Crystal Castles - interview
Who's saying what
In this case, the interviewee is Ethan Kath, the producer and instrumental half of Canadian duo Crystal Castles. Kath has been dabbling with experimental electronica for over six years now, but it wasn’t until he discovered livewire vocalist Alice Glass – who, at the time, was in her late teens, fronting a noise punk band named Fetus Fatale, and spitting beer onto heckling middle-aged punks – that the act we now know as Crystal Castles took form. Since then, they’ve released two self-titled albums of glitchy, gaudy, distorted electronica, as well as the occasional beautiful pop song. See: ‘Celestica’ (below), from last year’s Crystal Castles II – which rated highly on TheVine’s annual critics poll – and their most recent single, ‘Not In Love’, a song originally performed by Canadian new wave 80s band Platinum Blonde which was covered by Crystal Castles and featured The Cure singer Robert Smith on guest vocals. Powerful stuff.
Crystal Castles (ft. Robert Smith) - 'I'm Not In Love'
Which brings us up to date with the present. Which Ethan Kath isn’t in. This isn’t the first time a Crystal Castles member is missing from an interview: a 2008 feature in Toronto magazine Now was written largely around Alice’s absence. I alternate between thinking about that article and going over my intended questions, while I wait the requested 10 minutes before re-dialling the local phone exchange, re-entering the PIN, and re-entering the 13-digit phone number that connects me to a mobile handset located somewhere in Tokyo.
“Hey, it’s Ethan,” says a voice; one that bears bad news, delivered in stilted tones.
The bit you probably already know: Ethan tells me that Alice has a broken ankle. The bit that we published as a news story – rightfully, I might add – which cast Crystal Castles’ scheduled appearances on the Big Day Out 2011 tour in doubt. To wit:
How was your day in Tokyo?
A little bit stressful.
Because Alice is injured.
We’re at the hospital, having x-rays taken. It appears that she has a broken ankle.
Oh shit. What will that mean for the Australian tour?
I don’t know. Maybe she’ll be doing it in a wheelchair. I’m not sure.
So this happened at last night’s show?
No, it happened earlier.
So to clarify, this is not going to affect your Australian tour?
I don’t know. This is sort of a bad time to ask right now.
Indeed. At the time, my mind was racing: Should I continue with the interview, given that Ethan’s right-hand lady is, right now, as we speak, getting her probably-broken ankle x-rayed? And...is this a scoop? I hadn’t heard about it anywhere else. (Afterwards, I’d check Twitter and find that a handful of Japanese fans had tweeted about it a few days earlier, but no other news outlets had reported it.)
Having spent two hours earlier today researching dozens of past interviews with the band, I’ve been bracing myself for an unresponsive interview subject. I was right to. Admittedly, this was a difficult situation for Ethan to be in – attempting to answer questions about his music and career to an Australian journalist, while he’d probably rather be keeping an eye on Alice – but he didn’t sound too fussed about it all. I get the impression that he’s never fussed about anything much. I ask Ethan whether he wants to proceed with the interview. He says 'OK'.
We’re speaking right now because you're playing on the Big Day Out tour next week. I believe you're particularly excited about one of the headline acts - I've read that you're a big Stooges fan.
Yeah, I love The Stooges.
Are you looking forward to watching them side of stage?
Uhmm, I’m not sure if I’d be allowed on the side of the stage, but that would be amazing.
Do you have any rules around meeting your musical heroes?
Um, no. What kind of rules would I have?
Well, have you ever been disappointed by meeting your heroes?
[He mishears me.] Yeah, I met Johnny Rotten.
Did he live up to your expectations?
He was amazing. He was really smart, and friendly. I asked him to spit on my jacket, with the plan that I would never wash it again. He came up with a really huge gob of spit.
And I take it you haven’t washed that jacket since.
Yeah, of course not.
Have you given much thought to how it's very likely that you are a musical hero, to a lot of people?
[Coughs] I don’t think I’m a hero to anybody, actually.
Crystal Castles - 'Celestica'
Do you give much thought to why people like Crystal Castles’ music?
Um. [Pause]. No. Crystal Castles is really selfish. I think people want to come for that ride, because they appreciate that attitude. [Coughs]
Do you ever look at the forums on the Crystal Castles website?
I didn’t know we had forums.
I was on there earlier today. You've got a pretty rabid fanbase.
