eMusic Selects: Crystal Stilts
After moving to New York from south Florida, JB Townsend (guitar) and Brad Hargett (vocals) formed Crystal Stilts with friend, bassist and fellow record store clerk Andy Adler. Recently adding Frankie Rose on drums, the Stilts have solidified their sparklingly moody guitar pop. Until now, the band has only released a limited-run 7-inch and vinyl-only EP; Crystal Stilts culls tracks from those releases as well as unreleased new songs and demos. The foursome met with eMusic’s Yancey Strickler and Alex Naidus at a Brooklyn bar to talk about the road that brought them here.
Can we talk about the van? What happened — all the equipment was in the van…
Brad Hargett: Yeah. We were practicing at [Brooklyn practice studio] Flood, but it was a really small space. We were in between spaces, really — [the other band] said “You guys can practice here, but we don’t want your stuff here.” It was one of those things, we were being lazy. We should have gotten another space, put our gear in it, you know. But it was free most of the time, we’d go in, maybe pay $20. But we were getting increasingly paranoid about all our stuff being in the van. We kinda knew this was a really bad idea.
So anyway, I woke up some morning…
Andy Adler: I think the precursor is that it got side-swiped.
BH: Yeah, I was walking outside on the way to practice in Bed-Stuy and someone had side-swiped not just my car but two cars in a row. They were just crushed. The rearview mirror was hanging off and from front to back there was a huge swipe across it. So I ended up getting tickets for having no sideview mirror — which, I even got a ticket while it was parked. I swear, they gave me a ticket while it was parked. Also, I had a few parking tickets…whatever. [Everyone laughs]
JB Townsend: He had like six or seven parking tickets.
BH: That was my first hope, though, that it had been towed. I had outstanding parking tickets. I get to work, freaking out a little — this is ten days before South by Southwest. All our shit was in it. But I figured, it probably got towed.
So I call the police station. They were like, “Lemme check. You’re car has not been towed, call 911.” Fuck. So I call 911, report it stolen — even checked on the New York City government website where you can see if it’s towed. I actually have a printout from a month later saying, “Your car has not been towed” from the New York City Police Department, the City Marshall. So anyway, we figured it was stolen. I had given it up. I thought I had gone through all the options. The Police Department didn’t tell me that maybe, you know, they have no communication. [Laughs] So anyway, we were supposed to leave on a Monday morning for SXSW. The car has a Florida license plate, so my mom gets a letter and calls me, [in mom voice] “I got a letter, it says your car’s been impounded!” This is 6pm on Friday and they’re closed all weekend.
For one, I was furious. They told me it had not been towed. They could have at least said, “Maybe it’s been towed, we have no idea,” but they told me it had definitely not been towed.
AA: And that it was gonna be auctioned off the next Friday.
With everything that was in it?
BH: That was the question! Would they advertise that? “Start a band!”
JBT: Vox Jaguar organ.
AA: Bob Dylan bootlegs. A pair of pants.
BH: We needed to try and get it out. We couldn’t — it would’ve been smarter to rent a car, drive down there, play the shows and figure it out when we got back — but the car would’ve been gone by then. So we had to get the car back. I tried to get up early and go over there, but it was such a runaround. You had to go to three different places; I sat around for eight hours while they got around to bringing it out. When the guy finally pulled the car out of the lot, he pulled out with the tow truck and just dropped it without slowing down. The car bounced back about five feet, then he just gave me one of these. [Points fingers]
Like, “See ya.”
BH: Yeah. So we still, at that point, had a chance to start out for Texas right then. But considering the step-daughter treatment it received, I got in there and it was like Click-click-click. Nothin’.
How many days was it that you thought everything had been stolen?
BH: It was three weeks!
BH: Yeah. I thought it was gone.
Before your mom got the letter.
So what were you doing for those three weeks?
BH: Crying. [Everyone laughs]
Were you like, “We can’t even be a band anymore?”
BH: Well yeah, there was that thought initially. But honestly, we don’t have that much equipment. Maybe fifteen hundred, two thousand dollars worth of equipment. It wasn’t like we had twenty grand worth of shit.
The thing was, everyone was really cool with borrowing equipment, everyone was super helpful. I almost felt bad when we got the stuff back. Especially because I feel like it looks really stupid. It sort-of looks like, “You didn’t even call to see if it had gotten towed?” I feel like people that don’t know the story — which, I would think the same thing. You know… idiots.
Have your parents heard the band?
JBT: My dad has.
What was the reaction?
JBT: My dad said it sounds like “the best new Beatles.” [Everyone laughs.]
AA: In a French accent, nonetheless.
JBT: [In French accent] “That sounds like the best new Bettles.” [Everyone laughs]
BH: My dad said, “What the hell is that? Are those actual words or are you just mumbling?” [Laughs]
What’d you say to that?
BH: I said, “They’re words, dad!” [Laughs] To my dad, me being in music is a huge joke. My dad’s also old — he’s almost 80. He had us when he was well into his 40s — me and my sister. He was in his mid-thirties when the Beatles hit, so for him, people that play music are like jazz [musicians]. You have some sort of musical education and talent. I don’t even play an instrument, so it’s a joke to him.
What would it take for him to view what you do as being legitimate? Was there a path he wanted to send you on?
BH: I think he would view it as legitimate if I ever made money from doing it.
AA: Or opening for Tony Bennett.
What was the reception at the very first show?
BH: There’s a good story behind that, actually. It was at Free 103 and the Mad Scene played. Hamish Kilgour [of New Zealand band the Clean] was there and he said, “You guys were fantastic, the most interesting of the night — it reminded me of when I went to England in ’83 and bought the first Jesus & Mary Chain single.” Which was the best. I was like, “We’re quitting.”
AA: Yeah, all downhill from here.
JBT: At that show, Brad was sitting down behind the stage.
BH: I was sitting behind everybody. I sat in a chair behind the drummer. The first two shows, I sat.
Had you decided beforehand that’s what you were gonna do?
BH: Yeah, yeah.
I mean, you had seen shows before. You were aware how people acted.
BH: I wasn’t really comfortable with what I would do with myself. I had a pedal for the vocals and I sort of used that as an excuse — “Yeah, I really gotta fiddle with this thing.” Which — I wasn’t ever really changing it.
The first several shows I was very nervous. I remember the show we played with Psychic Ills at Tonic. It was our third or forth show and I thought their bass player was really cute. Just the combination of that, thinking they were good and playing at Tonic — which was a pretty good place to play — I was so nervous.
So the first time you stood up…
BH: The third show, I stood up.
What was the impetus to stand up? There had to be a moment.
BH: I mean, I realized I can’t really get away with this for long.
AA: You can only look like a douchebag for so long.