The genesis of Earthling happened rather fortuitously, perhaps a result of divine intervention from the gods of metal. Alan Fary and Brently Hilliard, high school friends who cut their teeth in Harrisonburg’s nascent metal scene, had recently split with their respective bands and were looking for something new. Praveen Chhetri, an international student at Eastern Mennonite University by way of Nepal, was looking for a group of like-minded musicians after spending his childhood in the unlikely metal hub of Kathmandu.
Upon meeting, Fary eyed down Chhetri, taking him for somebody more interested in Phish than Pentagram. “The first time I met Praveen, we were at a party. He was looking for someone to play guitar with and somebody was like, ‘Alan plays guitar,’” Fary recalled. “Somebody handed me an acoustic and said, ‘Jam with Praveen,’ and I thought I’d show him. I started playing a Megadeth riff and he just came in and knew the song.”
Earthling was formed in 2009 with Fary and Chhetri on guitar, Hilliard on drums, and mutual friend Jordan Brunk on bass (Brunk would later be replaced by Michael Steele in May of 2015, rounding out the band’s current lineup). When they first started, some of Earthling’s members lived in Harrisonburg’s longstanding paragon of beer-soaked punk rock mania, the Crayola House. They dove headfirst into writing songs and playing shows, both in their own basement and at The Blue Nile. “We had friends in Richmond and started playing down there with Inter Arma and Battlemaster a lot,” said Fary. “We’d only been together for a year. I bought a van and we just started touring whenever we could. We booked shows ourselves. A lot of them sucked, but we slowly tried to crawl our way up.”
Their persistence eventually paid off. After recording several demos, Earthling released the song “Losing Sight” on a split 7” single backed with local doom metal heroes Valkyrie, a band which the guys had grown up listening to throughout high school. Their constant touring also caught the attention of Richmond’s Forcefield Records who helped launch acts like Cannabis Corpse and Cough. Through that partnership, Earthling released their first full length album, Dark Path, in 2013.
When I asked the band to describe their sound, I was met with chuckles and shifting eyes. Metal is an umbrella term with a dizzying number of subgenres. Acts as diverse as AC/DC and Napalm Death could arguably be lumped together under that single amorphous label. “Metal, punk, I don’t know,” replied Chhetri. “We listen to all kinds of music in general. We’re a fast metal band, but I think maybe the answer is we don’t define our sound. We just try to write music that we like. We try not to limit ourselves, it’s all going to be heavy and rocking and aggressive.”
In November 2015, Baroness invited Earthling to go on tour with them to promote the release of their fourth album, Purple. Originally founded in nearby Lexington, Baroness’s influence can’t be understated. They have toured with Metallica and Deftones, amongst many others. This past December, James Hetfield listed Purple as one of the greatest things about 2015, beating out his personal experience of shooting a sniper rifle from a moving helicopter. Baroness shares members with Valkyrie, and Fary had joined Valkyrie a year prior, a connection that facilitated the partnership. The tour was particularly emotional as it was one of the first since Baroness suffered a horrific bus accident in Somerset, England in 2012, leaving numerous members hospitalized and facing rehabilitation.
With Earthling in tow, Baroness embarked on a “back to the basics” sold-out tour at smaller venues. “It was surreal seeing how professional it was,” said Steel, “We’re all punks. None of us are really the professional type.” Hilliard jumped in, adding, “We kind of got pampered in the green room. People would ask us if we were OK, if we wanted any coffee or anything. We weren’t used to that.” After years of booking their own tours, Earthling was opening for one of metal’s most celebrated acts. “They’re all really down to earth, super nice dudes. No bullshit really,” said Chhetri. “It was pretty professional, everything was rigid and structured.”
Having recently returned from the tour, Earthling is finishing writing the songs for their second album and is looking forward to getting back into the studio. “The first record was a million ideas thrown onto one album, now everything is blending together more,” said Fary. “We’ve zeroed in on what we want to do.” True to their craft, the group hopes to record in a laid-back and familiar space, allowing their musicianship to speak louder than anything else. “We don’t need the craziest, modern technology to record,” said Chhetri. “It’s all about how well we play on the record. We don’t need insane production. We want a situation where we can hash it out ourselves, as stress-free as possible.”
Earthling plans to tour extensively after the album comes out. They did 70 shows when they played in support of Dark Path; the next tour will be longer. All four members of the band have an understanding with their respective employers that they’ll split time between work and touring, a setup that gives them the flexibility to play as many shows as possible. Having had a taste of playing professionally, the group is determined to keep up the momentum that has been slowly building for the past seven years. “We had an article in Decibel and my mom thought it was this huge thing,” said Hilliard, “but I still have this job and paint houses and scrounge up change, waiting for the next tour.”
The interview ended shortly after that, with Hilliard exiting into the kitchen of the restaurant where we had been chatting. His shift was about to begin. The rest of the band stuck around, nursing their beers and reminiscing about the Baroness tour with me, smiles on their faces as they recalled some of the more sordid moments of being on the road. For a band fresh off the heels of what could potentially be their big break, Earthling is still very much rooted and at home, grateful for the experiences that sprouted years ago from an acoustic guitar and a Megadeth riff.
Earthling will be performing with Pentagram, Crab Action, and LMI at The Golden Pony on Wednesday, March 9. Follow them online at facebook.com/earthling.virginia.
Photography by Brandy Somers