For a group that continues to defy every label thrown at them, Toronto duo Crystal Castles can, at the very least, be defined by contradictions:
They’re a part of the electronic music community, but their delivery is undeniably punk. They’re notoriously erratic off-stage, yet are consistently sharp live. And now, with the release of their third full-length, III, due November 5th via Casablanca/Universal Republic/Fiction, producer Ethan Kath and singer Alice Glass are more prevalent than ever, despite being written off as attention-seeking noise-makers heard on Skins early on in their career.
We recently got in contact with the band, en route on their lengthy US tour, to talk III, touring with longtime allies HEALTH, and Alice’s infamous live antics. In not-so-atypical fashion, Glass was MIA for an interview, leaving us with the equally mysterious Kath for answers.
What was the decision-making for recording the new album isolated in Warsaw? How’d it affect the writing/recording process?
Ethan Kath: We chose Warsaw because we didn’t speak the language and we didn’t know anyone, and therefore, we’d be completely isolated. We liked the cold weather too.
We banned computers from the studio and living quarters, and used 1950s tape machines to track everything. We prefer our equipment to come infested with insects and ghosts.
Alice recently told NME that due to recent events, she’s “one step away from being a vigilante.” With that, is the new album full of hope, or hopelessness?
EK: Sorry she’s not here. I think the second half of that quote is more important, though; “…to protect people and bring justice to the people I love. I’ve thought about it.” Sad things have happened to people very close to both of us. It’s frustrating to be so powerless in these situations.
A lot of people, fans and non-fans alike, really enjoyed your collaboration with Robert Smith for “Not In Love”. Are more collabs something you’re interested in, or was it more of a one-time occurrence?
EK: We never plan these things. That song happened innocently and randomly.
We hung out with [Robert] after a show in London and then “Not In Love” was born. We bumped into Sigur Rós one day and suddenly “Year of Silence” was conceived.
Crystal Castles have a history with HEALTH, going all the way back to “Crimewave” off of your debut. What prompted you to tour with them now?
EK: HEALTH is one of our favorite bands. We think their second album, Get Color, is a masterpiece. We asked them to tour with us so that we could see them live every night; it was a selfish decision. We are out in the audience every night while they play. We’re [also] both introducing songs from our forthcoming third albums on this tour.
With influences like AIDS Wolf, Sonic Youth, and black metal, where do you think you fit in to the electronic music scene, if it all?
EK: We’ve never cared to fit into any genre. We wanted to play small basement punk shows with bands like Sick Lipstick, AIDS Wolf, [and] HEALTH.
We pressed small runs of vinyl because the capacities of these basement shows were so small.
Your production style has evolved from compact, almost chiptune sounds on the first record into more colossal, rave-y sounds as of late. Was there any particular thinking for this change?
EK: I’ve never thought about changing anything. Everyone naturally evolves over time.
Alice is probably one of the gutsier live performers in music today. She finished the last tour on crutches, and few frontwomen stage-dive today. Is she self-aware of any of this on stage, or not?
Alice is like a feral cat; she couldn’t be self-aware if she tried.
The first time I saw her performing, she was in a crust-punk band called Fetus Fatale. These sexist old men who had been in legendary, local punk bands back in the early ’80s were heckling her and shouting at her to get off the stage because they thought that girls shouldn’t play punk. She began spitting beer in their faces and telling them that they were wimps. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; she was so powerful, yet she was a tiny teenager, sticking up for herself and not caring about the consequences of her actions, spitting on legends, while shouting what I thought was beautiful poetry.
Your live show is always an intense experience, somewhere between a rave and a hardcore gig. Do you want to create a particular atmosphere live, or have the fans made it their own?
EK: I’ve never thought about atmosphere, but i do enjoy it when people show me the injuries they’ve acquired during our show [afterwards].