In the Spring of 2003, I happened upon the website of a small Dallas-based production company. I checked out the company's roster, and though most of the bands were merely OK, the very last band on the page was this group called The Earlies. It was compared to the Beach Boys and Mercury Rev, and though the description sounded quite intriguing, I didn't really expect much. After all, hyperbole is to be expected in this music business. Boy, was I ever wrong! I cried when I first heard "Wayward Song." I think I listened to "Wayward Song" a dozen times that afternoon. I think I listened to it twice as many times the next day. I fell in love with this band almost instantly. It's really hard not to instantly fall in love with their music. Instantly, a connection was made, and I couldn't shut up about them. But a problem arose: all of the band's super-limited edition singles had simply vanished into the ether; it was impossible to hear much of their music. Thankfully, all of these great songs were not lost; they were collected on their debut album, These Were The Earlies, which appeared in 2004. Even then, it was almost impossible to find in the United States. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that this excellent record was released domestically, thanks to new label Secretly Canadian.
The Earlies are a unique band, largely because they are an orchestral pop band that's divided by an ocean. John Mark Lapham and Brandon Carr reside in Texas, while Giles Hatton and Christian Madden live in England. That their music is the product of long-distance collaborations isn't something you'd know unless you were told, because their music is that cohesive. But the music speaks for itself, and I have no qualms in naming These Were The Earlies one of the best records of 2005. As you read this, the band is embarking on their first tour of the United States. Though they were busy preparing for tour, one half of this beautiful band was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us. We're quite honored that they did.
How did the four of you meet? Was collaboration something you initially had in mind? What prompted the start of the band, or did The Earlies exist at some point before the intercontinental collaboration began?
John Mark: We all met in random ways, in a studio and record shop, respectively. Originally we really didn't have anything solid in mind, we were just doing our own thing, learning how to put songs together in different ways. Giles and I often spoke of what it would be like to work in a band context, specifically merging pop, psychedelics, and electronics (funnily enough...). When we started spending time with Christian and imagining what he and his friends from Burnley could bring to the formula, that's when it loosely began to start taking shape. However, it wouldn't be until a few years later when I bumped in to a young fresh faced Brandon Carr in a small record shop in a small Texas town (Abilene, to be exact) that what came to be 'The Earlies' would form.
Giles: Although the set up for The Earlies is unusual, the actual meeting of the band really isn't. We were just like minded individuals in the right place at the right time who share an interest in making the kind of music we do.We were all making music before The Earlies, but speaking only for myself, I wanted to move on and do something more ambitious than the electronic music I was making at the time.
Considering the uniqueness of your arrangement, could you describe the process of creating an Earlies song?
John Mark: There really is no set process to describe. Each song has a unique birth. Sometimes it's very random, say with a single loop or noise. Other times, there is a group of lyrics that has a ring to them, or sometimes a song is built from improvisations. We really try to keep how these songs come about as varied and changing as possible.
Giles: The process varies and is not nailed down which is what makes being in The Earlies so very interesting. People tend initially to work with material gathered in isolation and then pass it on to other members to embellish, so no musical idea is ever set in stone. Then, when the parts appear to be in place, we all go into the studio where the tracks are completed.
There are obvious drawbacks to an arrangement such as yours--but what are some of the benefits?
John Mark: Mainly, from my point of view, it means we can all live anywhere in the world we want to and still make a record. Also, us being apart and using computers to bring songs together means that we are forced to think of composition in different ways. Sometimes unorthodox, sometimes just different.
Giles: The band members are allowed to express themselves freely whereas the convensional band set up can sometimes seem quite limiting. We tend not to have arguements in the studio, because the tracks have already been developed outside that enviroment, so the diversity of the music is preserved and uncompromised.
Until the album came out, all of your releases were on either ten inch or seven inch records. Does this mean that you prefer to consider each of your songs a seperate entity that deserves to stand alone, or, at the very least, be presented in a very concise manner, so as to magnify the song's power?
John Mark: To be honest, I think it's more that we love vinyl. Also, at the time, we really could only finish one song at a time, and each one took us AGES. We've gotten a bit quicker now that this is a job, and all. But yeah, we love records, and those songs at the time made sense as A and B sides..
Giles: Every track we produce we see as a potential release and we try not to think of them in terms of singles or album tracks. Also, this arose out of neccessity as our first releases were self-funded, so it had to be right for a cheap format.
These Were The Earlies is a singles collection, but most listeners wouldn't know that unless someone pointed it out. Was there a particular reason why the Earlies had not released a full-length album--I'm assuming financial--and were you surprised with the record's seamlessness?
John Mark: To be honest, again, we really do consider this to be our first album. It's a shame we had to release so many of the songs before the album, but it was a long process from when we started making tracks to when we were signed. These songs that ended up on the album, some were recorded especially for the full length, some didn't make it..some were re-produced to fit the format of a full length.. or re-done in keeping with how we were changing as a band. So in that respect we do see it more than being just a singles collection. Personally, I'm not surprised how it fits together so solidly. A lot of thought was put in to sequencing, and mixing and re-mixing so the flow was there. i think by the time we were in to our 3rd single, we were already hearing how the album would sound, anyway. So from then on, we would craft the singles so they would eventually sit well on the LP.
Giles: When the album was first assembled it was great to hear how well it seemed to flow together,but not really too surprising, as that was what we had always intending--to make a record that had a beginning, middle and end and took you on a bit of a trip.It only really ended up being released as singles because of our financial position before we got funding.
Tempered within the melancholy of your music, there's an overwhelming ray of hope that shines through and makes the listening experience quite incredible. Would you say that the Earlies' mission is to deliver beauty into a dark, sad and dreary world?
John Mark: Um, I don't know if that is specifically our mission. Personally, I don't find it a sad and dreary world. I think, depending on your outlook, life can be sad and dreary or quite happy. Or both. I think we just naturally want to make affecting music, whatever effect may come. For me as a songwriter, I think contrast is very important, like delivering some very desperate, sad words over a very happy song, for instance. I think, on a good day, if we can convery honest feelings, and put our hearts in to sound, and maybe throw in a good measure of freakiness or just some strand of orgininality, then we're doing our jobs.
Giles: I like all kinds of melancholy music but it seems more affecting when some kind of pathos or sense of hope is present within the music,we wanted to make something sonically affecting but with an emotional core like the music that influences and us.I don,t see the world as a dark and dreary place,there are too many amazing things and people within it for it to ever be that,of course there are those out there who seem intent on spoiling it for the rest of us.
What's next for The Earlies?
John Mark: We're currently busy working on our 2nd album, plus many of us are gearing up for a US tour to promote the 1st. Once the touring is out of the way, we'll finish the follow-up, then after that, more touring, I'm guessing. We're all pursuing outside interests that we hope will enhance what we do when we come together. There's a lot of work to be done...
Giles: We are currently working on our next record, which we are all very excited about, as it seems to be progressing in some new and unusual directions, and we are looking forward to visiting your fair land for some live performances. We hope to see you there.
The Earlies embark on their first full American tour this month. Click here for the dates--and don't miss 'em!