The Crystal Method, Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan, are one of the biggest Stateside electronic acts, responsible for turning many a current dance music fan onto the wonders of electronic music over the past 20 years. They've had dozens of tracks used on Hollywood movies, and scored a few films themselves, and their latest artist album was supposed to come out in 2013, but was delayed when Scott had to go into hospital for a serious operation.
DJ Mag catches up with Scott from the band to hear tales of fights, films, and giving yourselves a druggy artist name...
So this year is the 20th anniversary of TCM — did you think in your wildest dreams that you'd still be together with Ken two decades later?
“No, definitely not. It's funny, when our first single 'Now Is The Time' came out, it was mainly sold overseas — in the UK and throughout some spots in Europe. We were thinking it was the most amazing thing in the world, selling 2000 copies of a 12-inch. We thought we'd maybe get to do it for a few more years and then look at other options, because at the time in the States there was really no room for electronic music.
“It was the time of Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots dominating the radio, pretty much the complete opposite of what club culture became over here. But we persevered with what we were doing, and a lot of luck and persistence got us to where we are today. We continued to make music, and fortunately we've been able to stick together and get through lots of drunken fights! We're not the Gallagher brothers, but we've definitely had our moments.”
What's the worst fight you had?
“Well, we started a tour out with a fight on the tour bus, we had DJ Hyper out with us and he happened to walk on the bus at the same time we were arguing about something, and then it turned into...
mainly they've been about some misunderstanding or some bullshit, one of us had too much tequila or something. It's tough, but lots of opportunities to work things out and talk things through have really saved us from more recent fights, but you're young and you're stupid and you're going out on the road and you're getting drunk and you're fighting over a fucking hi-hat pattern, which doesn't really mean much to anybody but yourself. Eventually you grow up and you realise that you have a cool thing going, and instead of fighting each other we should fight to keep it going.
“We're both pretty strong-headed and formidable in our positions, and we've argued about little things that have turned into big things, but now we just try to figure out a way to avoid arguments. Is it a bit like a marriage in a way? Very much like one. Both of us know when we're about to go in our different directions, and we can avoid that by saying a few words or just leaving the room. But, y'know, there have been maybe a week's worth of fights in 20 years.”
You actually met when you were living in Vegas, but quickly moved to LA – did you ever think that Vegas could become the EDM hotspot that it is now?
“Not when we were growing up there, it was all about the lounge shows and the one-off shows from the big artists. Tom Jones was the hottest thing in town when I was growing up. It's crazy, the club scene is definitely there now and it has that influence of tourism, and even now it seems impossible that it can sustain the level that it has lately — but we'll see, hopefully it will continue.”
Your first two albums did pretty well, 'Vegas' and then 'Tweekend', and you quickly became one of the biggest electronic acts in the US. And I'd say that on the release of 'Legion Of Boom', your sound became quite synonymous with breakbeat — is that fair to say?
“Well, yeah, when we released our first couple of singles we were thrown into that world of big beat, but if you were ever to take all of our records out randomly and drop a needle on one of them, our hope is that you hear something new on each record. We try not to repeat ourselves. It would have been easy for us, especially after the success of 'Vegas', to throw in some more drum rolls and lots of big builds, but after touring that record and understanding that we needed to evolve, we made 'Tweekend' — a completely different record.
It's heavier, with more of a rock element to it, and 'Legion Of Boom' had a little bit of that too but also more... I don't even know how to describe it, but we've always just tried to evolve and do something different every time. A number of different genres have come along and spiked in our 20 years, between jungle/drum & bass, trance, progressive, dubstep... there's been a lot of things going on while we've been tinkering along here in Los Angeles making records.”
Your sound evolved without bandwagon-jumping, though — why was it important for you guys to try new things?
“It's a necessity for sanity, really. When we went from 'Vegas' to 'Tweekend', we didn't really listen to any electronic music of the time, everything was a little bit more... we were listening to old funk records and some of my old metal, and stuff like that.
I think it's just a natural progression to absorb everything that's going on around you, especially since we were DJing around a lot and playing in clubs and outside of typical rock venues. You hear things and take in some of those sounds. It's like a chef doing a tour of south-east Asia, you come back with a load of spices and flavours and you naturally want to put those in your dishes. It's a lot like that. You add some of those spices into the mix and come up with a new dish.”
What do you like about doing film soundtracks?
“Sitting and staring at a screen at the beginning of an album or a track can be a daunting experience, you're staring at, basically, a blank nothing. We found that when given the opportunity to score to picture, it gives you a starting point. We tend to stay in worlds in which we're comfortable — science fiction and futuristic kinda things with a darker tone, I don't know if we'd be able to score Big Mamma 3 or something like that! I don't think we'd be very good in that world.”
How many editions of your Community Service radio show have there been now, roughly?
