Cagla Akcadag

Cheering on the Indie Rock Stylings of The Crystal Casino Band

Since 2015, TCCB has changed the energy of indie rock. They may have set out as Strokes-loving friends writing and recording, but what they’ve done since is refresh a genre that occasionally falls by the alt pop or garage rock wayside, returning it to its conscious, contemporary, and charming rock roots.

We got on a call with one half of The Crystal Casino Band, singer/guitarist Pete Stevens and guitarist Jarrod Hendricks, to talk all about the exciting driving music that is Maryland House. (This four-piece is rounded out by Joey Malin on drums and Jordan Mullaney on bass.) As they themselves told us, they sort of accidentally (but somehow perfectly) created the best album for people who often take public transportation and enjoy being on the road. There is a thoughtfulness, a reflectiveness, to that sort of travel. The record, which dropped just 72 hours ago this past Friday, puts the spotlight on that and more. It’s an interpersonal birds eye view of the variety show that is the 2023 iteration of The Crystal Casino Band, musically and lyrically.

Maryland House is out now. Tell us a bit about what you’re hoping the fans take away from it.

Pete: I really want fans to think that it’s our best work that we’ve done so far. Both Jarrod and I, Jordan and Joey, we all truly believe that. It’s been so great because it’s the most collaborative record that we’ve done to date. I hope that they can really see all the contributions that every member has really put in and all the hard work that we put into it. I mean, 13 songs is a lot of work to do, but it all paid off with this final product. We also really hope that it brings some light to the 20-something experience living in the Washington DC area, between Maryland, DC, and Virginia. A lot of songs are about LA and New York – we kind of switch it up with making it about DC . 

Jarrod: It’s also going to be one of our most genre diverse albums, so it’s going to really show off all of our influences. We have a very wild song kind of on the back end of the album and we’re all singing on it, too, as lead vocalists. It puts our own spin on the lead part, as well as our own influences throughout our own musical experiences.

You know, Jarrod, I’m glad you mentioned how this record does feature the four of you kind of switching on and off for lead vocals. This elevates how, sonically, instrumentally, and vocally diverse the album is. Did you go into creating this record with plans to explore and experiment that way? Or did it maybe come up more organically as the songs were written and the stories were being told?

Jarrod: It definitely came about more organically. I know I had brought in a song that I wrote and they turned the mic to me for it. I was surprised about that because I thought Pete was going to sing it. It kind of grew from there with Jordan bringing up a song and we would be like, “Why don’t you sing it?” Then we had the last song that Pete wrote and he was like, “How about Joey? Can he sing it?” And Joey was all, “Sure, I’ll sing it!” It wasn’t like we set out to have everyone singing a lead on the album – it just happened organically and I thought that was pretty cool.

Pete: Definitely, and the other guys have been contributing a lot more to like background vocals with harmonies and everything, so through adding those extra layers and other voices on previous songs the other guys have gotten a lot better at singing and a lot more confident with it, too. It has gotten to the point where they sound great on their own and their songs sound best when they sing.

Absolutely, and it’s both resonating and empowering when a song is coming from the heart of the person who put it together and brought it to the group.

Pete: Yeah, absolutely. That’s definitely what we were going for there, too.

I love that. I’ve also always noted with you guys that there has been a consistent intimacy to the music you make. Even though this record delves into some socially charged topics, global themes, and the city of DC, you were still able to capture that inward dialogue of finding home and feeling at home and creating a home in this world with the people around you. It’s a marvelous thing to hear; an evolution of sounds but sticking to what you do best.

Pete: Thank you. Yeah, it’s definitely true that like all of our songs tend to be on the personal level, but all the social commentary stuff just blended into this album because we lived through such a tumultuous period being in DC during the 2020 election, during COVID, and during the insurrection. All of that stuff just bled into our own lives, so having those experiences couldn’t help but also turn into these songs.

Right, and similar to what I was saying before, this album delves into what you each are a fan of personally – your own tastes and styles. I’m curious about the music that you were all listening to and looking to for inspiration (and maybe we’re just a fan of) over the last two years or so.

