CRYSTAL SWELLS - Tell it like it is, or was...

As promised here's my transcription of a Crystal Swells interview I did a few months back. It was for my first article ever to be published in BeatRoute, and even though I had to turn this into 400 words, and the picture was questionable, it turned out pretty alright. The guys were hilarious, and offered to buy me a drink, luckily for them I wasn't drinking at the time, so it saved them 5 bucks.

The band features Nick on guitar and vocals, Joel on bass and vocals, Ross on the drums and Tim on guitar. We did the interview at the Astoria, but I ended up dodging out before they played because it was a week night and I was being wimpy. Luckily I was able to see them on that stage again and they blew it to smithereens with their surfy garage rock madness. Then I recently took in another one of their shows at the Railway just last weekend and I danced until the soles wore away on my shoes, it was that good. I had to take an expensive cab ride home because of my shoes, but it was totally worth it. 

And it just so happens they will be gracing the stage at the Princeton Pub on Oct. 20th, so be sure to check it out because this band never disappoints.

DM: How did the band come about?
Joel: It started as a cover band to play the first Shed Rock party. We wanted to have a band, so we learned a bunch of covers for that, and after the party we were like, well why don’t we try writing songs?
Nick: Everybody’s band was either broken up or on hiatus, except Tim he didn’t have bands, we just pulled him off the street.     

DM: Any notable bands?
Nick: Joel and Ross were in Harmless Heroes, they were good.
Joel: Nick was in Jury Rig, pretty much just Maple Ridge highschool bands.

DM: So what did you cover?
Joel: We had a Sonics cover.
Nick: Black Flag, Dead Milkmen.
Joel: Dinasour Jr.
Nick: Eric’s Trip.
Joel: The Stooges.
Ross: New Bomb Turks.
Nick: It was very punk rock, but it was fun though.

DM: What Stooges song?
Joel: TV Eye. We still bust that out occasionally against our will. Well, against my will anyway.

DM: How did you come up with the name Crystal Swells?
Nick: It’s a reference to the Dead Milkmen’s song Bitchin’ Camaro. They’re talking about their favourite cover band that’s named Crystal Shit, and that’s what we were called for that first show. Then we tried putting on a show and someone said, ‘you probably shouldn’t have shit in your name for the poster.’ And at the time I was listening to lots of Swell Maps, so I stole part of their name and added it to what we already had.
Joel: It was a reference to the Dead Milkmen referencing the Doors.


DM: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you before?
Joel: Loud.
Nick: It’s a little jangly.
Joel: Loud, distorted punk. Definitely loud, that’s the big one.
Nick: I just try to write Descendents styled songs and kind of make it psychedelic and surfy in some way.
Ross: Don’t give it all away.
Nick: Yeah, I better not give away the secret recipe.
Joel: It’s pretty casual too. I saw a metal band play the other night and the singer called out the drummer on stage. That would never happen in our band.
DM: Was it because they were a rookie band?
Joel: No. They were a Maple Ridge metal band that probably had some delusional dreams of making it. Now the guy is probably doing blow somewhere in Maple Ridge.
Nick: In the gutter.
Ross: Still thinking about that night his drummer messed up.
Joel: We could have had it man! It was in our grasp, and now look where I am. 
Ross: Yeah, I just get dirty looks when I mess up.
Nick: Cause you mess up the least.
Joel: It’s just pent up passive aggresiveness. 

DM: Who would you cite as your biggest influences musically?
Nick: Descendents, Swell Maps and 60s garage rock like The Seeds or Electric Prunes. Spacemen 3.
Joel: I love lots of local stuff like Shearing Pinx and B-Lines.

DM: Is it weird that I hear a Nirvana influence?
Tim: Not at all. I grew up listening to lots of Nirvana.
Ross: Dave Grohl’s heavy hitting style is an influence on my drumming.

DM: What’s the best show you’ve played in Vancouver and why?
Nick: The house shows are always really fun. I love playing a really small room where everyone is crammed together, sweaty and gross.
Ross: The first musicwaste in the Honey Lounge.
Joel: I just watched as the crowd slowly got bigger and bigger while we played.
Ross: We were on the floor there surrounded by people.

