Hard Work Goes A Long Way
By Tamara Vallejos
Imagine the joy of an unsigned band upon receiving that big call from a record label, and the subsequence euphoria of recording a very first full-length album and heading out on a first-ever European tour.
And then imagine the joyride ending in just months, thanks to significant label downsizing in the midst of the economic downturn.
That’s one of the stories behind Long Beach-based punk rockers Crystal Antlers, which landed its deal with Chicago’s Touch and Go Records in 2008 but saw it suddenly end when the label shuttered its distribution arm, scaled back the release of new music and laid off staff.
“It was definitely really hard for us,” says frontman Jonny Bell, who—like the rest of the band—came from a punk scene that places special value on DIY work ethic. “It took us a long time to even decide that we were willing to sign to a label in the first place, because we’d been doing everything on our own for so long. And we were really close to the staff and were expecting to have a long relationship with Touch and Go.”
In the brief period during which Crystal Antlers was signed, the label re-released the band’s self-titled debut EP, which had garnered significant buzz online thanks to glowing reviews from heavy-hitting tastemakers such as Pitchfork. The group had, like many punk bands before it, channeled its frustrated suburban energy (the guys originally came together in Westminster, “the most boring town in the world,” according to Bell) into raw, explosive garage rock tunes—and word-of-mouth led to selling thousands of EP copies before Touch and Go even got its hands on it.
Then came debut LP Tentacles, which cemented the band’s sound: “We’re a punk band trying to be a soul band, but we just end up being rock and roll,” explains Bell. “The only clear-cut goal we had when we started is we wanted to do something different. Punk music is a religion, and it also kind of already happened 30 years before, so it was pointless [to aspire to that]. We weren’t that great at playing our instruments, but we wanted to try stuff that was really hard—soul, psychedelic music, all these different things—without having one specific direction.”
Tentacles hadn’t even been released when Crystal Antlers got word about the Touch and Go’s woes, but the halt in momentum didn’t last too long. Last year saw the self-release sophomore album Two-Way Mirror and a third record is slated for the spring. And, of course, there’s the touring, which takes them to The Glass House tonight for a set that will feature a healthy dose of songs from the upcoming release.
Just playing within the confines of a proper venue, with what is sure to be a raucous, rapt crowd, shows how hard Crystal Antlers has worked, and how far it has come. Back when the group was initially being courted, Touch and Go’s A&R guy flew out to a shady, run-down neighborhood in Long Beach to catch the band in a house show.
“He was so scared of the neighborhood that he had to go around the corner to a bar and have a few drinks before he even tried to get into the house,” laughs Bell. “There were about ten people there and none of them were even watching us, and there was a homeless guy passed out in the yard that woke up in the middle of our set and started stumbling around.”
Somehow, it worked in Crystal Antlers’ favor.
“Later, we found out that experience was a major factor in them being interested in our band. They were like, ‘these guys are the real deal.’”
Crystal Antlers at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Thurs, Nov. 15. 7pm. $10.