Pete: On my end, The Strokes will always be one of my favorite bands of all time. There’s always [going to be] that influence, but I was listening to a lot of Killers which inspired some of these songs and a little bit of Mother, Mother, too. There were a lot of very different things that I was listening to that inspired this and you can hear a Wilco inspiration, and Dr. Dog inspiration – I would say that is also a big one. Those are the musical acts that most inspired it, but I think we also tried our best to make it something as unique to us rather than completely taken from the influences.

Jarrod: Agreed. I feel like most of my guitar parts are me trying to stick to what I can do myself and then sort of throw in some other things, especially things The Strokes do. With two guitars, they are like the pinnacle of modern rock and dual guitar bands. I try to lean into that whenever I need to. I guess that also with the song I sing, “City That Sleeps,” I was actually kind of inspired by one of our older songs, the first song I was on with the band, called “Potomac.” I like the sound of that and like the vibes of it, so I kind of wanted to take that and use it for that song. It was kind of an in-house inspiration.

How special it is to be able to take something that you loved and you made, pull from it again, and spin it on its head for something more modern, more for this record. That sounds so much fun.

Jarrod: Yeah, it was definitely fun because I was like, “I’m just going to try to steal some of the vibes from this and hope and see if anyone notices.” […] The subject, the riffs, the tones of the guitars, the vibes, and stuff like that were inspiring what I wanted now.

Subtle reinvention! That is super cool. We were talking about this album having 13 songs on it, which is no small feat. I’m curious if you guys wrote any more that didn’t make the final cut or if you were kind of piecing the songs together one by one to create the tracklist, because it does feel perfectly full. 

Pete: Yeah, so I would say that each of us wrote a bunch of songs individually, but these 13 songs are the ones that we wrote that didn’t hit the floor with the full band. We all decided to show our best of the best material to each other. These are the 13 songs that came from that. We have a Google Drive with a bunch of ideas and we all just chose which ones to try out, like, “Oh, this is the best idea here that we should work on. This is the best sound.” We were able to come up with these 13 songs that way. 

Jarrod: Yeah, exactly. We all had different – and more – ideas, but we never went around to work on the other ones. It was interesting because we just went with our best ideas first and I think that made things a lot smoother and streamlined the process of getting in the studio to just work on those songs – the ones we wanted to put on this album.

Your first impression, your immediate instinct – those were the ones decided to take the time on to really develop further.

Jarrod: Yes, exactly.

It pays off to go with your gut feeling, I’d say.

Pete: Thank you. Yeah, it was funny the way we went about it. We released a bunch of singles in 2022 leading up to it – we did six singles and we all knew that these 13 songs were going to be on the album, but we actually started recording the singles first because we were that excited about those. It’s just funny how it came to be. I think we might do some different things and just try something different for the next one we work on, but it was definitely a really fun experience the way we handled Maryland House. The only ‘thorn’ in our plan was that “Curfew,” the [intro] track to the album, was one we started to really like and our producers really liked. They told us, “Usually we’d put this out as a single,” but we already had all our singles. We wanted to put it out, though, so we thought,”What do we do?” [Laughs]

Jarrod: Yeah, once we started working on it, it started to sound really good and we were just like, “Wow… maybe we should have put this out in the single,” but we set it as the first song on [Maryland House] instead. I think that’s a good compromise and I think it’s even better as a first song than a single because it really just opens up the album the best than any of the other songs could have. In the end, I think we made the right choice for sure.

I think so, as well. It bleeds into the album really well, shines with the rest of the songs. This also kind of allows it to become a bit of a deep cut, a bit of a fan favorite, not just a single release.

Pete: Absolutely. We’re also working on a music video for that now – it’s going to be really cool. We go around the National Mall on a vintage camcorder. I’m really looking forward to when that video comes out.

A lot of listeners are going to be curious about something: the album title. Maryland House is named for a rest stop on I-95. Was that always going to be the title of this album? How did it get decided upon and why is it significant to the band?

Pete: Living in the DC area, we spend a lot of our time traveling up and down the East Coast for shows when they’re in Boston, New York, Philly, etc. Maryland House is always a rest stop that we stop at. We didn’t always think that it was going to be the title, but we did come up with it on one of our road trips – just because we enjoyed the stop so much and it’s such a good indicator that we’re almost home. We thought that it would definitely be the right vibe for this record. And we all came to agreement with that on the road trip, and once we realized that that was going to be the title, we told our producers about it and they were so hype that we just got really excited about it all over again [Laughs].