By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
It must be some sort of cruel irony that I received a speeding ticket on my way to interview Flavor Crystals—after all, no one would ever accuse Josh Richardson and his band of living in the fast lane. The Crystals, rounded out by Dan Miller, Vince Caro, Nat Stensland, and Nick Foerster, are about to embark on their first national tour as the opening act for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, yet you'd be hard-pressed to find an active local band that has been around longer than they have. "We've been playing on and off for 13 years," says Richardson, reclining on a couch in the band's Minneapolis practice space shortly after my inopportune run-in with the police. "There was a time when we just jammed and had fun, didn't play out, but then one day we decided to write songs."
Those songs finally appeared on their long-gestating debut, 2005's On Plastic. Stylistically, the album reflected the band's deliberate, considered approach. Plastic, recorded by Stensland, featured glacially paced compositions and gnarled instrumental passages—Spacemen 3-indebted shoegaze approached with a North American jam band's sensibility. "Our songs kind of evolve organically," says Richardson. "All of us need to be in the room. This is definitely not a singer-songwriter project where I come in and hand everyone the song. For the album, we spent a lot of time together experimenting, but essentially what came out was live takes of the tracks."
The album was released by the local indie label MPLS Ltd., run by Christian Fritz, who is both a friend and fan of the band. But once Plastic was finally out, the band's momentum once again ground to a halt. Flavor Crystals hadn't died, but clearly the band was not a priority for anyone involved. Drummer Nick Foerster admits that all of the group's members have family commitments and regular jobs that demand significant time. As it turns out, he can't even join the band for the entirety of the upcoming Jonestown tour due to his inability to clear his calendar at home. (Jamie Bollman will pick up drumming duties for the second half of the tour.) "Just to get a practice together for [all of] us is a task," Foerster says. "Usually, it's based around a gig or recording some stuff, but fact is everyone's got their own lives."
Richardson thought that the band members' conflicting schedules might preclude a second record altogether. Fortunately, the band finally found a six-day window in January 2007 to record a follow-up. Through some stroke of luck, they also managed to coax recording engineer Kramer (Low, Galaxie 500) from his Florida home in the dead of winter to handle production duties. To ensure that the album was completed in the allotted time and to combat the band's tendency toward endless revision, Kramer forced the Crystals to "keep a lot of first takes." Richardson was hardly a fan of the approach during the recording process, but in hindsight, he appreciates the album's more spontaneous feel. "There are a lot of wacky, off-beat moments on it," he confesses. "When we play the songs live, they're actually much more cohesive, but I still really like the album—even if it sometimes sounds like another band made it."
The album doesn't sound quite as far removed from On Plastic as Richardson makes it out to be, but one can hear more foreign influences beginning to creep in, like the motor-tic Krautrock drumming found on "Churchfuzz" and "Homewrecker."
Through a bizarre set of circumstances, the self-titled second album is still unavailable on CD in record shops here in the U.S. MPLS Ltd. only released it on vinyl, and while the band planned to properly release it on CD domestically, those plans eventually fell though. The album did receive broad physical distribution on CD in England via Kramer's label Second Shimmy, as well as a fittingly dreamy title, Ambergris. However, the album's availability abroad is of little consolation to Twin Cities fans, who find themselves in the odd position of having to place an order online for a CD released by a local band. Richardson wants them to know he shares their frustration. "We're actually out of copies, too, so we're looking to import some just so we can have them on tour. Hopefully, we'll have them soon."
As usual, with Flavor Crystals, patience is a virtue. Fortunately, the band and their fans have had plenty of practice.
FLAVOR CRYSTALS will open for Brian Jonestown Massacre on THURSDAY, MARCH 26 at the FINE LINE MUSIC CAFÉ; 612.338.8100