DM: Tell me about the shed.
Ross: (whimsically) Well the shed started back in 1964.
Joel: There’s a picture of me as a kid surrounded by my dad’s drunk buddies from way back in the day. The shed has been there forever. I’m surprised it hasn’t fallen apart. When I first moved back to the house I looked at the shed and I immediately saw a stage and thought ‘we’re gonna have bands play here and I don’t care.’ And Shed Rawk was born. Every summer, but only once, and every year I say it’s gonna be the last one.
Nick: This will be the fifth one.
Joel: Yeah the fifth one and the last one.
Nick: We should get Trooper to play this one.
Joel: And then we should all climb on top of the shed and light it on fire.

DM: Your last name is McDonald right?
Joel: Yes.
DM: And it’s a farm. Is your dad the famous Old McDonald?
Joel: No. Maybe my grandfather is because he was always old, even when I was a kid. My dad still looks young to me. But that was kind of…well…what a coincidence, I have a farm, and my last name is McDonald.
Nick: Get over it!
Joel: It’s not that bad to have. When the world runs out of gasoline I’ll be laughing, and living off blackberries.

DM: Tell me about your shindig experience.
Joel: Oh yeah!
Ross: Until just now I had forgotten about it.
Nick: We won a bunch of stuff and didn’t collect any of it. We didn’t use the studio time.
Ross: I used my discount card.
Joel: We got a big bag full of old Scratch records from like 1999.
Nick: All the rejected records that no one bought.
Joel: I found this one that was the holy somethings. It was three 7 inches and they were all short little songs about Jesus and God. I couldn’t tell if it was ironic or not, but it was really good song writing and super poppy. But Shindig was a cool experience, we were just thinking ‘yay more shows.’ It’s always good to keep playing shows, but during the finale we had a guitar amp fuck up and it ruined everything. That was our chance!
Ross: And broken guitar strings.
Nick: I think it was great to get to the finals of this big renowned thing and just totally shit the bed.
Joel: The show before the finals I thought we did really horrible. We played a ten minute rendition of Goethe Head Soup, our noise drone song, but still got announced the winner. I was surprised. 
Nick: We tried to throw the game every time, but they kept giving it to us. It was kind of embarrassing.

DM: So I heard you’re hitting the road to Alberta.
Joel: Yeah we’re teaming up with Hermetic. 

DM: Any touring experience?
Joel: My old band with Ross used to go up to Whistler when they had the Boot pub. That was always a lot of fun because they’d always set you up with a place to stay, get you really drunk and all kinds of people would show up for these Sunday night punk gigs. Too bad that doesn’t happen anymore. We also used to go to the island and play Nanaimo because they’d give you a guarantee. The bar was always full of old timers who would stare at you really weird. I do remember this one drunk woman swinging her beer along to the beat and just staring at Ross, spilling her beer all over, pounding her mug on the table. That was really funny.
Ross: Yeah that was real magical.
DM: So Crystal Swells haven’t done any touring yet?
Ross: No. We haven’t done anything. 
Nick: We played Abbotsford once.  
Joel: Doing the 7” has made us want to play some road gigs because you've got to get them out there and show it to people.
Nick: (touching Joel’s face) You got something on your face and it’s really bugging me.
Joel: Aw thanks buddy.
Ross: A little cinna-bun.

DM: So what do you look forward to most about hitting the road?
Joel: Not really knowing what to expect. Just going out there and not knowing what’s gonna happen. It could be a total failure or it could be really awesome.
Ross: And we all come back hating each other.
Nick: You won’t hate me because I’m gonna sing a bunch of Katy Perry songs in the van.

