CRYSTALLINES claim their place on the Melbourne prog rock scene with a punchy debut single, ‘Hammer & Tong’. Band interview

There’s something happening in Melbourne, in a good way.

More and more bands repping the heavier music scene emerge almost every day. This is great news for someone like me, who was raised on grunge and hard rock, and whose mind was completely blown away listening to Guns N’ Roses for the first time.

When I heard CRYSTALLINES’ debut single, I was pretty amazed, too. And there’s never a better way to find out more about a song than to interview the band. Which is exactly what I did.

PART 115 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE / THE SILLY & GREEN PROJECT

CRYSTALLINES (pronounced Chris-tuh-leans, it’s important – we had a whole discussion about it) are Ben Benton on drums, Callum ‘Cal’ Lausberg on vocals & guitar, and Devin ‘Dev’ Hartley on bass. This prog rock/art rock (that was also a point for some deliberation) outfit from the outer suburbs of Melbourne has just released the debut single, “Hammer & Tong” (or “H&T”, as they like to refer to it sometimes).

I know Cal from a different project where he plays bass – the dreamy art-rock three-piece Peak Park. So when the muso reached out to me to introduce his alter ego in CRYSTALLINES, I was pretty curious to see what’s in store with this new project.

I caught up on Zoom with the whole group, and – apart from the usual stuff – we unpacked a bunch of different topics. From their search for suitable band members and readiness to finally present their project to the recurring question “Is rock dead?” and how they weave humour into their hard rockers’ image.

I quizzed them on all fronts to get a better understanding of where they’re coming from and where they’re headed. “That last one might be difficult to answer right now”, claims Cal. I beg to differ – I think they have a pretty good idea of what they want to achieve and how they want to get there. Keep reading, and you’ll understand why.

But before we delve into those plans, let’s go back in time a few years first.

The CRYSTALLINES’ story is pretty typical for a band from the Victorian capital, where everybody is friends with somebody who plays an instrument in some project.

Cal and Ben, for instance, have known each other since their teenage years. They also formed part of a proper band together before. Unfortunately, that group broke up for reasons that are also quite common in the music world. “We drifted apart as a band”, says Cal, while Ben adds, “I think about it nostalgically today. But, at the same time, I feel like Cal and I have grown creatively and musically.” Both agree, however, that if it wasn’t for that previous project, they wouldn’t be where they are today.

After the disbandment, both musos still felt their creative energies were aligned. So they set themselves on a mission to find a singer and bass player (at the beginning, the new outfit was meant to be a four-piece).

Through several jam sessions with other artists, and coming across acquaintances of acquaintances (as you do in Melbourne), they finally met their counterpart.

Dev showed up early to one of the rehearsals for an artist all three were playing as a live band for. Things just naturally clicked between them, so Cal and Ben decided the bassist would fit perfectly into the CRYSTALLINES’ vibe. The year was 2018.

Approximately 12 months later, the newly-formed band started working on their original material. Exploring the right voice and narrative in the topics they wanted to touch upon in the songs, and crafting their signature sound became their primary objectives.

Interestingly, back then, the three musos were still adamant they needed a proper vocalist and spent six months looking for one. But the Universe had a different vision for CRYSTALLINES, and no singer they auditioned could fill that musical void.

By that same token, Cal’s temporary adventure in front of the mic turned into a permanent job. Finally, the four-some that was never meant to be, ended up as a pretty solid and complete trio. Nevertheless, they’re still “open to collaborations with guest singers” in the future.

The band’s influences go from Slipknot, Guns N’ Roses and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, on the one hand, to Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, on the other. This is a pretty wide range of tastes and sounds, even if all those names belong to derivatives of rock and metal.

When I ask them about where they sit on that broad spectrum, Dev says instantly, “It sways pretty heavily. But we definitely have some indie pop, soul and blues influences there. It blends up nicely.” Cal is rather realistic, “It’s a pretty dynamic thing at the moment… which we think could be a good thing or a bad thing…” Finally, Ben explains it in more practical terms. “I reckon there are the three pillars, where Cal is the >Dad rock<, there’s me who is the prog rock/metal, and Devin who is the alternative, I guess math rock/pop rock type of vibe.”

As much as their creative process on the sonic level seems to be collaborative, when it comes to the lyrical content, Cal is the sole writer.

In the press kit, CRYSTALLINES claim they deliver “a message that could be light-hearted & humorous or hard-hitting & dystopian.” Considering they became a complete package just before the pandemic, and then wrote most of their tracks during the Melbourne lockdowns, it looks like a natural progression of their headspace at the time.

Plus, I know Cal’s sense of humour already. He’s a fan of the idea of levity, and not taking yourself too seriously in life, which the rest of the band seem to happily go along with. That absolutely doesn’t mean that the CRYSTALLINES’ songs are “funny” or immature. It rather indicates that they tackle darker issues in a more light-hearted way. According to Cal, it’s all about “finding humour in bad situations.

There’s another aspect to it. When you’re new to writing lyrics, it’s a challenging task to tell a story in a way that feels familiar but not trivial at the same time.

Take these lines from “Hammer & Tong”: “Blood taste, my mouth / Big mistake / Poked bear, hit back / Far too late.” No unnecessary language redundancy, just a fairly straight-up narration delivered with a simple choice of words invoking images of the scene in question. Judging by this excerpt only, Cal is already quite a versed lyricist.

