In the year since Long Beach-via-Orange County psych-rockers Crystal Antlers self-released their second studio album, Two-Way Mirror, the band has gone on multiple tours and yet kept a low local profile. But despite playing only a handful of area shows (including the Moon Block Party in Pomona on Saturday), the Antlers are welcoming a new era of homespun creativity, thanks in part to a custom studio and practice space built on singer/guitarist Jonny Bell's new Long Beach compound.
Bell sat down with the Weekly in his recently converted garage (the night before flying to Portugal to play Rock In Lisbon) to talk about the benefits of collaborative writing, playing as a three-piece and not recording on a boombox anymore.
OC Weekly (Sarah Bennett): This place is amazing. Is it a long time coming?
I didn't really plan on doing a studio like this. I thought I'd spend a couple of hundred bucks and try to soundproof a room so we could practice and maybe record demos and stuff like that. But then if you want it to be soundproof you have to buy this kind of material, this amount of drywall is going to cost more than you thought originally. After a few months, it got to the point where you can't go this far without going further. I had a lot of gear and the band had a lot of gear, so in the end it made sense.
Where were you practicing before?
We just practiced in Kevin's dad's living room or wherever we could find somewhere. We never even had a practice space. Occassionally, we'd get a rental place, but mostly, we'd just try to find someone's living room or garage to practice in.
Is having a space making practicing and writing easier?
Definitely. I finished construction at the end of January and just from then until now, we've written twice as much as we had the previous year. Just actually practicing three to five times a week makes a huge difference. Not that we ever weren't being creative, but it's just easier to get things done. My only recording gear before was a boombox and I would record all the demos on cassette. I had a computer, but never had any recording software so it's just nice to be able to document everything accurately a little bit more.
What kind of stuff is coming out of the collaborative writing?
Because there's so much more stuff that we're writing, it's even more all over the place than what we were doing before. We just sort of took the filter off. We're recording everything we write and some songs sound really chaotic and some sound like pop songs. There are no rules now.
Cora Foxx left the band last year and so you've been playing off and on
without a keyboard. It's interesting how flexible your instrumentation seems
Yeah, we just did a tour where we played as a three-piece the whole time, which is how we started originally. But it's always been sort of amorphous. It doesn't really feel any different when we're playing shows. It seems like it works every way that we've tried it. Kevin [Stuart] and I were playing together just guitar and drums when we first started, so we've done every variation of the lineup that you can imagine.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.