By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
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At CD Warehouse, that difference didn't matter.
"In Abilene, when you find somebody cool, who likes good music, you latch," Carr says. "You're instant friends. There's no courtship, there's no nothin'. You're best buds right off the bat."
Says Lapham: "It wasn't immediately obvious what was going to happen. We hung out, and then I checked out his band. He had a really unique voice--I was quite amazed by it. He gave me a compilation CD-R of different things he'd done. The one thing that caught my interest was this little instrumental piece that he'd made on his own. It was made of loops and all this weird noise. I was really quite amazed by that, that someone in Abilene was doing stuff like that."
Lapham realized he had the final piece needed to complete his new musical project. Carr could contribute vocals, lyrics and more traditional songwriting ideas to the British trio's sampling and composing, and in an Internet age, they didn't even need to be in the same country to work together. The idea appealed to Carr: "I'd never been in any other band or done anything creatively with people other than the Danes. And it didn't require a whole lot of commitment from me. Whatever I couldn't do in my other creative areas that were defined in boxes, I could get it out with John Mark."
While separated, the two Texans e-mailed song ideas and MP3s to each other, and during one lengthy visit to Abilene at the beginning of 2000, Lapham rented a space on City Center with Carr to use as a recording studio for a few months--"it cost less than renting a house [in Abilene], or even a room," Lapham says--to develop lyrics and harmonies for songs that would eventually make up the bulk of These Were The Earlies.
But Carr, who was still in the Danes and considered these recordings nothing more than "a total bedroom project," had no idea how serious his friend was about the Earlies until Lapham returned to Manchester and pushed ahead. With copies of Carr's vocal and instrumental e-mails in hand, engineers Lapham and Hatton arranged and recorded songs with Madden's help. Not only did he play over a dozen instruments, Madden also rounded up a group of session players that included his brother and six other hometown friends.
"Christian's from a small town north of Manchester called Burnley, and in Burnley, R&B cover bands are a big, big deal," Carr says. "Most of the people on the record have been in R&B cover bands since they were 13."
Doesn't that mean the Earlies should sound more like, say, The Commitments?
"It's not traditional songwriting--nobody shows up and is like, 'Hey guys, I've got this tune, verse chorus verse bridge chorus,'" Carr says. "A lot of the songs are one note--no key changes, just layering and bringing in different melodies over the top. [The players] enjoyed comin' and doin' it and just kinda freestyling over the top of it."
Lapham and Burnley reconstructed hours of these improvisational recordings with the help of loops and samples to create totally different songs, which were then e-mailed to and from Carr for more vocal and instrumental touches. This process often stretched for months--even years--for each song. In June 2002, Lapham finally assembled two instrumentals and printed up a run of 200 seven-inch records. Though admittedly naïve about promoting and selling albums, he lucked out by finding fans at prestigious shops such as Piccadilly Records and Rough Trade who not only promoted and sold the entire run but also convinced the group to release more material.
The next August, the group released "Morning Wonder," which was originally an instrumental before Carr insisted on adding vocals to the song's second half. This proved to be the half-organic, half-electronic breakthrough that saw Lapham's and Carr's styles meet halfway--the elaborate, Massive Attack-style studio trickery was now swelling with folksy, songwriter elements, and the result was soon compared by the British press to the Flaming Lips, the very band Lapham and Carr bonded over at CD Warehouse in 1998.
"People ask, 'How could that come from Texas?'" Carr says. "I guess people view Texas as a not very psychedelic place, but my musical experience in Texas...was seeing bands like Hi-Fi Drowning, Buck Jones, Tomorrowpeople, Tripping Daisy. To me, at least the scene I chose to associate myself with was a very psychedelic, pop-driven scene."
The seven-inch release reached Number 60 on the British charts and quickly attracted major-label interest. As it turned out, one of the band's supporters at Rough Trade's Notting Hill shop, Billy Campbell, was an A&R rep for Warner Brothers UK imprint 679 but had never told the band. He was creating a 679 offshoot label, Names Recordings, and wanted the Earlies to be his first signing.
They agreed, and within months, Carr flew to Manchester to meet for the first time with Hatton and Madden, the bandmates he'd collaborated with for three years via e-mailed song ideas.
"We had a little bit of a session before the signing took place," Lapham says. "It was a little bit surreal; they'd talked on the phone, so they all kinda knew they were going to get along. It was funny to watch [their meeting], but it worked out."