Crystal Antlers may call Long Beach, Calif., home, but they don’t share much with the city’s sunnier fare. Instead, the Antlers tread murkier territory, incorporating apocalyptic imagery and nostalgic organ sounds into stormy, unrefined basement rock. With the debut this past spring of full-length Tentacles—and the financial struggle of current label Touch And Go—behind them and a self-released tape ahead, the future is blurry, but promising, for the Antlers. In advance of the group's show Friday at Empty Bottle (opening for The Big Pink), vocalist-bassist Jonny Bell spoke with The A.V. Club about creepy music teachers, strange stages, and how much the band doesn't aspire to be like The Mars Volta.
The A.V. Club: Crystal Antlers formed out of a music class where the teacher was arrested for child molestation. Whatever happened to him?
Jonny Bell: I don’t think that he ever got convicted. It happened several times. He was the choir teacher also and would try to show people where their diaphragms were. That was his move. It was mostly inappropriate touching. He did eventually get fired. I actually went to go make flyers one time and he was working at the copy store that I go to, and it was totally strange.
AVC: Did he find out that a successful band came out of his class?
JB: I’m not sure if he knows. He knew that we were playing in different bands at that time, but he hated what we were doing. Strangely enough, another band called Avi Buffalo that just signed to Sub Pop were also in the same class. We ran into them at a festival and were talking about it.
AVC: What are your feelings on Touch And Go shuttering their massive distribution side?
JB: It’s just a real unfortunate situation. We’ve been doing things on our own for a while. We put out two 7-inches and our EP ourselves. It was a big step to decide to sign to a label. Everyone that worked there was amazing. It was like family. We were looking forward to working with them for a long time. Then, they were putting pressure on us to finish our record, we finished, [and] when we went out on tour a few weeks later, they called and told us they were going out of business. It was heartbreaking because we hoped that signing to a label would help us a lot. At the same time, it’s sad to see such a big thing in the indie world not be able to put out new music.
AVC: Did you have any idea that this was going to happen?
JB: We had no clue whatsoever. No one that worked there did either. Basically, Corey [Rusk, label owner] looked at the books and decided that it wasn’t working anymore. It was just a surprise to everyone that worked there as it was to us. Some people had been working there for 20 years. Their whole life was wrapped up in this label.
AVC: Do you have any ideas for your next label?
JB: Right now, we’re still working with Touch And Go because we’re touring on the record they put out, although there isn’t a staff there anymore. We’re going to be putting out a tape for this tour. We’re going to do that ourselves. If something interesting comes along, we may go for it, but we may not go for another label. It depends on what somebody can do for us.
AVC: The band has played shows at many different places: a wedding, a video store, a biker festival. What else have you played?
JB: We’ve done a few birthday parties, a couple of motorcycle rallies for a motorcycle gang. We just did this event that was really cool: This folk singer from 1970, Linda Perhacs, had her first-ever live show and she asked us to cover one of her songs. That was special.
AVC: What environments do you work best in?
JB: We work best in environments that are most similar to the way we grew up playing shows and the way we practice. We practice in a living room. It feels most natural playing a house party. The more intimate, the more natural it feels. At the same time, there have been big festivals. We played at the Primavera festival in Barcelona and it was 6,000 people. It felt really comfortable.
AVC: You’ve expressed a distaste for Crystal Antlers being called prog-rock.
JB: Yeah. It’s not what we are at all. People that play prog-rock are probably a lot better at their instruments. It seems like a cerebral thing. Most of our music is just feelings. It’s not that contrived. I cringe thinking about Rush and bands like that.
AVC: Why did you employ Mars Volta keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens to produce your EP then?
JB: [Laughs.] Well, Ikey hates prog-rock, too.
AVC: What’s he doing with a band like The Mars Volta?
JB: The other guys in the band probably like prog-rock more than he does. He’s just playing in a band that’s he committed to. That had nothing to do with our project. He met us on a level where we were talking about old soul, rap, and things like that.
AVC: One review of Tentacles compared you to At The Drive-In, saying that if you got famous too fast, you’d split up and one result might be The Mars Volta.
JB: [Laughs.] Everyone’s got the right to pontificate, even if I don’t think that’s correct.