Somewhere in North Carolina, Crystal Antlers are driving down a long stretch of road in their vegetable oil-powered diesel van, jamming to Link Wray’s self-titled album.
The California-based trio released their latest album Nothing Is Real earlier in October and have been steadily touring since then to promote it. Instead of their usual studio set up in San Francisco, Calif., Crystal Antlers recorded at vocalist and bassist Jonny Bell’s Southern California in-home studio.
“We got to spend a little bit more time [on the album]; we weren’t like, under any pressure,” said drummer Kevin Stuart, “we were hanging out, working on the record, having a good time.”
Although the general vibe of the production process was a relaxed one, Stuart admitted that him and Bell, along with guitarist Andrew King, did encounter some creative differences.
“It can be pretty hard, you know, to come to a consensus on things when you’re working in a group,” he said.
Despite any garage punk, neo-psychedelia classifications or comparisons to artists like Cornets on Fire, Crystal Antlers pride themselves on not actually knowing how they would describe their own sound.
“We’re always drawing inspiration from different places,” said Stuart. “All we’re trying to do is just make some new interesting music rather than just trying to do what’s already been done a million times before.”
Since the band’s inception in the mid 2000s, they have wanted to allow their listeners the opportunity to make up their own minds about the music. “I’d rather just say ‘give a listen’ and come to your own conclusions,” said Stuart about the latest record. “What we’re trying to do is not really like, rehash what has been done before.”
In the true spirit of this outlook, the band released the video for their latest single off the album, “Licorice Pizza.” With a pizza -layered in what appears to be Fruit Loops and American bills spinning on a turntable as the opening sequence, the video, directed by their longtime friend Michael Reich, displays some pretty ambiguous images.
“We were trying to do literal imagery from the lyrics,” said Stuart. “I don’t think we’re trying to make the listener think or feel anything in particular as a whole.”
The idea for the video and song came from the American record store aptly named Licorice Pizza. The store’s namesake is actually a clever designation for a vinyl record.
“A lot of people didn’t know what it meant,” said Stuart of the nickname.
No strangers to slick word choice, the trio chose their band’s name based on aesthetics and acoustics.
“For me, I liked that it was two words of similar length […] it doesn’t really make people think of something specific in general, I thought it was like a non-sequitur,” said Stuart. “I like the way it looks and sounds.”
While Nothing Is Real was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, Stuart admits that it does get difficult to balance tour life with their personal lives.
“We normally wake up at like, noon, go get some breakfast and then sit in the van all day driving until we get to the venue and then check in, do our sound check, play the show, and then you know, whatever might happen after that,” said Stuart.
“Sometimes we go out and do something fun afterwards, or sometimes we just hang out at the club all night. Either way, we don’t get home until around 3 o’clock in the morning […] then you know we kind of fall asleep, take a shower and do it all over again.”
Despite the long drives and limited days off, the boys in the band would not trade it for anything else.
“There’s a very delicate balance to be able to do all this stuff,” said Stuart. “We’re doing what we love.”
This leg of their tour will have them rolling through Montreal where they are happy to report they have played several memorable shows.
“We stay out late and drink a lot,” said Stuart. “Montreal’s the best…especially around Halloween time.”