Not long after Earthly finish a set on a stage, the members of the new Carrboro electronic duo, Edaan Brook and Brint Hansen, typically fight.
No, they don't come to blows. And the words of the 22- and 23-year-old shaggy-haired producers—who, sitting in the summer shade beneath a broad oak tree, talk slowly about making music on mushrooms or thinking of their songs as sets of scenes or primary colors—don't get too heated. They do, however, debate the direction their band should take, especially when they step in front of a crowd with expectations.
"We're still not sure about the live show," explains Brook, laughing, after Hansen steps away from the table. "We don't know what people want from us, or what we want to do."
Brook recalls, for instance, the recent record-release party for Days, their excellent debut album of upturned dance numbers and luminescent musical vistas. Rather than tuck behind laptops and simply recreate the record's songs onstage, they used sequencers to turn snippets into long, uninterrupted pieces. The folks who came to dance loved the approach, but those who came to hear the endearing cuts and galloping drums of "Ice Cream" wanted to know exactly where the songs had gone.
"Making this music live is strange, because some people don't care if you're sitting behind a laptop. They're listening," Brook says. "But some people want to know you're doing something. They want to see it."
This tension between traditional operational expectations and the logistics of the actual music the pair makes is an animating force for Earthly. A digital duo in an historically analogue rock region, Earthly let that push and pull shape how they make their music and how they present it. Days sounds like a cohesive record, but it's really the convergence of their own isolated ideas, united by a high degree of kismet and low-key synergy.
Though they were roommates or neighbors for years, and though they now live just a few miles apart, they create the kernels of their tracks in seclusion and pass files back and forth. Each of them adds a layer or makes an adjustment and returns it to the sender, until the product is finished. In that way, they're more like close-distance pen pals than bandmates. But to finish Days, they decamped to Brooklyn for two intense recording, mixing and mastering sessions, much like a rock band might do to make its debut.
"When we are together, we're just hanging out," explains Brook. "We don't want to be working all the time."
Hansen picks up the thread: "But anytime we do say we're going to work, we quarantine ourselves in a very specific place, so we can create our environment for us to find a place for these tracks to live."
That dynamic stretches to the coincidental start of Earthly: Brook and Hansen met in 2010, when they were assigned to the same dormitory suite as freshman at Chicago's Columbia College. They had already become familiar with one another by checking out each other's music tastes through websites like Last.fm. They shared notes on Animal Collective (Hansen's favorite, though Brook learned to love their sample-and-synth pop), and Hansen noticed Brook's fondness for brooding, texture-heavy rock.
At school, Brook and Hansen became fast friends. They were both there to study some aspect of the music business, and they recorded some basic songs together that year. But they got along better as friends than as musicians. In fact, by the end of their second semester, they'd both realized college wasn't their calling, so they passed their final weeks playing video games or watching cartoons in their dorm or palling around to shows in the city.
They started making music together in earnest years later, after they'd both quit college. Brook, a California native, moved to North Carolina to take an internship at Redeye, the large distribution outpost associated with Yep Roc Records, which Hansen's father co-founded. Using basic audio and DJ programs, they started building their own zone-out soundtracks and eventually realized they forced one another to get better.
Their first song, "Tiger," for instance, stemmed from one lost weekend. Brook stayed up for most of it, building a beat and listening on repeat for hours. He sent it to Hansen, who added some guitar, remixed some of the tones and excised some excess. Brook came over the next day. They put the track on a loop and realized it was the best thing they'd ever done as musicians.
"From there, we just had the collective motivation to keep on making music together," Hansen says. "We kept that spirit in there, where someone starts the track and sends it to another person, and they approach it from their angle."
They work, then, almost as a classic singer-songwriter pair, where ideas realized alone have to stand up to an audience of at least two. And that's long before they have to figure out how to make it for an actual crowd.
"Tracks start with something weird or silly, and that works better on your own," says Brook. "But sometimes, Brint will send me tracks that definitely make me feel bad about myself: 'Damn, I've got to step up—or whatever.'"
This article appeared in print with the headline "Axis of rotation."