Interview: Crystal Stilts

 

Formed in 2003 by Brad Hargett and JB Townsend, New York’s own Crystal Stilts have come quite long way. After releasing  a string of singles and EP’s, their first proper album  Alight Of Night was finally released in 2008, raising some eyebrows across the globe. Here was a band whose influences seemed to range from The Jesus And Mary Chain and Joy Division to some very lo-fi 60’s rock. Whatever style you call the band, after hearing the first album you could certainly argue that it was a pretty bleak sound.

It’s night-time music – something ambient that also rocks and has a hell of an infectuous sound.

Having released earlier this year their second album In Love With Oblivion (2 weeks before playing the Austin Psych Fest!), Crystal Stilts certainly have kept their sonic intentions, only this time they have expanded on them. The songs are bigger, and the ideas are more in your face. You hear the traces of Bauhaus, of The Byrds, and even in its rhythmic repetition, some B-52’s and most definitely some Spacemen 3 (well, in my opinion).

As hard as the words can sometimes be to discern, upon paying close attention one finds a surprising amount in care and delivery of the poetry in the lyrics – something that struck me at first because the vocals can sometimes be difficult to make out. It should also be noted that this is the first time the band recorded as a full group; previous releases’ instrumentation was usually only recorded by Brad and JB – and you can tell when listening to In Love With Oblivion that Crystal Stilts is taking its time to breathe on this one and experiment with different soundscapes and dynamics.

They’re a band that have everything going for them, and you feel like they’re just on the tip of something much bigger. Their latest release, an EP entitled Radiant Door, came out on Sacred Bones records just a few weeks ago and certainly does good justice in reminding us that this is a band that isn’t letting go of its uniqueness.

Interviewed here is JB Townsend – check for details right below the interview about Crystal Stilts’ upcoming show here in Montreal, along with The Tandoori Knights (also interviewed by TBM – check it out here).

TBM: People are (usually justifiably) quick to point out bands like Jesus & Mary Chain and Velvet Underground when trying to review bands that have a psychedelic sound. However, a lot of this music is accessible because it also heavily connects to pop. What are some of the more pop influences that helped shape Crystal Stilts?

JB: Well, The Rolling Stones (especially 60’s Stones) are actually a really huge influence on me. I guess pop, as in Billboard top 100 used to be pretty darn good in general. A lot of my favorite records are technically pop records.  I would say that popularity doesn’t ultimately matter with a record if it’s what you the listener perceives to be good – as long as it is available. I guess it’s rarer for me personally to find pop records I would listen to from the past 30 years as opposed to from say, before 1980. That’s by no means some kind if strict rule, it’s just what I’ve noticed myself gravitating towards. 

You guys are starting to record as a full band in the studio now, unlike your first recordings. How has this affected your way of recording an album?

It makes it more fun for everyone if we have our individual freedom to contribute what we think is a good compliment to a song. It can make a song really morph depending on each person’s take on their part – so it makes it more interesting and unexpected. It also makes it easier to translate live. We’re all in it to make it sound as good as we can, so yeah, there’s not much personal ego involved.

Let’s say you were able to set up your dream-bill for a show, comprised of other current bands you like and have played with. Who would you pick?

Based on bands we’ve already played with? I’d probably choose some of my friends bands that are now defunct then maybe, Galaxie 500, The Clean, Spectrum. I’m excited to play with Happy Refugees in December. 

Is it difficult to retain the atmosphere you create in your records through the live show, or do you try to go for something else when playing live?

Certain aspects are almost impossible to recreate without serious hi-tech tricks and laptops and stuff, or like 3 more members, but we usually do something comparable to the record these days more than we used to. Theres always little accidents when you play music, live or recorded that we definitely embrace. That’s why there’s little random sound traces here and there on our records. I would say that there’s sometimes more raw magic energy at a show than on the records. 

How did the new EP, Radiant Door, come about? With such a busy schedule, was it easy to take the time to produce something you were ultimately happy with?

We recorded it right before In Love With Oblivion came out. We had a handful of songs that we thought would better fit on an EP rather than tacking on to a third LP later. I’m happy with it – I generally end up wanting to remix things like 4 times after they marinate for awhile. I’m always interested in bringing out different things on the tape. I’m still learning how to make the most of mixing. It can be mentally laborious. There’s so much you can do with a song, especially with the way our music is, you can accentuate certain layers etc… I was thinking the other night that I wouldn’t mind remixing some of our first records as well some day. I mixed Alight like 3 times and the early mixes are definitely not bad, just a bit different. 

It’s no secret that there are a ton of blogs and websites out there dedicate to interviews and reviews, such as this one. At the same time, your band has a bit more mystery than most, info-wise. You don’t have 11 Facebook pages, 2 twitter accounts, 3 blogs, etc… like a lot of bands do. Is it important for a band, as far as you’re concerned, to keep some sense of mystery, instead of putting every bit of info out there?

I do like mystery quite a bit and I think its important to an extent. That said, when bands pages shifted from Myspace to all the newer outlets we decided to just go with our own website instead of trying to evolve with ever-changing social sites. It’s enough work as it is without having to post on 5 different sites.  Plus Facebook wouldn’t let me create our page in any capacity because some Danish dude already made it! 

Crystal Stilts play Il Motore (179 Rue Jean-Talon-Ouest) Wednesday, November 30 along with Tandoori Knights. Tickets are 12$ in advance and can be purchased through www.blueskiesturnblack.com or can be purchased at the door for 14$.

www.crystalstilts.com

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