The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Porn, Ben Stiller And Vegetable Oil: The Unusual World Of Crystal Antlers
Mark Eglinton , March 26th, 2009 10:25

Organic evolution isn’t easy nowadays, particularly with the vast outreach and sheer quantity of modern media outlets. But quietly , in a corner of Long Beach CA, six piece Crystal Antlers have achieved just that, and that’s despite some fairly off the wall extra-curricular activities. Their debut EP was a perfect example; knocked-up on a small budget albeit with the assistance of Ikey Owens of Mars Volta fame, it threw up a dizzying combo of psych, garage and punk but with a healthy chunk of soul in there too. The live shows that followed became renowned for their eccentricity, largely due to bizarre venues and the plethora of instruments deployed, they served to turn more than just local heads. Now though, armed with a new record, not to mention chimney-sweeping jobs as a back-up, the sextet has broken cover to play Europe. I met hirsute, tea-swilling frontman and entrepreneur Jonny Bell with various random inputs from other band members. Oh, and a weird guy with a laptop who kept interrupting.

Hi there Jonny, how’s London treating you so far then?

Jonny Bell: "Well it’s all happened really fast, cause most of us have never even been to Europe before so it’s been a lot of fun. But we did four shows in London already, so we’re kinda getting to know what it’s all about."

You’re pretty quick off the mark on Facebook, I only requested you last night!

JB: "I’m not really great at all that, I don’t even really understand Facebook actually. Our manager Phil checks it out I think. I know about MySpace more and we’ve used that to promote ourselves in the past, I’ll maybe check out Facebook now."

What kind of crowds do you generally get and how does this venue compare to some of the places you play at home, like porn theatres etc.

JB: “Ha! Yeah we’ve played some pretty weird places at times and yeah we did play a porn place but only cause someone booked us there. This would definitely be on the upper end of some of the places we play, it’s kinda nice actually. We get all different kinds of people at our shows, no particular scene though. We actually played a couple of biker festivals and rock festivals back home and that was actually really cool, one guy actually came up on stage and played harmonica with us, which was better than showering us with gallon bottles of piss I guess.”

Tell me about the chimney sweeping; are you one of the trained ones?

JB: “Yeah, well I’ve had my own business doing it for a few years now and I still do it when we’re not touring; the other guys help out to, on big jobs. It all started when we met this cool old guy who wore a top hat and was always talking about acid and old punk bands. He was like a cartoon character and we thought ‘Wow, this guy’s amazing’. Anyway he did it and said we should try too. We said OK and we’ve been doing it for almost four years now.”

So what you’re saying is that this top-hat wearing old man is your mentor, kind of? How does one train anyway?

JB: “Yeah, I guess you could say that... There is actually quite a lot to learn about it and you just have to learn as you go along, we do restoration jobs on chimneys as well but he helps us with how to do stuff.”

Forgive me but all this conjures up images of big houses, affluent suburbia and desperate housewives.

JB: [laughs]”Oh yeah there were plenty of them . . . desperate housewives I mean. The neighbourhood where we’re from isn’t all like that, but we cover a whole part of California, including Orange County and that’s definitely desperate housewife territory.”

Anything to report there? Any chimneys needing . . . umm . . . sweeping?

JB: [much laughter] “There are all kinds of connotations there, but yeah there were a few good results there!”

I also read somewhere that one of you served at Ben Stiller’s birthday party; any truth in that?

JB: “Yeah that’s what happened. It was Vic who did that but it’s not like he knows him or anything. He was working at Disney at the time and Ben Stiller used the place for a birthday party, actually two years in a row. The whole family are really cool people and the bike guy was there too, Lance Armstrong.”

What’s with the tour bus fuelled by vegetable oil? Is there an ecological conscience lurking there? Are you hippies?

JB: “Ha! We’re definitely not hippies that’s for sure, the opposite actually as our background is mostly punk, and yeah I guess there is a conscience in there but it’s not like we sit and talk about it all the time or anything. The bus we actually used to tour in was fuelled by vegetable oil which kinda smells a bit of corn dog, but we did thousands of miles on one tank of it so it’s great in that way.”

Your first full album Tentacles is recorded on analogue cassette, why is that? Are you trying to be organic?

JB: “Not all of the record is done that way but I guess you’re right in it being an organic way to do things. I always carry a boom-box anyway and sometimes specific moments of sound just can’t be recaptured again so if it’s on tape it can be used along with other normal ways. I am really into capturing these unique moments and I think that comes out a lot in the record.”

Your sound has drawn comparisons to The Doors among others, is that fair?

JB: “Maybe only because of the organs but that’s really the only similarity that I can see. Ss I said, most of what we have grown up on is punk bands. Having said that, the only real common denominator we have in the band is soul and I think that although there is a lot going on, our soul influences can be heard in our stuff.”

Are you considering playing some festivals this summer? That would fit in well with the album coming out.

JB: “Yeah we’d love to, actually. In fact I think we’re already playing some festivals in Europe somewhere, I’m not sure. But British festivals would be great as well and I think we’ll be trying to fix something up like that.”

Finally, I assume that you want making music to be your primary day job, so what would represent success from the new album?

JB: “Yeah, it would definitely be great to make enough money from the music but as far as success is concerned I don’t know ‘cos I’ve nothing to compare it to really. One of our earlier releases actually sold around 3,000 copies and that was all because of friends and word of mouth. Actually, what was cool was when a girl came to one of our shows with a copy of it she’d found in Australia of all places. It was amazing to know that it had got there. We did it all ourselves, printed covers and had stickers made to put on them, all from home and to find one of them had got that far was really cool.”

Tentacles is available now to Download on iTunes and will be released generally on 7th April 2009 on Touch and Go

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.