In general, touring bands that travel to Houston from far away, deserve more praise. While Houston is rapidly gathering more and more national attention for achievements in art, music and just being an all-around cultural destination, it’s not always the easiest place to hit on the typical tour route. This Wednesday, the city will get a visit from a Chicago outfit called Crown Larks, who will perform on Wednesday night, at AvantGarden.
Their debut “Catalytic Conversion” is an open-ended affair, with varying song lengths/forms, and some lyrics, but not so many that they feel like unneeded filler where the band’s very sufficient music will do on its own. The lack of constant vocals itself, which has been the trend in rock music for a long time now, does a great deal to distinguish Crown Larks’ music from what we all normally expect. These periods of vocal silence are both relaxing and haunting, and open up greater musical space for experimentation and lead playing.
The group mixes grinding, overdriven guitars with soft Modern Lovers keyboards and jazzy clarinet/sax work. The resulting sound is emotionally heavy and sombre, with the odd pop of levity, mostly courtesy of jazzier sections, like “Blue Lobsters” and “Pt. 3: Drownt at Cost.”
These men and women deserve a good reception here in Houston. They’ve been touring like real champs, and are far richer than the average band blowing through. They were kind enough to answer some of my questions via email.
If you wouldn’t mind giving me some very general background information
about the band, how long it’s existed, who founded it, where it
started, objectives, etc. Just basic stuff.
Jack: This band came out of me and Lorraine and our friend Mike jamming
together last summer, first shows end of last year, and then Bill and
Chris got on board in February and things got going more. We made the
tape and planned to tour on it a few months later. A lot of the songs
came from just jamming for hours in the basement with as many friends
or randoms as are around at the time, then
Do you remember Autolux? They haven’t made a record in a few years
now, but I could totally see you guys opening for them, or really,
them opening for you.
J: Yeah, I liked Future Perfect, that’s the only record I know of
theirs. Just looked them up to see what they have going on nowadays,
and yeah, if they want to take some time off from opening for Atoms
for Peace or playing ATP to play with us in a warehouse…
the beginning of the band’s history? These are highly intriguing,
especially to someone like me, a huge fan of Roxy Music and stuff from
that era. Wind instruments are largely neglected now in rock music,
Lorraine: Clarinet was my first instrument, so it was natural to incorporate it.
J: It’s hard not to want to incorporate winds, listening to Yusef
Lateef or Eric Dolphy, or the sax meltdowns on The Stooges’ “Fun House.”
It’s lucky to have people involved who can play wind instruments, so
we can experiment with organic instruments and what they can evoke,
instead of only different electric tones.
And yeah, the role wind instruments play in rock music is weird…
you’ll hear a whole syrupy wind section reviewers describe as “lush,”
but it’s rare to see a wind instrument prominent on its own … someone
showed me a review of a Deerhunter album I like, Halcyon Digest, where
the reviewer was like “this is the year of the saxophone! Deerhunter’s resurrected the saxophone!” because there’s a big sax lead on one track…
presentation, while playing live?
J: I think a good live show has to have a raw, human messiness and
chance element. So it might involve a lot of noise and improvisation
or maybe just good execution of more structured stuff, but there
should always be some shit flying off the handle live. And with all
the different songwriters and instruments, we’ve got a wide range of
songs and sounds, so the setlist changes nightly depending on the
vibe, sometimes louder or noiser, sometimes quieter and spacier.
traveling a good distance to play these shows?
J: Right now I’m at a café in Greensboro, and they’re playing Steve
Miller. The distances aren’t too bad generally and we mixed days off
Chris: Steve Miller is like the sound of chlorine. Like if you’ve
ever dropped a hot dog into a pool.
with many different facets. I thought it was super heavy at first,
hearing “Satrap,” but songs like “Blue Lobsters” have a light, airy
characteristic to them.
L: To me, a good studio recording will have the noise, the mistakes,
the serendipity, etc. of a show, so in that way we’re happy with the
record, it sounds mostly like our live show.
At the same time, it’s our first record, and live, we play parts of the songs differently
every time. I think the live show better captures the ebb and flow of
the energy of four people bouncing off each other not knowing where
they’re going to land. Our newer, unrecorded material leans further
in that direction.
It’d probably be easier to write songs and find
listeners if we stuck solely to the heavier and noisier stuff or the
quieter, more melodic songs, but we all want to do a lot of different
things, so the recordings reflect that.