The road to releasing their first official single is worth breaking down as well.

CRYSTALLINES are an example of a “reverse band”. It’s a concept I came across a few months ago when interviewing another group. It practically means you do everything the other way around.

Usually, a band’s story goes something like this:

A few people come together at some stage in their lives. They vibe musically, write a song and release it, hoping for the best. There’s no huge marketing campaign behind it. Many times, the band choose a random name, which they will end up changing down the track anyway, and their image is not defined at all. Most likely, those music enthusiasts have no idea about playing live or doing a proper promo reach out to music publications or playlist editors. Let alone coming up with a vision for their “adventure” beyond that one track.

CRYSTALLINES are exactly the opposite of that. They tell me they spent a considerable amount of time perfecting the band’s logo design, for instance. They’ve had a professional photo shoot and put together a proper EPK (electronic press kit). Moreover, they have enough original material to play a stand-alone live set (seven to eight songs) and an overview of which tracks they’ll be releasing next. Their website, socials and promo teasers are basically done and ready to go. They joined Instagram at the beginning of May already and played their first gig a month later.

The only thing missing was any released music.

Asked about what’s it like to promote a band that hasn’t dropped any tracks officially, they say, “Yeah, it’s hard to get people’s interest in something that you know can’t come any quicker.”

Their IG post announcing the debut single states: “We’ve been working away at this project for a long time, many would say too long.” When I try to find out how long is too long and why they waited at all, Dev explains, “COVID was one thing. But the reason for the hold-up was that we wanted to present the whole package right away.” That circles back to the “reverse band” concept. But they also recognise that being perfectionists “to a certain extent” had something to do with it.

They’d worked on “Hammer & Tong” for a few years, but the actual recording got delayed. Plus, the initial demos looked quite different from the finished product. They admit they’d also accepted a few last-minute notes on how to fine-tune it from their peers, which resulted in the addition of the final chorus, after the guitar solo.

Nevertheless, they “were forced into gear” with the promotion, as Cal calls it, by the fact that they had a supporting slot for another band booked. So they needed to present themselves to the world somehow before that show. And that’s how things got a bit reversed in terms of a band’s lifecycle, with the music coming last.

“Hammer & Tong” was finally released on the 5th of August. The way they describe its message is “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” In other words, the track talks about the consequences of an over-inflated ego.

But I also have to quote their press release here because it almost feels like an intro to a Shakespearean drama: “Be it youth, inexperience or ignorance – whatever is to blame, a hothead could land you in some serious hot water. Chasing hollow victory through a delusional morality wherein besting an adversary physically equates to a moral victory as well. Left bruised and bloodied, the protagonist must live with the reality that this was all futile.” Don’t you just love it?

Having said that, I couldn’t help but ask how they decided to make it the first single. Because it’s a pretty sombre feeling, and you wouldn’t expect an emerging band to experience “biting off more than you can chew” right at the beginning of their journey.

All band members agree that it is the relatability of the song and the self-reflection part in it that made them choose it as their introduction. It was also the one that had been ready “as a full package” for the longest time. Plus, they thought it was a good idea to present the band’s sound with the catchiest song of all the ones they’d considered from their backlog. Apparently, the next ones will be a bit heavier and groovier.

How would they summarise “Hammer & Tong” then? One way would be as “a cacophony of grinding guitars and compelling drums, which surrender to an unrelenting, mesmerizing plateau as the mood shifts.” But “Professor Ben” gave a proper lecture on that front, so I think it’s best you heard it from him directly (just a heads-up – this section is for geeks):

Visually, I questioned the pink aesthetic of the single’s artwork, contrasting it with the typical prog rock image (black leather, poker faces, etc.). It turns out CRYSTALLINES don’t necessarily think pink is the new black. But – in a sense – they’re trying to be a bit different.

“We worked really hard to make sure that our visuals line up with what we want”, Dev explains. “We don’t wanna be just a band that plays a song, stops, then plays another one. We’re really trying to get a show. And we’re obviously doing artwork that relates to that theatrical concept of a show, close to what Pink Floyd were originally doing.” It’s an interesting approach, which takes them more in the direction of art rock. And I’m pretty sure it will help them gain fans in wider circles.

Above anything else, CRYSTALLINES are humble and realistic. So they wanted to sass it out a little with “Hammer & Tong” before committing themselves to a bigger venture, like recording an EP. But they’re eager to return to the studio soon because “there’s a backlog of stuff we can go through.

So what is this new band composed of seasoned musos approaching a traditional music genre with slightly unconventional ideas? Cal summarised it like this, “We’re not trying to do Led Zeppelin again. We’re trying to do CRYSTALLINES.” And this brave attitude definitely comes through in the punchy, yet melodic debut single with classic guitar riffs and witty lyrics.

It’s rather difficult to properly classify any band after just one song. So for now, I’ll have to hold them to their word and accept that idea of “seamlessly shape-shifting between genres.” I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll ultimately play to their advantage.

If that’s your vibe as well, check out “Hammer & Tong” on your streaming platform of choice. The band will also be peeling the curtain on the song’s transition before its final version was recorded, so you might want to give them a follow on their socials. And if you’re based in Melbourne, get behind their single launch show, which goes down at the Colour Club in Carlton on the 25th of August.

Finally, check out some highlights from the interview with CRYSTALLINES on my YouTube channel.


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