When Anaya Latter spoke to Crystal Stilts vocalist Brad Hargett ,he was watching Twin Peaks and having a glass of red wine at home in in Bedford Stuyvesant. Bed-Stuy as it’s known, is in the heart of Brooklyn, also the current spiritual and physical home of Crystal Stilts – a rollicking vivid garage-pop band.
The Crystal Stilts’ new album In Love With Oblivion has a dreamy resonance, with Hargett’s deep baritone gliding over rockabilly riffs and garage pop sensibilities. According to Hargett, this release is truly a collaborative record for the quartet.
“Well this record in particular was the band’s record. I mean the first album (Alight of Night) was just me and JD the guitar player. At that time he would just strum away on guitar, and I would find lyrics, and work out a melody to it, whereas this record was more of the band’s record. In terms of the studio, all songs were basically set and most of the time spent in the studio was basically just mixing it and things like that. The final song ‘Prometheus At Large’ we’d barely ever played that song and it just sort of popped up in the studio, off the cuff”
Crystal Stilts often get compared to the Manchester sound of the 80s, Hargett’s baritone voice contributing, in part, to this association. But it’s not one that the band adheres to, citing American music from the 1950s as the hub of their influences. “We just try and sound like records we like as much as we get compared to post-punk bands and 80s bands we really listen to more 50s stuff, you know like Bo Diddly, or country stuff, early Elvis records and how those records sound. The 50s recordings actually played a bigger part in how we mix and how we try and make it sound than 80s stuff that we get compared to.”
Focusing on those 80’s comparisons, Hargett feels that this misses a lot of the melodic interplay and quality to their sound: “The Joy Division comparisons usually happen just because of my voice. I don’t have much of a range and if our voices sound kind of similar, I feel people latch on to just the vocal sound. But really, our songs – there are very few songs that you could really compare the sound to anything like Joy Division.”
“(With)Ian Curtis I will say he had an influence on my writing … when you’re not a very good singer or you don’t have a great range as a singer; his lines were very sturdy, he had internal lining, the rhythm was very solid and you know even Leonard Cohen does that. If you don’t have great range as a singer you can create melody within the line itself, and it’ll sound good even if you’re not singing some crazy melody, you know it will still come out sounding well if it’s written well.”
Hargett takes an unusual approach to his songs, using dreams as a fundamental way of creating feeling and a basis for the songs: “In terms of visualisation on this [album] there was a lot of images from dreams and stuff, so when a sound starts forming musically I’ll sort of try to pick up on because I generally write my dreams down and try record them – so I’ll generally try to match it up with a certain feeling that a dream had, and then work that whatever energies were in that [dream], and try to work it into a song.”
The albums that Hargett can’t help playing over and over include, “The Blue Orchids The Greatest Hit or the second and third Leonard Cohen albums; Songs from a Room or Songs of Love and Hate, or Bob Dylan’s Love and Sex I think that’s a phenomenal record. And also, Bo Diddley’s records I can play over and over.”
Hargett’s real buzz from playing live and touring has been to play for some of their favourite artists, “Some of the people who influenced us so much we got to play with which is one of the most rewarding and exciting things. Opening for Dean Wareham when he was playing Galaxie 500 songs; Opening for The Queens, we just opened for Spectrum the last couple of nights, from Spacemen 3; and you know, being in Glasgow and having Steven Pasquale come out for the shows and have him being into us and things like that have been the most outrageous experiences.”
Hargett lists Fellini’s 8½ and Fear and Loathing as two films he would play in the background at a party, and reveals he’s never been to Australia but that the band are fans of the Go-Betweens, and that the song ‘Shake the Shackles’ was an attempt to capture and pay tribute to that sound. “Also we’re trying very hard to come to Australia this year, hopefully this fall. If all goes according to plan we’ll get to Australia and New Zealand as well.”
In Love with Oblivion is out now on Popfrenzy Records.