IN 1994 THE CRYSTAL METHOD WAS BORN. MADE UP OF SCOTT KIRKLAND AND KEN JORDAN, THEY STARTED THEIR MUSICAL MISSION IN THE CLUBS. IN 1997 THEY RELEASED THEIR DEBUT FULL-LENGTH, VEGAS, TO MUCH CRITICAL ACCLAIM. RECENTLY, THEY RELEASED THEIR THIRD LP, LEGION OF BOOM, WHICH IS PROOF POSITIVE THAT-- AT TEN YEARS YOUNG-- THE CRYSTAL METHOD IS STILL VERY MUCH ALIVE AND WELL. SCOTT TALKED WITH WAYNE CHINSANG ABOUT THEIR NEW ALBUM, THEIR PROGRESSION AS A BAND, AND PACIFIERS.
Wayne: So, your new album, Legion of Boom, has been out for about a week now.
W: Has the feedback been good?
S: Yeah. It’s been really good. It charted on the Billboard Top 200 at #36, and it’s the number one electronic album right now. So, so far, so good. The fans seem to enjoy it, and we’ve gotten good feedback on the website. So it seems to be going pretty well.
W: That’s great. When your first album, Vegas, came out back in 1997, were you guys thinking that it would come this far? That you’d now be on your third album, and that your music would be where it is at? Or were you more just putting your music out there to see what you could do with it?
S: It was pretty much just putting it out there. I mean, we, of course, had high hopes of continuing to make music one way or another. But Vegas took off. It’s sold close to a million records in the U.S., and we built a strong fan base. When we first started making music as a band back in ‘94, we put out our first 12-inch, “Now’s The Time”, and we pressed up 3,000 copies. We sold all the copies, and we were like, “Wow. We sold 3,000 copies. That’s great.” At the time, in America, there was really no inkling of solid support for electronic music throughout the country. So we were hoping that we would be able to DJ or play live in a couple of big cities, or go over to Europe and have success over there, because it was taking a hold over there and they had a bigger audience. But now it’s sort of the opposite. We spend a majority of our time here in the States. With our next tour we’ll be going to 60 or 65 cities. And it’s quite the thrill.
W: What’s the vibe now in Europe? Is it different?
S: Well, we’re going over to Europe-- actually, we’re going over to London on Tuesday. We’re going to hit about five different cities in Europe. We haven’t been there in awhile. But, from what I understand through talking to friends, dance music is sort of in a down-cycle right now. The whole music business, in general, is down. But my friends who are DJs or producers say they want to focus on the States. They want to make an effort to build some fans and a career over here. So, we’ll see. I’m kind of anxious to see what the state of music is in Europe.
W: I know when you guys started in ‘94 there really wasn’t much of a scene, but by the time Vegas came out, that was the beginning of that whole surge of electronica. And since then I think the genre has gone through this flux, where good electronica is now more of a hybrid of a lot of different stuff. And I think that since your music is so obviously influenced by other genres-- like rock, R&B, and soul-- that’s why it’s managed to progress rather than fall away.
S: Yeah. The rock sensibility definitely helps keep things going for us. And we’ve been very fortunate to work with some very talented people, too. Getting to work with Tom Morello [Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave] was a thrill and an honor. And now, with this album, having worked with Wes (Borland) [Limp Bizkit], who is also a talented and cool guy that we got along with really, really well. And John Garcia [Kyuss] did vocals. He’s really laid back; very easy to work with. And it’s those kind of things that allow it to be different from project to project.
W: Right. And that leads me into my next question. With working with different artists-- like Rahzel from The Roots, or Morello and Borland-- in working with different artists, does that help with your creative process? How do you approach it? Do you bring ideas to them, or do they bring ideas to the table?
S: Well, most of the time we’ll have a track going in the studio. We’ve wanted to work with Rahzel for quite some time. We had a track that was going, and it immediately sounded like something that might work with Rahzel. So we sent him the track, and he was hip to it. And it was sort of the same thing with Wes. We had a couple tracks going, and we knew we needed a guitarist on this particular track. Then we found out that Wes was in between projects, that he was available, so we sent him the songs. He liked what he heard, so he came in the studio. Generally, we have ideas up and running. But you never want to bring someone in just because of their status. We want to make sure that they’re into it and that they’re going to be energized by the project and have some ideas. And that’s what we’ve been very fortunate to be a part of with these last two records. With Vegas, we didn’t really have that many collaborators. Just vocalists, and a very good friend of ours, Jon Brion, who has been on all three records now. We just get an idea, send it out, and see if they’re into it.
W: I think one of the most fun and interesting tracks on the new album is “Wide Open”.
W: It’s so cool to hear. It’s poetry, and that’s something that’s rarely used with electronica. It’s such a playful track. How did that collaboration come about?
