For Crystal Castles, the road is home — literally. Neither beatmaker Ethan Kath or singer Alice Glass has an actual residence outside of whatever vehicle they’re taking to their next gig.
In fact, the Canadian experimental electro duo’s April release, “Crystal Castles (II),” was recorded on the road during lulls between shows. The album’s production venues spanned continents, from a vacant convenience store in Detroit to a church in Iceland.
“We were on tour for so long that it made no sense to pay for our apartments any longer. So, we just left our apartments behind,” said Kath. When the first leg of their tour wrapped up, the band had no home left to return to. “[W]e would just stay in the last city of the tour and just find a spot to set up our keyboards and pedals and just record wherever we were,” Kath said.
The two began making music together in 2004 in Toronto, mixing deep-house dance beats with walls of synthesized sound. Kath figured the collaboration with Glass would be a fleeting thing, in the vein of the one-hit ’80s punk wonders he obsessively collected on vinyl.
“The bands are unknown, they’ve released one 7-inch, gone on a tour and then broken up — I thought we could be that band for some kids in 30 years,” Kath explained.
But even if he couldn’t predict their staying power, Kath knew from the moment he saw a young Glass perform in 2004 that she was the X-factor he was looking for to match the wild instrumentals he’d been working on.
“She was playing in this small punk club in Toronto which holds like 40 or 50 people, and the people who were there were all these Toronto punk legends from the ’80s that everybody knows … and they were all telling her to [expletive] off,” Kath recalled. “And she was, in return, calling them [expletive] and spitting beer at them — and she was 15. I was like, ‘This is the most powerful girl I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen such a tiny girl stand up to a room full of punk biker guys. This is insane.'”
After recording a batch of demos in 2005, momentum started to build for the band when they were approached by Milo Cordell of the band The Big Pink, who offered to release their songs on his label, Merok Records. While Kath was only expecting Cordell to press about 50 copies of the band’s first 7-inch, Cordell informed him that the number would be closer to 500.
“I said, ‘Well, you’re going to be stuck with 450 copies for the rest of your life,’ Kath joked.
Three days later after the release, all 500 were gone — and Crystal Castles were planning a U.K. tour.
Since embarking on that first tour in 2006, the two have been constant road warriors — with just one major setback. In 2008, Glass was in a car accident that broke two of her ribs. Though she’d been given doctor’s orders to take six weeks off, she was back performing after two — no small feat for a performer who scales amps, drumkits and whatever else is on the stage.
“She’s possessed,” Kath laughed.
The band is currently headlining the HARD Summer Tour, which includes a Friday-night stop at the 9:30 Club. They’ll release a few extra B-sides in October when another single off “Crystal Castles (II)” drops, and their tour will finish up in December.
After that, the two will float around some other country until the next tour starts, which is business as usual.
“So we’ll just stick around there,” said Kath, “Just hang out. I guess work on stuff.”
Written by Express contributor Topher Forhecz
Photo courtesy Crystal Castles