In this new fangled information age that we’re living, where at times a band’s success can be measured in a transfer rate of kilobytes, Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts have benefitted from a rising tide of virtual buzz. But while that word-of-net has portrayed them as newcomers, truth is the band had been gestating for several years before ever releasing a record or playing out. Singer Brad Hargett and guitarist JB Townsend, friends from when they both lived in Florida, had been recording the hazy pop songs that would make up their self-titled EP and their full-length, Alight of Night (out this week on Slumberland) before they found the bandmates to help them to bring it all to fruition. So when bassist Andy Adler and drummer Frankie Rose (formerly with the Vivian Girls) joined on last year, the Crystal Stilts’ intoxicating swirl of reverb-loaded guitars and etheric vocals was already fully formed.
I caught up with the band at their practice space, where we attempted to talk while funk music played and wine-flavored sorbet was served at the bar next door.
You’ve been portrayed as overnight sensations, but you’ve been around for a few years. Was there a specific point when people started paying attention?
JB Townsend: Probably after we played with the Clean last year. We played like four times a year before that. We usually played opening slots. We played with the Long Blondes. There was a small cult in New York. The single did okay at college radio. That was early 2005. It got number seven at WFMU.
Did you know you were going to start a band when you moved from Florida?
JT: No, not really. We didn’t plan it. We’d joke about it sometimes. We had an opportunity to get a space so we went ahead. Brad had never sung before. It started pretty nonchalant and we practiced for a year.
So just having the space was the impetus?
JT: Yeah, there were some other people around that helped out.
Did you have musical inclinations before that?
So it wasn’t like, “Here’s a practice space, I better go get a guitar”?
JT: No, I played guitar when I lived in Florida and recorded some songs on a four-track.
Not having had a band before, did the sound that you have at this point come pretty quickly?
JT: We didn’t really have an idea. It would change every six months. At first, it was really long stuff, like Interstellar Overdrive or Spacemen 3. I’ve never really thought about it, but it kept changing every six months or so, even until recently.
Are the influences people cite fairly dead-on?
JT: I think so. A lot of people said Jesus and Mary Chain about the first single. I don’t know how much...
Brad Hargett: Once somebody says something, people don’t deviate from what the first person said.
JT: I may have been listening to things the Jesus and Mary Chain listened to like Pink Floyd or the Velvet Underground.
Starting out in New York, do you feel under a microscope to some extent?
BH: I think it’s one of the benefits of being here. You can play shows without going on tour and get noticed in some way. You can work your job, practice on the side and play in New York. We didn’t have a working live band for a couple years. And I don’t feel like we’ve been under too intense of a microscope.
Andy Adler: More like binoculars.
Do you think you were able to develop what you wanted to do just as naturally as being anywhere else?
JT: You can kind of just stay here. We’ve only toured one time.
AA: If someone writes about us, it’s not going to change how we do things.
BH: There’s advantages and disadvantages to the fact that we barely played the first two years we were together. One of the disadvantages is it’s been four years and we’re really just getting going. But we were able to develop in a vacuum and go about things without worrying what people were thinking. So now I think we’re pretty confident in what we’re doing.
But you were uncomfortable when you first started playing live?
JT: He wasn’t really a singer and didn’t aspire to perform.
BH: I don’t have a lot of confidence as a performer. I’m not driven to perform, but I’m driven to write songs. That’s what compels me to do it. Playing live is fun, but it’s not the reason why we do it. So I feel like if people like the songs, they’ll like the performance. I’m totally confident now because I’m confident in the songs.
Has having some form of validation helped that?
BH: Yeah, but it’s more from having people we like like us. I mean, if Stephen Pastel likes us do I really care what some guy on a blog thinks? Not really. And I feel like we know a good song and know what we like.
You’ve mentioned blogs—does the attention that’s been paid the band seem artificial?
BH: I feel like some of the bad things people have had to say are a reaction to the supposed hype. But it is what it is.
You said you only toured once. Have you played Florida?
BH: No. I’m not sure that there’d be a big homecoming for us. We don’t really know anybody down there anymore. It might be fun to play down there, but I wouldn’t foresee it as being different from playing anywhere else.
When you recorded the full-length was that with this line-up?
JT: No, it was just the two of us. We recorded it two years ago. Then we kept mixing it. We tried different mixes—we did a mono mix—but nothing sounded right.
BH: We didn’t really know what we were doing. We just wanted to keep going and recording. That’s why there’s some repeated songs. The EP hadn’t come out and we didn’t know if it was going to come out at all. We wanted the LP to be more pro sounding.
Why did you decide to rename “Converging the Quiet?”
BH: I don’t like titles that are from lyrics. When I thought about renaming “Converging the Quiet,” maybe 50 people had heard it. The decision was made when it wasn’t known if the EP was coming out. If you’re making a single, making an EP, making an album—they’re all different things. I was very particular about the length of the record and the songs. There was something specific being projected.
Thematically it seems like there’s a certain fascination with the macabre.
BH: We’re a goth band, right?
I wouldn’t go that far.
BH: Well, some people have! What’s particularly macabre?
You can pick out words like “tomb” and “graveyard.”
BH: There’s a certain amount of isolation. To me, it represents an effort to find a way to live, a way to exist. When I was living in Florida, I wrote for a long time. I was writing for about three years before I wrote something that accurately described how I felt. The first line on the record describes how I felt in Florida. So to me, they represent a way to be more alive.
Does naming one of the songs after the band have particular significance?
BH: Yeah, that song describes what we’re trying to do.
So, “We’re courting dreams” describes what you’re trying to do?
BH: When you’re recording music that’s what you’re trying to do.
Did you seek out a deal with Slumberland or did they approach you?
BH: He wrote us about putting a song on a compilation. I had a list of labels that I thought would be ideal, and they were one of the top two. So when he contacted us, we told him that we had this record. It was a little of both.
Do you feel a distance from the old songs?
BH: We like playing the new songs, but the old ones still mean a lot to me. And it means a lot that they’ve come out.
Seeing the band coming to fruition is this what you had in mind?
BH: I didn’t even know how to play an instrument, but yeah. Most of the stuff that I like, isn’t the most popular, and to us it means more how much someone likes a record. If we have 1,000 people and our records mean a lot to then that’s more important to selling a lot of copies of a record that doesn’t mean much.
Do you feel any amount of pressure now that the band has gotten attention?
BH: Pressure to do what?