What Three Basque-Philes Had To Say From Our Passenger's Seat
On a Monday night at Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn, there was a problem. Cutting through the packed audience an hour before their sold-out show, Gilbert Vierich of Crystal Fighters said of the guitarist, “Graham’s has put too many people on his guestlist.”
As band problems go, having so many fans that your cousin can’t fit inside the building isn’t the worst. After a dizzying series of shows at SXSW, which the band described as both “manic” and “hectic-awesome,” they played some sold out dates in Miami, before heading up to New York for their only East Coast gig. It’s all in advance of the U.S. debut of their already-beloved album Star Of Love, on April 24.
Crystal Fighters aren’t from Spain, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so — they play a traditional Basque xylophone onstage, they’re named after a Basque opera, and lead singer Sebastian recites his English-language lyrics with an undefinable patois, based vaguely on a Spanish accent.
Already huge in Spain, the trio of 28-year-olds have been climbing their way up the festival circuit, where they turn shows into raves throughout Europe. They’re working hard at it, judging from the amount of sweat they let lose during the shows, and their show frequency – in the past three years they’ve played 400 of them. They’ve come a long way from their single “Xtatic Truth,” released on a Kitsune compilation back in 2008 along with a low-budge video.
So it was with a veteran sense of timing that Crystal Fighters took the stage. Gilbert and Graham built a frenzy of dance beats and guitar riffs, while lead singer Sebastian burst onstage with arms outstretched like a guru…or maybe James Brown. The capacity-bursting crowd shot into space with “Solar System.” And so it went for the rest of the show.
Moments before their sweat fest, I lived out many-a-fangirl fantasy and individually trapped Sebastian, Gilbert, and Graham in my car for convo. Despite violating my rules of personal space, they gamely sat in the passenger seat one at a time and revealed their truest selves. Or at least shared their Spain obsession, admitted to slipping on a banana pee onstagel, and gave conflicting answers on who was the most popular in high school.
And when you’re done, see why you’re jealous of why you weren’t at this show by checking out our exclusive concert photos!
If you could encapsulate SXSW into one word it would be?
Gilbert: Many. And that could be spelt M-A-N-Y or Men-y.
If you could take something from the US and bring it back to England, what would it be?
Gilbert: Miami! It mimics the movies. Love it.
Sebastian: Probably the food–all of it. Make a million bucks! (in an American accent)
Graham (who is American and was asked what he’d bring back to America): It would be fish and chips. They do it a lot better than we do, it’s the beer batter. If I ate as much as I’d like to, it would be bad.
When was the moment that you felt like, “Wow, this is really a career?”
Gilbert: When I came home from when I had a job, and Graham was just eating plums having just woken up at 4 o’clock. I thought, “This is it.” [laughs] He was actually in his boxers as well, behind a pair of vinyl decks, mixing Kitsune records back to back.
Sebastian: The first time we went abroad–even though we went on the EuroStar, which isn’t the most glamorous way of traveling. Playing to people you don’t know is another big moment, because in the very beginning it’s just your friends.
Graham: Once we got a booking agent.
What is the worst description of your music that you have ever heard?
Gilbert: Globo-wonk-funk, but I kind of like it.
Sebastian: Tinny beats – less of a description, more of a review.
Graham: Nu Rave.
Which one of the band members was probably the most popular in high school?
Gilbert: …I’m thinking because I know you’re going to ask the rest of the band this question and I’m trying to pre-empt their thoughts. Graham for sure, because he is the only one who went to high school. We went to UK schools, which is not a high school, we’re not from America. There was no baseball team, there was no quarterback. That’s my political answer.
Sebastian: Gilbert was popular, but also hated. Myself, I was probably quieter, so I was probably not loved as much or hated as much. And Graham, I didn’t know him at school but he seems pretty popular – quite a few friends visit. I’d go with Graham.
Graham: Probably Gilbert.
How do you feel you benefited most from visiting Spain?
Gilbert: Recently we spent four weeks out there writing stuff for our new album. So we really love the region. Then we played a lot in Spain, and have a big following in Spain. They’ve always supported us and liked what we have did, because we use a lot of Basque instruments and capture some elements of the culture. The sound is slightly Latin, and they enjoy also because we feel our music is free and to be enjoyed with fun and sun, so in places like Spain.
Sebastian: Learning the language. The way people describe things in Spanish, or Spanish people speaking English, informs our music quite a lot. The way in which words are put together based on a different cultural perspective — I think it’s important. We sometimes try to impersonate that kind of simplicity of language, when you’re speaking in a different language. If we were to speak in Spanish, it’s much simpler than if we were speaking our own language. I think there’s a beauty in that simplicity.
Graham: Understanding the definition of “chilling.” It’s like: “Oh I’m a little tired in the afternoon, I’ll just take a nap” – and everyone is taking a nap now. And not everything got done today, but that’s O-Kay, cause we’re just chilling in the sun, and we’ve been doing that for a long time (laughs). And beyond that, the music and the history is incredible.
What’s the lyric of yours that expresses how you’re feeling right now?
Gilbert: “I do this every day.”
Sebastian: “I love London.”
Graham: “Big or small, I do it all, little or tall, I do it all, A-lay-A-lay hello hello, it’s onnnn, it’s onnn.”
What was your worst musical moment?
Gilbert: [sighs] So many. I suppose, one time when some funny fan had planted a banana skin on the stage and our lead singer, ever so unfortunately, slipped on it. There wasn’t a shop anywhere nearby, so he brought the banana skin with him. I don’t know if that’s a thing in the US, but in the UK slippery banana skins are in comic books. So that was probably our worst musical moment.
Sebastian: There have been too many moments where the crowd goes quiet in between songs, and in my earlier less secure days my thinking, “Oh God, please, let’s start again.”
Graham: My amps died a few times in bad situations. Maybe like beefing hard with the band when we’re trying to decide on something to with writing, or like at home, or at soundcheck.
What’s your favorite dance track of the moment?
Gilbert: I’ve got so many. The Felix Cartel remix of “Plage” our forthcoming single, it’s just came out. It’s more of a dance track, it’s added all the classic, big-room electro vibes. And then, Edit Murphy is probably quite unknown. Has an EP out called Beverly Thrills. I like that, it’s sort of a house thing.
Sebastian: I’m really into a song called “&YA” by a man called Meneo. It’s on a brilliant compilation called El Rave Azteca. Which I highly recommend, but that’s about the only track I can remember on that compilation. He’s also a friend of ours, so I was really pleased when I heard it.
Graham: “Love Cry,” this track by Four Tet, it’s beautiful. You know what? I throw it back.”Rosenband” by Kelley Polar, remixed by Magic Tim – listen to that, it’s sick. Seriously, that’s the one. That’s not even new, and I listen to it once every two days easily.
All images by MTV Iggy/Kate Stein