S: Hanifah-- who used to go by the name of Sha-key, and put out a record in the mid-Nineties-- was down doing the vocals for “Bound Too Long”, and we had “Wide Open” sitting around. We knew that we needed something. At that moment it was just instrumental, and we really couldn’t put our finger on what it needed. So we just put it aside. She was on the mic in the other room, and she was just talking in between takes. And she’s got this really deep, powerful, and sexy voice. Immediately, we were just like, “We’ve got to see if she’s into this other track.” (laughs) So, she finished doing the vocals for “Bound Too Long”, and then we played “Wide Open”. She said, “I’m feeling it. I’m feeling it.” So she went in, and our last bit of direction on lyrical content was just that it was wide open. So, basically, she just started going off from that point on. And it flows really, really well. We actually have three or four long takes of her just going in many, many different directions. But after a few days of narrowing bits and pieces down, we managed to make it seem like it was one continuous thought. She was awesome. I’d love to work with her again.
W: Yeah. When I reviewed the album, that was one of the things I was really amazed by. It was a great track, especially to end it on that note.
S: Yeah, yeah. It’s rarely about how the beginning of the record goes. For me, it’s always about how you end it. What impression do you leave on the listener when the CD is over? On Vegas, we had a really great closing track. And on Tweekend we had this really aggressive track called “Tough Guy”, which, tempo-wise, was a good track to end with. But, vibe-wise, it was really aggressive and edgy and harsh and loud. It sort of sums up that record. It’s a really dense track on a really dense album. So, we wanted something a little lighter; something still cool and chunky, but not so harsh and aggressive. When she started to lay down vocals for “Wide Open”, it immediately started to sound like a great track to close a record with.
W: Completely. Let’s go back to Tweekend for a second. When Tweekend came out, I thought it was a really nice step up from what Vegas was. But, for some reason, it wasn’t as critically-acclaimed as Vegas. My opinion of it is that people had an idea of what Vegas was, and they were just waiting for Vegas: Part Two.
S: Yeah. A lot of people were waiting for Vegas: Part Two. (laughs)
W: Exactly. (laughs) But it wasn’t Vegas: Part Two, and I always thought that’s what was cool about it. Why do you think,.. I mean, do you think it’s just that people just want the same--
S: Well, some of my favorite songs that we’ve ever done are on Tweekend: “Wild, Sweet And Cool”, “Blowout”. There was such a long time between Vegas and Tweekend. We spent a lot of time touring and doing different types of shows; touring with Family Values, and doing more traditional type of rock venues. And we were obviously past the crescendo drumrolls, and the tricks that we did on Vegas. We wanted to come up with tracks that were a little more sparse. But what we ended up doing was spending too much time tweaking and layering and adding to, instead of just finding a great groove or bass line or melody. We set out at the beginning of that project to do a different record. The people that we worked with set it in a different direction, like the Tom Morello or Scott Weiland collaborations. I think when people first heard the “Name Of The Game” single-- you know, that track didn’t sound like anything that was on Vegas-- so I think it made people think that we were different. And that’s what we set out to do. But I guess we went a little bit too far away from Vegas for some people. But it was still a successful record for us. We did a great tour with it, and we sold around 300,000 copies. But what we learned from that record was not to spend so much time tweaking and layering, and just focus on the important elements that made Vegas successful-- commercially, but also for our fan base. Getting out and DJing a lot more-- connecting with our electronic roots, if you will-- we were able to do that somewhat naturally.
W: In between Tweekend and Legion Of Boom you did Community Service in 2002, and that definitely was going back to your DJing roots. Was it important to do that between those two albums? To kind of erase and then restart?
S: Yeah, it was. It just helped us prepare to get back into the clubs. In support of that album we just went out DJing. From the very beginning, we wanted to make sure that everybody understood that we were a band. We played live 95% of the time, and DJing was something that was fun. We could go in with a couple crates of records and have a good old time spinning. But we didn’t keep up as much with electronic music as other DJs. It’s just impossible to do, or at least it was a few years ago. Now, with the ability to preview songs online-- there is a great 12-inch store out of Toronto called Release Records, which is one of our favorites-- we were able to get back into finding dance music, and getting records from some of our friends overseas, like Adam Freeland and DJ Hyper. So getting back in the clubs really helped set the tone for Legion Of Boom. Even the single we have out, “Born Too Slow”, which has a lot of rock sensibilities in it, is still driven by a great bass line and uptempoed drums. It’s still heavily influenced by electronic music.
W: With touring, do you guys use that time to experiment? Or are you just going through the motions, waiting to get back into the studio to experiment?
