Monday, November 12, 2012

Interview: Crystal Antler's Jonny Bell on Sax, Drugs and Rock and Roll

Photo courtesy of David Uzzardi

Every time I see Jonny Bell, the soft spoken founder/ bassist / lead singer of Crystal Antlers he has a look of contentment on his face and set deep in his eyes there seems to be a mixture of mischief and knowing. It is like he it thinking ahead of even better days to come. This quiet optimism has served him and his band well as they have steadily built a growing fan base locally and across the globe. Their ever evolving punk / avant-garde pop / psychedelic rock sound always feels startlingly fresh. Crystal Antlers have been working on a new record in their recently completed recording studio and Bell has has also been wearing the producer hat for other artists. On November 17th Crystal Antlers returns to Mexico for the first time since 2010 to headline the All My Friends Music Festival and this Thursday on the 15th they play a pre-AMFMF show at the Glasshouse in Pomona. I got a chance to throw Jonny some questions. 
Interview by Robb Donker 

The last time I saw you guys perform, it was at the Moon Block Party in Pomona (CA). It was also the first time I saw you without Cora and Damien. You guys sounded incredible but it felt weird like having your uncle show up at Thanksgiving with a new girl friend in tow. How has the change been reflected in the new songs (new record)?

The lineup of the band (Except for Kevin & me) has changed on average about every 6 months since we began, it's nothing new. Currently we've got our pals JP Bendzinski and occasionally Ikey Owens playing keys and Damian still plays sometimes too. They all play in different bands (Wild Pack of Canaries, Jack White, and Four Letter Words respectively) so it's really more like your uncle showing up to Thanksgiving with a younger hotter woman and they're both now swingers.

I am pretty jealous that you built your own recording studio off your house. Did you decide to go all digital or do you have analog capabilities as well? 

I've got the latest digital stuff and a several analog tape machines for all you dinosaurs out there  (like myself). 'Bout to buy another tape machine too.....

 Have you recorded songs in your bath robe?

I wish, but sadly the most casual I've gotten is basketball shorts. I don't even own a bathrobe. I thought about stealing one from the 4 Seasons in Houston when we were there last month...How much do you think they'd charge you for that? 

I wouldn't have a clue but I bet it would be more than the cost of the room!
You recently co-produced Feeding People's "Island Universe" with Hanni El Khatib. How does producing other people songs compare to working on Crystal Antler's music? 

Every artist is different. With Feeding People, it reminded me of what it must have been like for other producers dealing with me a few years ago. Louis (FP's guitar player)  was pretty stubborn at times, but we burned off steam by doing yardwork. It was exciting to record a band that raw coming straight from the garage.

Do you have any other projects in the works (with other artists)?

The new CA record of course. Just finished mixing a record for a band called Telephone Lovers. Totally different from anything else i've worked on recently. The record sounds straight out of the 70's a-la Nick Lowe/ Rockpile/ Ramones/ KISS...Look for it soon

PS: just like Bowie, I end up playing sax somewhere on every record I work on. 

So I looked up "Psychedelic Rock" on Wikipedia which as you know is the gospel for all truth on the internet if not the universe and it says:
Psychedelic rock is a style of rock music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate and enhance the mind-altering experiences of psychedelic drugs.
(what the fuck?)

Anyone can edit Wikipedia you know?

This is true but many people call your style of music psychedelic so the question is:  Is Crystal Antlers trying to either replicate what it feels like to be stoned or enhance people's high???

Mind altering YES, drugs not so much -although I would endorse a good hit of acid for everyone at least once. I'd like to believe that our music could affect your mind so severely that you'd be reduced to the psyche of an infant, but I just don't think that's possible these days. Maybe on the next record...

Labels put aside, I just think you all make fantastic trippy sounding rock.  

Gracias, getting rid of the labels is what it's all about. Lick my decals off baby!  

Part of making music at least as a kind of vocation is selling and marketing to your audience and building an audience and NOT only building an audience but building a loyal following who really care about you enough to support you artistically and financially. Amanda Palmer who has really adopted the DIY philosophy for years in terms of acquiring her own venues and self marketing has been really touting the notion that there should be no such thing as "illegal downloading" as a legal construct anyways. She offers her music for whatever you can afford to pay and encourages people to share the hell out of it.

What do you think of this concept?

I think a lot of people have been doing that same thing and feeling that way for years. ART + COMMERCE =? This all depends on how you define what it is that you are doing. I'd like to think that what we do is art, whether it appears that way or not. We're motivated by creativity and the excitement of doing something new. We certainly appreciate when people are willing to pay us for playing/recording music, but it has no real bearing on what we do. I'm not opposed to creating music specifically for making money though, but in my mind it's a completely separate thing. Making music for commercial use is how I was able to build the studio. 
 Pretty soon musicians will have to give it all away and make money on merch and such--
You could have Crystal Antlers lunchboxes or something.... any ideas???

 We'll make anything that the people want!...once I made a white crystal antlers sweat suit that we gave away at the LA RECORD Xmas party.

(random questions alert!) 
Sweet! Um.... If you had a submarine. What color would it be??

It'd be a B-427 Russian sub. BLACK.

There are some cool shows on TV right now. I have a major thing going for Dexter and The Walking Dead.  Do you all have any shows you are addicted to??

Don't have cable so I watch P. Allen Smith's Garden home on PBS every Saturday morning.

Top 5 rock records or songs of all time-??

ROCK N ROLL - Vanilla Fudge
JAILBREAK - Thin Lizzy
PERE UBU - Dub Housing
JUNKYARD -Birthday Party
LICK MY DECALS OFF - Captain Beefheart

Top non rock records or songs of all time

The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady - Mingus

Frank Sinatra
Black Flag 
Deep Purple

Viva and AMFMF Presents:
Crystal Antlers with The Lovely Bad Things, Pangea, San Pedro El Cortez and Late Nite Owl
at ON NOVEMBER 15th at The Glasshouse in Pomona, California- 200 W. Second St.

And ON November 17th at the Casa De La Cultura in Tijuana B.C. Mexico
Crystal Antlers, Chelsea Wolfe, Helado Negro, Los Macuanos, ambiente, Maniquie Lazer, Maria Y Jose, The Lovey Bad Things, Fax, Pangea, Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, Via Aerea, Mock the Zuma and MORE

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