If you ask the guys in Crystal Antlers, a six-piece band from Long Beach, how they determine their ever-changing set list on a particular night, you might be surprised to learn it isn't always about how they're feeling or what songs they like playing. Rather, it's all about keeping things interesting — something you have to do if your tour schedule is packed through the end of summer.
"Depending on which bands we're playing with, we may play different things," says singer and bassist Jonny Bell. "We may play things just to freak out people, you know? We recently played with Cold War Kids, and since their audience is fairly mainstream, we played a lot of our weirder songs. I think people need to be shaken up. When you have a captive audience, it seems like the right thing to do. Cold War Kids fans liked us better than them. People will say 'We've never seen a band like you before.'"
While the group's live performance may be partly tailored to get a reaction from the crowd, their self-titled EP and debut album, Tentacles, which came out last month, weren't made for the sake of weirdness. The music on both releases falls somewhere between the sprawling soundscapes of My Morning Jacket and the psychedelic layers of Les Savy Fav.
"We wanted to showcase all the aspects of the band on the record," explains Bell. "It was a little tricky. We felt like our EP was our first record, but everyone kept saying 'No, this is your first record.' There was so much emphasis put on that, so we wanted it to encompass everything. But we make music regardless of anybody. When we started the band, we wanted to do something different. And we're always trying, on some level, to make it interesting. But we're not necessarily just trying to weird people out. We're not Frank Zappa."
Tentacles was recorded in a single week at a studio in San Francisco, where the band isolated itself and barely slept. The resulting album, which was also mixed during that week, contains a frenetic sense of palpable desperation that both surprised and delighted the band. After spending a week in a dark, cavernous space, leaving only to run across the street for food and water, Crystal Antlers, who have already started working on their second album, were uncertain what they had produced.But they were pleased with the result.
Once Crystal Antlers (who had self-released their EP to some pretty serious hype) had their debut in hand, they were faced with the news that their album would be indie label Touch & Go's final release. Bell is uncertain of where Crystal Antlers' next record will land, but he does believe that now especially, DIY is the best model.
"We're on this trajectory of doing what we do, regardless of labels," he says. "If something comes along that's interesting, we'll go with it. But otherwise, we'll do it ourselves. A lot of people have asked what it's like to be the last Touch & Go release. We don't feel like we're the grim reaper or anything. We're just happy we had an opportunity to work with them. Our ethic has always been do it yourself. But not everyone can do that. To a certain extent, bands are going to have to take matters into their own hands."