S: It’s difficult to do a lot of experimenting when we’re on the road because we’re away from a lot of our gear. We’re into the idea of being able to connect a bunch of things together in the studio-- pedals and stomp boxes and keyboards and compressors-- and just feed things through to come up with different sounds. On the road, it’s a pretty solid set-up. We know how everything is set up because it’s necessary for us to be able to perform. So there isn’t as much spontaneity. We can carve a couple of seconds off of a track, or do a couple of edits and play it differently over the top, but we’re still trying to represent the songs that are on the record. We take it seriously, and we have a great time doing it. It’s an honor to be able to go out and play as many cities as we get to play. What we’re gonna try and do this time around is set up a little studio on the bus. Nothing big and elaborate; just something that allows us to mess around and come up with some material before we head back into the studio.
W: Touring is probably the best chance you have to be face-to-face with fans. From 1994 to 2004, how have The Crystal Method fans changed?
S: Um,.. they’ve gotten older. (laughs)
S: You’ll still see the 17- to 21-year-olds. But, for the most part, it’s people that have been into electronic music for awhile now. One of the biggest compliments that we get while we’re out on the road-- and I’m surprised at how much we get this-- a lot of people come up to us and say that Vegas was their first introduction to electronic music, and that now they’re really into all of these other bands and electronic music because of us. So, our fan base has aged with us over the years. So, yeah, we still get the 17- to 21-year-old crowds. But, for the most part, it’s 25- to 35-year-olds that have grown with the electronic scene. A lot of them were at raves when they were 17, and now they’ve got families and regular jobs, but they’re still happy to go out to an electronic show every once in awhile.
S: It’s just the nature of the business. I mean, there aren’t raves like there were. There are every once in a while, with a few underground things. But, for the most part, the rave scene has pretty much died down. You don’t get as many kids with glow sticks or--
S: (laughs) Pacifiers.
S: (laughs) But every once in awhile we’ll see a couple of them in the audience, so we’ll try and nurture them and encourage them to continue doing what they’re doing.
W: (laughs) How do you think you and Ken (Jordan) have changed?
S: Um,.. we get along better now.
W: And you don’t use pacifiers, either?
S: (laughs) No. We got past the pacifiers phase. Someone had to wean us off those pacifiers.
S: (laughs) Use some tough love.
S: We probably work better together now. And we get along better. You know, we’re older and wiser now.
W: Right. Now, like I mentioned before, you guys are influenced by other music, so I was wondering if you had ever considered doing something that is completely different than this?
S: No. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to try different things within The Crystal Method. We’ve been offered opportunities to score a few small film projects, but we haven’t committed to anything yet. But it’s something we’ve always thought might be fun to do at some point. Just a different direction to go in as a band or as producers. But, at this point, we’re pretty happy to be able to do what we do under The Crystal Method.
W: Great. You’re happy, he’s happy, and we’re all happy.
S: (laughs) Right.
W: (laughs) This is one of the last questions I have for you, but it’s a two-parter. First, where do you think the genre of electronica is going? Second, where is The Crystal Method going?
S: Well, it’s definitely in the “ebb” stage of the ebb and flow. Electronic music, as a whole, is going through some rough times. I think it’s the lack of label support, a lack of independently-minded labels like Outpost, which signed us back in ‘97. And then there’s the amount of records being released. I wish that more bands would spend a little bit more time touring in the States. We’re trying to get together another show like Community Service, which we did with Orbital back in ‘98. We’d love to do a tour with Basement Jaxx or Chemical Brothers; bands that only hit nine or ten cities. Bands that don’t manage to hit the San Antonios or the Oklahoma Cities or the Milwaukees. It would be great to do that. So, for us, it feels kind of like it did in ‘94. The attention is being placed towards rock and hip-hop. And, hopefully, there will be some records that come out of that that will light a fire under the electronic community, and inspire some more people to make more music.
W: I also thought that it was interesting that there was Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E. Fest and Ozzfest, but there was never an extensive, coast-to-coast electronic festival.
W: I mean, I’m not a big fan of huge festivals, because if there are too many acts you’re just getting bands competing with each other. But I always thought that a well thought out electronic tour would be beneficial.
S: Yeah. There is talk about next year’s Lollapalooza, about doing something different with electronica. But it would be great to put everyone on a bus and let them hit 25 cities and see what kind of a show we can all do together. Hopefully, something like that will be possible in the future.
W: That’d be great to see. Okay, last question I have for you is one we ask everyone.
W: Do dogs have lips?
S: Ah,... (laughs) Yeah, they do. Right when you asked that I thought about my dog. I have a black Lab. He does have lips-- well,.. they’re chops. I would consider them lips.
W: Okay. There’s no right answer.
S: (laughs) I know there’s no right answer.
S: Who came up with that one?
W: Well, it actually started about five years ago while we were all drunk.
W: It got brought up, and the group was split. So we decided to ask people we interview for their opinion. I think we’ve asked somewhere around 150 people by now.
S: (laughs) That’s cool.
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