Interview w/ Crystal Antlers: I’m Insane and I Could Do This

My interview with Jonny Bell of Crystal Antlers as published in L.A. Record:

Crystal Antlers (Kevin Stuart, Errol Davis, Jonny Bell, Damian Edwards and Victor Rodriguez) are a hypercharged garage/soul/rock band from Long Beach. Vocalist/bassist Jonny—chimney sweep by day and errant rocker by night—speaks with Lovely Linda about biker fests, wedding hexes and photographs of his genitals.

How’d you guys get that show at Mondo Video?
Some of our friends booked it somehow.

I was wondering if it was because you guys are really into porn.
Oh, well, that’s part of it, too. Actually I ended up signing up when we played there and then they took a couple pictures of my genitals. One of the other guys that worked there wanted to take a picture of my genitals so I let him and I think they have it on their wall.

Did you get a callback yet?
No, I haven’t gotten a callback yet.

They actually do shoot pornos there.
Don’t they have like some kind of a Satanist church or something on the weekends, too? I remember he had a podium with the upside-down cross on it and he said he had sermons on Sundays. Like a video-rental evangelist pornographer.

You guys spend a lot of time in Anaheim. What do you do there?
Linbrook Bowl. That’s one of the things to do. We usually just like drinking in our drummer’s empty pool. Our percussion and bongo guy Damian has a house over there.

What’s this about the band playing a winter formal?
We play at this place in Anaheim called the Dolphin Lounge. It looks like a place where strippers go to die. It’s a really cool kind of sports bar kind of place right around the corner from Damian’s house, so he started going there and became a regular and then convinced them to start having shows, and now he hangs out there all the time. And I think he wanted to do some kind of a winter formal for his birthday but I don’t know. He comes up with all these great outrageous ideas like that, so we’ll probably do it. We played a Hawaiian-shirt party there before — a luau. And none of the people like our music either. They just like Damian. They’re like, “It’s too loud!”

What are your day jobs?
At one point we were all chimney sweeps. Now just two of us are but everybody’s kind of on call. If there’s a big job going on we’ll all help out. I have like a company that I started when I was 19.

How does a 19-year-old start a chimney sweep company?
Well, it’s pretty unsuccessful. But it gives me time to play in a band. I worked for a really crazy old punk rock acid casualty and he was a chimney sweep. And he was like, ‘Look, I’m insane and I could do this.’ He’s insane and he runs the business somehow so I figured I could do it.

How many people in California have chimneys?
More than you think. You don’t notice until you’re a chimney sweep.

Tell me about playing these biker festivals.
We kept getting these weird requests to play things like that. I guess for a while people kinda thought we were really heavy, like we were a metal band or something. Somehow that got put out there, so we had this place in Vegas we played a couple times called the Bunkhouse.

Do bikers like you?
Yeah. Our drummer’s dad is a biker and a professional bike painter. When we played it was actually during the Nevada State tour — we played the Las Vegas biker fest and we went and did a metal fest in Reno. There was an art festival going on at the same time. The bikers scared away all the regular people that would go to the show, so it was pretty much all bikers. I asked one of them to come play harmonica with us on a song and he came up and played.

How’s the biker crowd?
I think they’re more of a loyal fan base. They’ll follow you around.

That makes sense. They’re mobile.
We would tour on motorcycles if we could. Maybe when I’m a little bit better looking I could hook up something where we can borrow equipment in every city and we’ll go on bikes.

When you recorded your first 45, was that the only song you guys had written?
Yeah. The B-side was “Parchman Farm.” It was like the Blue Cheer cover of the Mose Allison song, but it kind of turned into a tribute — an old psychedelic thing. It’s a cover of a cover. We’ve done a couple of those.

That’s kind of an art form in itself.
I like the way it kind of changes each generation.

How many songs do you have written now?
We have tons of songs but they’re not all organized at the moment. I’ve been going through all the old practice tapes and trying to like piece together some of the stuff that we’ve done. We’re getting pretty productive right now. Our guitar player Errol Davis is gonna be leaving the band. He’s going to Thailand for a while, so we’ve had this real spurt of creativity in the last month. This is the last thing we’re gonna do together and we’ve started all these songs over the past couple years that we haven’t recorded, or we’ve recorded poorly.

