresno.
"I pull from Fresno a lot in my songs, and there are some major traumatic experiences I pull from Fresno."
Although his music is still influenced by past memories, Espinoza thinks of the city as a thing of the past. Onward and upward and all that.