“Go easy on me.”
That’s how Ethan Kath, one half of electronics-obsessed duo Crystal Castles, begins his interview with Billboard.com — and for good reason. Just moments earlier, Kath was in a crash with the band’s rented tour van, the second vehicle mishap to befall Crystal Castles in just a few short weeks.
The first was far worse, however. Kath’s counterpart — Alice Glass, who handles vocal duties — had gone out to celebrate with a friend after a Crystal Castles show in Chicago and ended up in a car wreck that resulted in two broken ribs on Glass’ part.
As a result, CC was forced to cancel nine shows and Glass played the remaining shows “in a lot of pain,” says Kath. “Some people would notice she was holding her ribs while performing, but she did it, somehow.”
Kath manages to squeeze in this previously scheduled interview while awaiting the arrival of the police on the latest accident scene in the band’s hometown of Toronto. His weariness is audible.
“I’m not doing so good,” he says. “Our album’s finally come out and we should be celebrating. Instead, everything’s just been a mess.”
Indeed, Crystal Castles should be celebrating. The band’s self-titled debut, which arrived April 8 on Last Gang Records, recently bowed at No. 14 on Top Heatseekers. The duo has also been the recipient of feverish blog love and has been remixing a variety of buzz acts over the last several months.
So, despite the current circumstances, Kath realizes there’s a lot to be excited about right now.
“We’re getting ready to leave for Europe to do a headlining tour for NME magazine [the Topman NME New Noise Tour], and it’s really nice because only 15 months ago we opened for Klaxons on the same tour. Fast-forward 15 months and we’re the headlining band. That feels great.”
About four years ago, Kath met Glass at a center for the blind while both were completing a high school community service requirement. They quickly realized they had a shared appreciation for noise rock bands like AIDS Wolf, but also a desired to “put a new spin on what those bands were doing. We were like, ‘What if we make noise with electronics?'”
Kath says he gave Glass a CD in the summer of 2004, “with 25 instrumental tracks on it. I told her to choose the songs she wanted to write vocal parts to and she chose five of them.”
The duo recorded those five songs as a demo and Crystal Castles was born — but not without a measure of drama. As Kath tells it, “we were both in other bands at the time, and when we left those bands to do this, we made a lot of enemies. To this day, everyone [from those bands] resents us. Even some of our old fans talk sh*t about us. I still get emails asking me why I left behind a ‘real band’ for electronics.”
But if a certain sampling of Canadians wasn’t happy with the new venture, nobody across the pond seemed to mind. In fact, it was the London-based roommate of Klaxons’ Jamie Reynolds, who was just starting up his own label and first put out the band’s music: a 7-inch of a microphone test that had been unknowingly recorded while CC was cutting that aforementioned five-song demo.
“I sent him a copy of the demo and forgot that the recording engineer had put the mic test on there as the first track,” Kath says.
The track came to be known as “Alice Practice,” since it’s primarily Glass “checking her mic levels,” says Kath. “I’m just playing around with a loop while she does it, but somehow people hear a song in there.”
The single, which exemplifies CC’s exhilarating mash-up of Sega-evoking low-bitrate samples and processed vocal chants sold out immediately and was followed by several other limited-edition 7-inches. The band signed in May 2007 to Canada’s Last Gang for its full-length debut.
“The new album collects songs from the sold-out singles, as well as some unreleased songs from the early days and some new songs we just recorded in 2007,” says Kath.
None of the old songs were re-recorded because the group “didn’t want to recreate the past,” Kath says. “We know they’re important songs and we wanted them to be on there, but we’re all about moving forward.”