So you want to record with him before he leaves?
Yeah. We’re going up this weekend to San Francisco where we recorded the first record, Closer Studios. We’re gonna do an EP and [Mars Volta and Free Moral Agents and Look Daggers keyboardist] Ikey Owens is gonna produce it.

How’d you hook up with Ikey?
He lives down the street so we just kinda run into each other. Damien’s known him for years. They know each other from old Koo’s days.

He plays live with you sometimes, too.
He plays when he’s not doing anything else.

The band’s based out of Long Beach. What’s Long Beach like now?
It’s pretty similar to the L.A. scene. It’s just small and it’s kinda cool. It’s kinda tight-knit. There’s a lot that’s going on down here that people in L.A. don’t find out about. It’s sometimes hard for bands from here to play up there — like book shows. I know it was for us. We played at the Echo and a whole bunch of places up in L.A. where there’s like no response. There’s so many bands — it’s a pretty saturated scene, the L.A. scene.

You guys have a lot of drums and percussion going on.
What happened is Kevin, our guy who plays the drum set, and Damien were two drummers that I tried out when I wanted to start this band. And Kevin got the job because Damian was coming out of the Geisha Girls and he was still stuck in post-punk mode. But I really wanted to play music with him so he still hung around and I told him that one way or another eventually we’d find a way to put him in the band. He asked to be the roadie on a tour we did about five months ago, and when we got to Oakland he brought these bongos with him and just got ’em up on stage. And we were like, ‘OK, well, he should just play with us.’

Any plans for an upcoming full-length?
Well we wanted to do that but we don’t have enough money to do that, so we’re just gonna do an EP and probably just put it out online and hopefully go on tour. We’ve done a couple of West Coast tours where we’ve played like half parties and half shows. We like to play at house parties and things like that — kind of like alternative events instead of doing the gruel of just regular shows. We did a wedding a couple of weeks ago.

Did you play awesomely cheesy wedding covers?
We wanted to learn a bunch of wedding covers but they wanted us to play our stuff. We’d been booked to play two weddings before that but both the couples ended up breaking up. So we thought we had a hex on us or something. Us playing a wedding is putting a hex on someone’s relationship.

Maybe playing at Mondo Video shed you of your bad karma.
Wait, what did I say about Mondo Video? Shit — I think my girlfriend’s mom is gonna read this.

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L.A. Record Player #1 @ Charlie O’s 10/11/07

As published in L.A. Record:

An astrologer told L.A. RECORD’s Phil Hoelting that he shouldn’t be a writer—instead, he should focus on producing events. Phil, though you know I love your brilliant words, I must say that your astrologer is on to something. Phil organized the first-ever L.A. RECORD Player night at Charlie O’s, and the event—taking place on the bottom floor of downtown’s historic, haunted Alexandria Hotel, featuring a killer line-up of Long Beach’s finest, and, importantly, offering $2 PBRs all night long (of which I was a most willing partaker)–could not have been more awesome. I arrived a little late, unfortunately missing Blank Blue (Nobody and Niki Randa and drummer Andreas). But sweet Jesus—Crystal Antlers more than made up for my tardiness. It’s pretty much useless to try to sum up their genius in words, as they are an act that MUST be experienced live, but here goes: possessed with an inexplicable energy at once manic and controlled, the band’s hypercharged garage-y soul blends insanity with melody in a way only an ensemble comprised of two keyboardists (one of which was Mars Volta’s Ikey Owens) and two drummers could…and they’re quite possibly the only band who could get me to venture outside of my Silver Lake/Echo Park/Hollywood bubble to catch a show way out in Long Beach. Closing out the evening were Free Moral Agents, also featuring Owens, who threw it down hard with droney trip/hip hop-laden funky soul-filled soundscapes. I don’t recall much after this, as I meandered a few blocks down to the now-closed speakeasy that’s doomed to become the future site of a gas station or parking garage. But this much I know: the night was nothing but good times. (LL)