Crystal Castles work at the intersection of melody and nihilism. The band, made up of Ethan Kath and singer Alice Glass, is famously neglectful of the audience–one is tempted to say abusive, but that implies too much consideration of the audience as individuals with wants and needs. Its music assaults and punishes as much as it thrills and enlivens, with headsplitting volume and huge light towers that flash with blinding insistence, while singer Alice Glass swigs whisky and occasionally jumps into the crowd, fists and feet flying. On YouTube, it’s not hard to find videos of her punching fans or cracking them on the skull with her microphone. They are not party-starters; they are not good time DJs. The massive electronic crashes and crescendos in their music mean the end of the world more than they do a good time.
Many bands strike this pose of hostility. Crystal Castles mean it. Much of it has to do with Glass. She is icon amongst a certain set, a talisman of wanton expression, of not giving a fuck, of not putting up with bullshit, of doing whatever you want. At the same time, her bluster, and the musical noise made by Kath, seems to hide a deep vulnerability. In 2010, the band made the odd move of re-recording one of their songs, “Not In Love,” with The Cure’s Robert Smith replacing Glass on lead vocals. Removed of reverb and static, and imbued with Smith’s famously plaintive croon, the words shone with the combination of longing and hurt and despair that they had always had, if you could make them out: “Saw your picture hangin’ on the back of my door/ Won’t give you my heart /No one lives there anymore.”
In advance of their show at Roseland tonight, the band agreed to an email interview, one of the most wooden and unfulfilling forms of human communication. We despaired. What could we possibly learn by exchanging a single email?
As it happens, quite a lot. In interview, as in their music, they maximize minimalism, and communicate a wealth of scorn, hopefulness, despair, and mystery with the smallest amount of material possible. We left their answers as is. Sic everything.
It’s been two years since Crystal Castles released a proper album. I know you guys have been doing a lot of touring in the meantime. How has the band grown or changed in that time?
How does this find expression in the new record?
Is there anything more general you’d like to say about the album? Where did you record it? What were your goals for it when you started work, and how did those goals change and evolve?
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a real goal for anything.
safe to say we both have no goals.
we accept what happens but we didn’t intend anything.
we recorded the album in warsaw.
we chose warsaw because we didn’t speak the language
and we don’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
Your band is obviously extremely popular live act around the world–you’ve headlined dozens of music festivals on many different continents. Where do you guys feel you fall on the “band that’s best experienced on album” and “band that’s best experienced live” continuum?
we’ll poll people and get back to you
i don’t think in terms like that. for me the live show is a
celebration that we can agree on something in a confusing world full
Has your popularity gotten you any weird offers you’ve passed on, strange products people want you to endorse, or offers to produce songs for teen stars or anything else where you just thought, “Why in fucking hell would anyone think I would ever do that?”
we’ve passed on very big things
but we ‘d never name names. it was nice of them to think of us.
most things that are offered feel ethnicly unsound.
i wouldn’t want our music to be the background noise
to an edible substance that can’t even naturally disintegrate.
whatever products we use or wear is for convenience, thats all.
we would never approve of a product because we don’t care enough about things.
i think there’s to much emphasis on objects anyways.
they are personified to a ridiculous degree.
most products are overpriced and made with the blood of foreign
we wouldn’t want to compromise our art by forcing you to think of
certain brands as you listen to us.
This summer has already seen one record by former indie superstars who’ve taken few years off–Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz–be released to mixed reviews and middling sales. Are you concerned that you might not have grown in the same way as your audience, and you might have lost some of that connection?
we write for ourselves. we’ve never once considered anyone else.
its obvious when people try to write for others, i’m not interested in that.
we’ve never taken time off. we constantly tour and make music .
Electronic music is enjoying a moment of extreme worldwide popularity. How do you guys feel about acts like Deadmaus and Skrillex? Do you think you guys do similar things in any way, or do you absolutely hate them?
we feel neither of those emotions
There’s a quote from Alice floating around the internet: “I didn’t think I could lose faith in humanity any more than I already had, but after witnessing some things, it feels like the world is a dystopia where victims don’t get justice and corruption prevails. I’m one step away from being a vigilante to protect people and bring justice to the people I love. I’ve thought about it.” Would you like to expand on that, or clarify it?
We’re excited for your show here in New York. Can you tell us what we can look forward to?