DM: So what do you think will be the worst part of hitting the road?
Ross: Nick singing Katy Perry songs.
Joel: If whatever we were driving broke down. That could be a pain in the ass. (Knocks on the table)

DM: Tell me about the upcoming 7”.
Ross: It’s about 8 minutes long.
Nick: We managed to fit two songs per side, so that’s pretty cool, and it’ll be our first vinyl release. I’ve had two band goals in my whole life; I just wanna go on tour and I want to release something on vinyl and we’ll do both this summer, so after this everything else is just a bonus.
Joel: I was thinking the other day how first we put out a cd-r, then we put out a cassette and now we’re putting out a vinyl. We’re going backwards through mediums. After this we’re gonna go wax.
Nick: Play a piano cylinder.
Joel: We recorded it back in august in the basement with a four track, and did everything ourselves except the mastering. It’s all live and pretty loud and messy.

DM: When is it gonna be out?
Joel: We’re thinking June, just in time for musicwaste. We’ll also put it up on bandcamp.

DM: What is it called?
Nick: We don’t know yet. Isn’t standard tradition just to take one of the song titles and call it that?
Joel: Or a word from each song title, that would make it Harsh Kelly Sludge Freaks. We might not name it anything.

DM: I mainly ask because your other releases had such cool titles. Crystal Mountain Girls, what does that mean?
Nick: That was me just making fun of our name, because it seemed after we named the band there with tons of bands with the word Crystal in their name. There were a lot of bands with girls in their name or mountain as well.
Joel: I thought it was because you guys went to Red Cat Records and there was a section for Crystal bands, and a section for Mountain bands and a section for girls, then we put all three together.

DM: So it had nothing to do with meeting girls on Crystal Mountain?
Nick: Living in the ridge we do love to go up to the mountains every summer, there’s a beautiful lake up there 20 minutes away, so that could be a part of too, a nice sincere part of it. But it was us making fun of ourselves at the same time too.

(Sound check begins and we move the interview outside)

DM: Back to the 7”, how can people get their hands on it?
Joel: You’ll be able to order it from our bandcamp and we’ll go around to all the record stores and drop off some copies, so it should be pretty accessible.
Nick: We’re gonna keep it cheap, five bucks.
Joel: And a pay what you want download.

DM: And you’re on musicwaste this year. What can we expect from that?
Ross: At least a show.
Nick: Merman might make an appearance this year!
Joel: I haven’t seen the actual schedule yet, but the bands look good.

DM: How were your passed musicwaste experiences?
Ross: Amazing.
Joel: This will be our third one.
Nick: The first time we played pretty early, but everyone got really into it.
Joel: We played with Vapid, at the Honey Lounge.
Nick: Last year was a daytime outdoor show at The Waldorf with a wicked line up on the last day of the festival. It was a real good time.

DM: What are your thoughts on the music scene in Vancouver?
Nick: I like it.
Joel: We’re kind of removed from it a little, and are only out here semi-occasionally. But there are some pretty decent bands. Vancouver’s music scene gets significantly ignored compared to other places in the country like Toronto where they have a lot of music industry type people, so the bands here have much more modest ambitions.
Nick: You get less run of the mill boring music out here, and because there’s little chance to get signed you get a lot weirder music.

DM: And you guys are all from Maple Ridge?
Nick: Oh yeah. Make sure that’s in bold. We are the defining sound of Maple Ridge! (laughs) No one even knows who we are in Maple Ridge because we don’t ever play out there.
Joel: It’s like that saying, we’re too much of a boy for crazy town and too crazy for boys town. That’s like our relationship with Vancouver and Maple Ridge. We’re too insane there and people are like, “what the fuck?” And when we come here we’re super tame and watered down.
Nick: We have relatively short hair and we shave sometimes, but in Maple Ridge we’re freaks.

DM: Any future aspirations for the band?
Joel: If this 7” goes well it would be cool to put out another 7”.
Nick: Just day by day man.
Tim: And we want to get a band van, that’s an aspiration.
Joel: Yeah that’d be so good.
Nick: Our goals are pretty tempered and mild, we need a van so we can get to Lethbridge.

DM: Any final words?
Nick: Visit your provincial park!

Check out Crystal Swells latest release: 

And if you're interested to see how I turned all of this into 400 words visit:


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