With Crystal Castles’ debut album set for imminent release in the UK, and a recent appearance on teen saga Skins under their belts, the enigma that has shrouded the duo over their four year existence seems destined for removal. Duly Ethan Kath, musical creator and one-half of the Toronto offspring, draws Gigwise into a world of misquotes and encounters.
As the interview begins, the first issue to address in order to avoid confusion later, would be the past errors that have arisen in the press and a particular instance where a report surfaced that the band was ‘an accident’, which the band claim was an incorrect conclusion resulting from discussions of their renowned track, ‘Alice Practice’.
This subject has been revisited repeatedly by the band and now again, so how did this happen Ethan? “For the first two years of us being a band, I had my friends do all the interviews and I told them to make up ridiculous stories. I think one of them said that to a popular magazine and everyone’s been quoting that since”.
On ‘Alice Practice’, their first track, Ethan says, “That was just her [Alice Glass] testing her mic at our very first recording session over one of our loops. We didn’t know that the guy who owned the studio was recording her, so I guess you could call that an accident but the band is NOT an accident.” Does this incident and having to explain yourselves make you wary of the press? “No whatever, who cares, it was my choice to tell friends to do the interviews, right?”
During Crystal Castles live shows, Ethan projects chaotic electronics in a seemingly composed stance from behind his synth, which is a stark contrast to singer, Alice Glass’ onstage persona, who jerks her body over every inch of the stage and it’s this combination that has contributed to their frenzied live reputation. However, this image seems tame as Ethan describes his best band moment; a gig that was cut short when police helicopters arrived on the scene:
“I think my favourite moment was a police helicopter coming to shut down one of our shows in LA. We were playing a house party and it was too loud, it was a factory people were living in. It was too noisy for the people living in the area, so the cops were called and instead of leaving, people just threw their beer bottles at the cops. So, the cops called for back up and the back up came in the form of a helicopter. Everyone got away.”
Despite having just recalled a personal high point Ethan uses this same blasé yet endearing manner for the majority of the interview, therefore questioning whether it could all be taken as tongue-in-cheek. Yet, a disagreeing tone does seep through occasionally, especially when he maintains that Crystal Castles do not belong in the same 8-bit, chip tune genre etched out by bands, such as Knull Sleep and Nintendude that people are readily grouping them with. “No we don’t do that…I don’t know if we fit in to any scene, actually.”
These associations could be attributed to Ethan’s musical experiments involving an Atari. Was there a reason behind this choice of computer? “No it was just there. I think I read something about circuit bending and wanted to try it. I tried it on the Atari that I’d just bought at a garage sale, it was a few dollars. I don’t care about video games; I only bought it because it looked nice!”
What do you think to Crystal Castles’ sound being likened to a videogame soundtrack? “That’s a really lazy thing for people to say, we hate video games.”
How would you define your sound? Pausing to consider this, he replies, “I don’t know, like…if vomit could sing.”
The video game references have also derived and accelerated from Crystal Castles the 80s arcade game, a coincidence of which Ethan says, “We knew nothing about that game and I still haven’t seen it,” before providing an insight in to the real origins of the band’s name, cartoon heroine and He-Man’s sister, She-Ra, Princess Of Power: “We’ve never actually watched an episode of She-Ra, but when I was a kid I had a female cousin whose favourite toy was The Crystal Castle [She-Ra’s mystical refuge] and nothing gave her more joy. I’ve never seen anyone happier in my life, so it always stuck with me, this castle.”
As for Crystal Castles’ own home, Toronto, a city which has introduced us to the likes of, Broken Social Scene, Tokyo Police Club and Metric, Ethan believes their dwelling bears no musical relevance to the band, and is merely a place where he and Alice met (reportedly while doing community service): “We’ve never paid attention to the Toronto scene. All we did was meet at this place where you read to the blind. We met in that building that happened to be in Toronto, but Toronto has nothing to do with our music.
“We were reading to the blind and we started chatting because we were the only young people there. We started talking about music and agreed on our favourite bands. She told me that I should come and see her band called Foetus Fatale, which I did. I’d already been working on my own songs, but when I saw her I thought that she was the missing ingredient in my music.”
Has your music changed over the time you have been together? “We had a vision for what we wanted to sound like and we’ve stuck to it.”
Back to the new album, also called Crystal Castles, Ethan ambiguously reveals, “You can expect new sounds, new songs.” Their debut also contains early track ‘Alice Practice’, current single ‘Air War’, and the band’s remix of Health’s ‘Crimewave’.
Ethan explains how the remix happened: “Three years ago we wanted to do a tour with Health and they had an idea that we should sell a 7” where they cover us on their side and we cover them on our side. I didn’t want to cover them but I did like the vocal track from ‘Crimewave’ and I had a Crystal Castles song that I could add the vocal track to. They sent me the vocal track and I put it over the song but it didn’t work at all, so I started chopping it up and re-arranging it, and I just couldn’t make it work. I sent it to them saying, ‘I can’t do anything with this’, but they said that they liked it and everyone agreed it was great. We ended up putting it out even though I thought it didn’t work.”
Along with the Health remix, Ethan has a back catalogue of bands he has also remixed, including, The Klaxons and Bloc Party, among others. Remixes aside, how do the dynamics within the duo work when it comes to Crystal Castles’ music? “We both have freedom over our parts. I create the music and give her a CD with the songs and she can choose songs to sing over and she can sing whatever she wants on them. I trust her because I saw her in her previous band and loved everything she was doing, and I thought anything she would do over my tracks would be great.”
As the band prepare to release their album, does Ethan have any thoughts on what is happening in the current music scene? “I’m not really paying attention right now, we’ve been on tour for two years and I haven’t had time to check out new bands, you know. If someone wants to make me a mix CD, and let me know what’s happening that would be nice…”
Well, that sounds like an invitation, any offers Gigwise readers?