Crystal Antlers

Catching up with singer Jonny Bell of Crystal Antlers, shortly before their gig in Whelans on 2nd February.

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You’re in the middle of a really long tour, how’s it going so far?
“It’s been a week since we started playing shows. It’s been really good, all the shows in London were sold out, or really close to it, the show in Belfast was a little slow, but it was in a really weird club, off the main track. Galway last night was beautiful though, there were lots of people and there was a really nice energy.

The band’s sound is pretty diverse; do you all have different tastes in music?
Yeah we do, but there’s some common threads and that’s what we basically sound like. We all listen to a lot of old punk music and old soul music and that kind of stuff, so that’s the common ground that we share. Victor’s got some cultural background, he’s from Mexico and his dad’s a Mariachi so there’s a little bit of that Latin element to his tastes. And Damian used to sing gospel in church, so there’s that kind of thing going on.

So how would you describe your music?
It’s noisy soul music I guess, by a bunch of people who used to be in punk bands.

What bands were your biggest influences?
Damian and Andrew used to play in punk bands, so I know that was a big influence for them. I’ve always liked Captain Beefheart a lot, he’s always been my favourite, but I dunno, lately I’ve just been into soul and stuff.

How did you guys get together?
Kevin and Errol – he’s our guitar player who’s not here- in Iowa, we went to high school together and were in a music class and I was a couple of grades older than them and the class forced different groups of people to play songs together and perform them and they asked me to sing a Misfits song with them, or something like that. So I knew them from that and I wanted to form this band and Kevin and Errol really stuck out to me as really talented people with a lot of ability. So we started playing and we recorded our first single “Parting Song for the Torn Sky” and then I also knew Victor from around that time and we asked him if he wanted to play. He didn’t know how to play organ, but his family’s very musical so it came kind of naturally to him. Then we were a four piece, because we had Victor, and then Damian toured with us, just as a roadie, I guess he just wanted to come along – he actually tried out to play drums too – he was another person who was kind of our friend from the punk scene. So he just brought his bongos and his percussion stuff up on stage and started playing one time and sort of joined from then. And then a year ago, Errol quit the band because he was going to move to Thailand for some reason. So Andrew joined the band and Andrew actually used to record Errol’s old bands, so they knew each other, which was a bit strange, and Errol very recently rejoined and started playing with us again. So now there’s six people.

Isn’t it a bit weird having a drummer and percussionist?
Yeah, there’s a lot going on with the rhythm section.

So Errol rejoined the band but he’s not on tour?
Yeah, he’s actually in Thailand right now again. It sort of just happened too late for him too late for him to come on this tour, so he’s just waiting in Thailand until we get back and then he’s going to meet up with us and tour with us from then on.

You recorded your debut album in a week, was it really stressful recording an album in such a short space of time?
Yes, it was very stressful. The last few days, I slept maybe an hour a night, just staying up and our engineer Joe, he just stuck with us because we knew we had to get it done. And it was also stressful because we went into the studio directly after a thirty day tour of the US without really taking a break at all and we also slept in the studio the whole time and didn’t really leave for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

Why did you have to record it so quickly?
We had to go on another tour- this tour- and then we had some other shows and also vinyl production is backed up a lot. It takes so long to make it, that we had to turn it in quick in order for it to be released in April, and we really wanted to reach that.

I’m so sorry to be asking you this, because I know you must be getting this question from everyone, but are you irritated by the constant comparisons with the other “Crystal” bands?
No, I’m not irritated by it, not by the bands, it’s not their fault, it’s the press people asking the question. It was irritating, but now I’m just numb to it, it’s just like ‘okay, what a great coincidence’. But it seems like there’s some attention from that, to all three of the bands, Crystal Stilts, Crystal Castles and us, and I dunno, it might be helping us in some way.

I read in another interview that you all worked as chimney sweeps – seriously?
Yeah, when we were just a three piece we did, we all worked for this really crazy, acid-casualty guy and then I had my own company too. We still do it: when we’re not on tour, I still sweep chimneys to try to earn some extra money.

Is it difficult?
Yeah, parts of it are. I do full on masonry work too, so I can build a chimney, rebuild them and all that kind of stuff. It’s really hard work but I love it, it’s so rewarding to work for twelve hours and there’s this structure that could be there for hundreds of years.

Did you ever have any traumatic experiences with chimneys?
Yeah… so many, so many, especially because the guy that we were working for before was so crazy and just irresponsible, he was just like a child. He was kind of like a cartoon character in a way, once he was trying to get a beehive out of a chimney and started spraying a hose down the chimney. I should preface this by saying that he gets all of his work by going door to door and talking people into doing this, because it’s California and people don’t really use their chimneys so much. And so the customers are always a little apprehensive to begin with. And so he’s up there, spraying water down this chimney at a beehive and all these bees start flying out and attacking him and stinging him. He’s just rolling all over the roof, screaming. I was trying to spray him down with the hose and the customer’s out there on his front lawn and there was a school across the street and the school had just gotten out and all the kids were all standing there watching and laughing. (Pauses for effect) I’ve been attacked by a possum before too.

At this point, the tour manager decided that the ten minutes were up. It was probably a wise decision on his part, given the way the conversation was going. Crystal Antlers’s debut album, Tentacles, is due for release on 6th April.

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