Interview: Getting a clear view of Crystal Antlers

Crystal Antlers.
Crystal Antlers.

By Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers

Psychedelia may have been invented in Britain, but, in recent decades, it’s been our colonial cousins from the US, Australia and New Zealand who have put new life into one of my favourite musical genres.

The 90s saw the emergence of the Flaming Lips and Mecury Rev while more recent years have brought the likes of MGMT and Tame Impala.

What could be the next big small thing, Crystal Antlers, started their first headlining UK tour last week - and it reaches Leeds this Sunday.

As their current album, Nothing Is Real demonstrates, this ever-changing, long-haired Californian psychedelic punk rock garage band (phew!) avoid easy classification.

Talking to Andrew King on the phone at his California home, it’s something this wildly exciting live band’s guitarist agrees with.

“We’ve toured with Unknown Mortal Orchestra in the States. They seemed like nice fellows but they’re doing a different thing to us. But we are on the same wavelength when it comes to psychedelia.”

Both romantic and ‘rawk’, melodic and raw, Crystal Antler’s shape-shifting sound has changed as regularly as their line-up since the early days when they briefly all worked as chimney sweeps together..

The core of Andrew, Jonny Bell (bass/woodwind/vocals andsax!) and Kevin Stuart (drums) has seen various other instrumentalists come and go.

Andrew said: “We started as a three-piece but we’ve kept the same core to the band . Different people have brought their own thing for a while. We’ve changed along the way.”

Their latest album is their third but is the first on leading LA-basd indie label Innovative Leisure and the first to be recorded in their own home studio.

Rather than this leading to a slicker, more complicated sound with everything thrown in but the kitchen sink, it actually had the opposite affect, says Andrew.

“The first two albums were both made in a couple of days. We were just learning how to use the studio. This was the first one where we could take as much time as we wanted.

“We felt some responsibility to make it good. But we weren’t interested in doing anything less raw than we already do. A certain rawness appeals to us.”

When they take the stage at Brudenell Social Club they will be a four-piece, Andrew tells me, rather than the five-piece they’ve been taking round the States in the last year.

I must confess I’m a little sad the version of the Crystal Antlers fans see in Leeds won’t feature that most ‘outre’ of instruments for an indie band - the saxophone!

“We’ve done a few shows as a five-piece. We’re not the usual gargage band. I can play sax but it’s easier if you can get someone else to play it.

“For the UK tour we’re bringing JP Bendzinski on keyboards but we couldn’t afford to bring the sax player.

“Last time we were here it was a college tour during freshers week and everyone seemed more interested in going to see a DJ at another venue.”

I’d spotted before that Andrew sometimes wears a Captain Beefheart T-shirt and, it’s true, he tells me, he is a fan.

“It’s not for his music so much as the approach. I don’t think everyone understood Captain Beefheart. His personality influenced me and the way he approached lyrics and the way he shaped songs. The aesthetic.”

But, equally, he’s also a fan of Black Flag.

“I do like early Flaming Lips stuff but we’ve enevr tried to sound like them. I suppose we share some of the same influences. They were blue collar guys who liked classic rock - The Who - but also Pink Floyd.

“We’re from Long Beach where SST Records was set up. That whole punk rock thing has had ripple effects ever since in this area. It certainly influences us.

“Some of our songs are pop but we’d never try to be a pop band. We never like to do anything that’s expected of us.”

I wrap it up by asking Andrew if Crystal Antlers really all worked as chimney sweeps together?

“It’s all true. Our first manager owned a business but he was also a manic acid casualty band.

“He thought it would be good for us if we all got a job together to get some money and also create some sort of image. “

A bit like The Monkees I suggest.

“Ha. He thought more like The Partridge Family but The Monkees is better.”

Crystal Antlers play Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Sunday, March 2. More information at www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk