Crystal Stilts
New Moon
by Jennifer Farmer

When the Crystal Stilts started out some years back, they were one amongst a throng of bands who shared a penchant for hazy atmospherics. The also bore the common element of having “Crystal” in their moniker (though the two segments didn’t necessarily overlap). But adding a bit of K Records sway, as well as some Velvet Underground verve, to their nebulous sound, the Brooklyn band quickly separated themselves from both packs. Their first full-length, 2008’s Alight of Night, was a stellar collection of psychedelic pop songs that garnered fans in their home base and abroad, as well as the attention of many members of the press. Despite some line-up changes (drummer Frankie Rose has been replaced by Keegan Cooke and live keyboardist Kyle Forester has become a permanent part of the fold), Crystal Stilts are back with their second full-length, In Love with Oblivion, out on Slumberland Records. It’s a smooth progression from Night, mixing the upbeat with the melancholic while showcasing their knack for songwriting. I had a chance to speak with JB Townsend, the Stilts’ guitarist (and producer of In Love with Oblivion) via phone from Santa Barbara.

Where are you guys from and how did you get started as a band?

JB Townsend: I’m originally from California, but grew up in south Florida in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area. I met Brad (singer Brad Hargett) in Florida around 2003, and we both wanted to move and get out of there,. We coincidentally moved to New York City at the same time. I had access to a practice space in Greenpoint around that time, so we just went in there and began the long genesis of starting a band. It wasn’t really a careering thing, we just kind of started messing around and did that for a couple of years. We played some shows and released a few singles, and most of the songs on our first album are from those years. We went through some line-up changes, but it didn’t really change the sound or the way we recorded. We’ve pretty much been the same band for the past two years now.

Did you find it was hard to get noticed in Brooklyn with so many up-and-coming bands?

JT: Well, it’s relatively not that long ago, but six years ago feels like a different time as far as what popular indie music was in general. It was kind of the end of electroclash and that was kind of a weird time. We really never thought anything was going to happen. We just put out a single, and it did okay. We had sort of fanbase in New York, and that influenced our decision to continue.

Speaking of influence, who do you consider to be your greatest musical influences?

JT: We grew up listening to the textbook stuff that you’d expect—Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Troggs, etc.—but it’s hard to pick just one band that influenced us. I guess from a musical standpoint, I’d have to say the Velvet Underground. It’s such a cliche thing to point to, but they were such an anti-musician kind of band and kind of unprofessional in a way, but wrote really good songs.

So where does the name come from? I mean, with the kind of rash of crystal band names, how do you guys compete?

JT: Yeah, it kind of sucked, but band names are a funny thing, because they really are trendy. It’s kind of bizarre, but I guess it’s always been that way. A lot of the old blues musicians had similar sounding names, always Blind so and so. In the ’60s, you had a lot of “the” bands, as well as animals, like the Byrds, the Beatles, etc. At the time we came up with the name, though, it wasn’t a divine premonition or anything. Brad had had a surreal dream that somehow involved these crystal stilts, and when he said it, we just liked it. I don’t think there were too many other bands with “crystal” in the name. Crystal Castles weren’t around yet, and a band called Crystal Skulls kind of popped up right after us.

And you all have such varying sounds.

JT: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, it continues now, with beach names (Beach House, Best Coast, Surfer Blood).

I had a chance to listen to the new record, and it’s different than what I was expecting—in a good way. There’s a lot of progression there. Aside from line-up changes, how do you think you’ve evolved as a band in the years since Alight of Night?

JT: There’s a bit more self-editing going on. We don’t record everything we write down. There’s some old practice recording tapes that have 60 song ideas, and we would try to pare that down. I think we write a little differently and try not to write the same song twice. I’d rather have a discography that’s not gigantic and not repetitive.

How do you feel about the shift in the way music is marketed and released in such a digital and interconnected arena? Do you guys use social media or anything like that?

JT: No, we don’t have a Twitter or anything like that. I think someone made a Facebook page, but it’s one that a fan made, so it’s not really us. We’re thinking about getting a Twitter, but it just seems so silly. We did just get a website put together, and that’s kind of our answer to that. MySpace was a solid thing for a little while, and everyone went there to listen to music, but that’s kind of fallen into the gutter, like a digital wasteland or something. So we just use the website to communicate.

That’s kind of rare nowadays, to be able to garner a buzz on your own without the help of internet self-promotion.

JT: Yeah, I guess it’s kind of cool to have a sort of word of mouth thing.

Random question time: if you could go on tour with anyone, who would it be?

JT: Man, that’s a tough question. I guess for an active band, maybe Willie Nelson? I mean, it’s such an expansive question. I could probably talk about it for a half hour at least. I guess if I could choose any band ever, it’d be the Modern Lovers. They seem like a fun live band.

Do you have a favorite city on the tour so far?

JT: We haven’t really been that many places, and I don’t know that there’s any one city in particular. We really like playing in Columbus, actually. We’ve had some good times at Matt Horseshit’s place. We like those guys.