“We started it out on terrestrial radio over here on a station called Indie 103.1, it also had Steve Jones with a show on a daily basis, and that was a lot of fun. We did about 40 or 50 of those, and now we're creeping up on 100 of our Sirius shows. A lot of the radio shows that guys do — and I don't knock 'em for it, cos they're all pretty busy — are basically playing songs end to end. We try to do mixes and try to take people different places and create something that's within our world but also moves somewhere else.”
Why haven't you rolled it out, like Armin van Buuren's A State Of Trance? Do a party every time you hit a milestone...
“Well, we wanted to have a party when we made each Community Service at the old radio station, we'd have people come up and we'd do everything live. Unfortunately we don't have that same set-up at Sirius, but I'd like to do something once a month where we maybe go to a club on a Tuesday night and do a show — that would be fun.
I always regret not ever having a chance to go over to Heavenly Social in London, where you had that collective of artists playing music and sharing things and gathering to hang out and have a pint. Although we have a good scene and a lot of artists here, it's hard to get that vibe going.”
I guess the US is so big that you haven't really had to, but why haven't you been doing massive international tours the whole time?
“We've had an interesting life internationally, we've had success in certain parts of Asia, Australia, South America and of course North America, and played a couple of times throughout Europe. Eastern Europe is becoming a hotter area for us too now.
We enjoy playing festivals and have had great times, but sustaining a tour in the States — especially a live tour — is difficult. Even the biggest bands from the UK like The Prodigy and The Chems, they do five or six dates, but a typical live tour for us in the States is doing, like, 50 dates in six or seven weeks. You tour where you can pull it off financially and successfully, and since we spend so much time over here — building up the brand in the US — it's always been the place that makes most financial sense for us. It can get costly going on the road with the crew.
“We played a couple of big shows recently in Budapest and Bulgaria and Romania and Russia, that was a lot of fun, and hopefully in some form we'll get to do more dates and see more of the world.”
Hugely influential Stateside, The Crystal Method paved the way for the success of dance music there, and have impacted hugely on breakbeat and electronic music as a whole, as well as scoring several Hollywood movies. With a new album in the bag, we got in touch to find out where they're coming from..
Do you feel like... not exactly godfathers of the US scene, but that you've helped pave the way for what's followed?
“The coolest thing that people have told us for many many years — and that we still hear quite often — is that we were the bridge, maybe the first [electronic] band that a typical rock kid heard. The thrasher, the Limp Bizkit fan or the person who was locked in one world somehow heard our music and that opened them up into a whole different world, and now they're obsessed with drum & bass and breakbeat or the whole EDM culture.
Hearing that over many years is probably one of the very coolest compliments that you can get, that we've helped bring them into a whole new different world. To hear that we were the first electronic album that they ever bought or the first thing that got them to go to a club, or tipped them over into something else that was much different from where they were at — that's a very cool thing to have done, and 99% of the time it's all positive. So whether we're godfathers or grandfathers or forefathers, it's all good.”
It must've been pretty frightening to get the diagnosis that you had a cyst in your brain a couple of years ago, and even scarier to have to go in for that operation...
“Yeah, that was one of those things that was definitely unexpected, but I got through it and more importantly I'm healthier now than I was. I'm grateful for the surgery going the way it did, and thankfully I didn't get full-on meningitis — that would've been a pain in the arse, for sure.
But yeah, it was definitely touch and go, and I definitely want to stay the fuck out of the hospital now, although they were all very nice. It seems best to be at home, rather than being sick, so I'm trying not to take that whole experience for granted and learn something from it moving forward.”
Why can't you think of a title for your new album, apart from an eponymous one?
“Album titles are one of those things where you can over-think it and people read a lot into it, so we just wanted to have a cover that just had the logo and was easy to locate. In the world of iTunes, in the mp3 world where everything is getting smaller in so far as the representation of an album in a large marketplace, we just wanted something that was really simple and straightforward.
It was either putting it out bright purple with a little logo in the bottom... we had a couple of different things we were going to do, but that just seemed to be the one that stuck — simple. It's not the same as naming a child — something either bites right away, or it doesn't. In today's world of multi-media outlets, the different ways that people sell and buy music and come across music, the big logo on the front of the album was the most straightforward.”
The name you came up with 20 years ago, The Crystal Method — have you had any misunderstandings with it or brushes with the authorities as a result of it, post-Breaking Bad?
“At the time we were mainly just thinking of the UK market, and we just liked the way the three words sounded together. We weren't expecting any love from the States when we named the band in 1993 or whatever, it was all about vibing out from our friends overseas as to what they thought of the name. The two guys running the City Of Angels label, Steven Melrose and Justin King, were both from the UK and they were both like, 'Yeah, that sounds great, it sounds mystical'. The drug thing had no relevance.
“We were told back then by various people that the name was a disadvantage to us. We never worked with those people, they were like 'You'll never get played on the radio or TV with that name', and so we just hired the next person who didn't give us that kind of grief.
If we were starting today, I don't think we'd be naming ourselves the same thing because of the explosion of all the negative stuff tied to it, but it is what it is. It did cause some double-takes, and I think we may have missed some opportunities, although we never did expect to be given an invitation to the White House or anything...”