Um. We don’t really look at the internet. We like to pretend it’s 1991 forever.
So you’re saying you don’t have an email address?
We have a guy who checks our email.
Ah huh. Well you probably don’t know this then, but the band’s got nearly 500,000 fans on Facebook. What does that mean to you?
[Pause] It means I owe a lot of hugs to people. That’s a lot of hugs.
What kind of emotions do you associate with your music?
I think all our music is really sad and bleak. I think it’s the only emotion we have when we write music.
I’ve read that you’ve called the latest album ‘one hour of sadness’. That’s not the emotion that I associate with listening to it.
Well, everyone’s different.
Do you try to inspire any particular emotions or moods in the listener?
[Coughs] No, we don’t try to inspire anything. We’re just doing this for ourselves.
Is it helpful that you’re as popular as you are?
I don’t think I really have a good concept on that. My life is just an everyday struggle, of being on tour, you know. I’m not really sure what else is going on.
But if it’s a selfish band – a selfish concept – you could be doing it for yourselves, and yet here you are, playing in front of thousands of people.
We’re always surprised when people show up to the show, you know.
Do you find playing the songs, over and over, loses any of their meaning?
No, because we love the songs that we write.
What do you think about when you're on stage?
[Pause] I’m just focused on the song.
Do you prefer playing festivals, or club shows?
It’s all the same, whether a show’s big or small. We put everything into it. We try to have a communal experience with the fans. We try to share sweat, and vomit. I like it when, after a show, they’ll come up to me and show me a fresh wound.
Is it weird to play at festivals, in broad daylight?
[He erupts with a series of enormous, hacking coughs, which last for 30 seconds.]
Are you alright man? Did you catch my last question?
Can you wait a second, please? [60 second pause.] Hey.
I’m gonna be in an elevator. I’m not sure if I’m gonna lose you or not, but we’ll see what happens.
OK. We were talking about festivals. I wanted to know if it was weird for you guys to play in broad daylight, because to me, your music is suited to dark environments.
No, it’s not weird at all. It’s great. We’ve played many outdoor, daytime shows. I like it. It’s a nice change.
I’m interested to know what you do with your time on tour, when you're not on stage. Because, as you mentioned, you've been on tour seemingly non-stop for a few years now.
Well, today I was in a hospital in Japan. Which was interesting. There’s a flu epidemic going on right now, and they’re turning people away because there’s too many people clogging the hospitals with the flu.
Ahuh. So how did Alice manage to get in?
[The elevator opens, there’s background noise, and he can’t hear me. He walks for two minutes, then asks me to go ahead.]
I want to ask you about Chris. [Chartrand, the band’s live drummer in 2006, and from 2008-present]
Chris, your drummer.
Oh, cool. What about him?
I haven't seen him spoken about or quoted in any past interview, so I’d like to know: what's his story? How did he come to be involved with the band?
Hey, I can’t hear you again. I’m going to go outside, maybe it’ll be better outside. [60 second pause] I’m almost outside. [And then he’s standing on the street. There’s a lot of background noise. I can hear people speaking Japanese nearby. He spends another two minutes of trying to hear me.]
Where are you? Describe your surroundings.
[He lets out more huge, wracking coughs. It sounds like he’s dying.] I’m, apparently, spreading a deadly virus to people in Tokyo.
Yeah, it sounds like it!
So yeah, I’m on the street. I guess, like, in Tokyo, somewhere. I thought I’d have better reception outside, but I guess I was wrong. I’m really sorry about this. It must be very annoying for you. I can’t hear anything you’re saying, so I’m going to hang up now. I’m really sorry, OK? Bye.
CRYSTAL CASTLES - AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2011
Sun Jan 23 – BIG DAY OUT - Gold Coast - Parklands
Tues Jan 25 – Enmore Theatre – Sydney (All Ages)
Wed Jan 26 – BIG DAY OUT - Sydney – Showground
Thurs Jan 27 – BIG DAY OUT - Sydney – Showground
Fri Jan 28 – Melbourne – Palace Theatre (18+)
Sun Jan 30 – BIG DAY OUT - Melbourne – Flemington Racecourse
Fri Feb 4 – BIG DAY OUT - Adelaide – Showground
Sun Feb 6 – BIG DAY OUT - Perth – Claremont Showground
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