"Hello? This is the interview right? I'm actually driving," declares the frontman after four attempts to call them had failed terrifically. Even in a pre-occupied state devoid of the usual 'band in interview mode', it's apparent that Jonny Bell of Crystal Antlers possessed both determined certainty and a stellar dose of confidence. "You can talk to Kevin the dru..." as the rest of the sentence evaporates into the ambient air of the vegetable oil powered tour van. It became quite clear that I was suddenly being passed around in a game of hot potato and finally landed on the lap of Kevin, the band's drummer.

Where Tentacles and Two Way Mirror were kaleidoscopically colourful albums, 2013's Nothing Is Real is a wild, elemental third bid to summon the spirit of lo-fi garage rock and '90s grunge. Draped with very little neo-psychedelia, the production tempers melodic chops and straighter edged rock. It seems like a cerebral attempt, bar being a little darker and heavier.

Indeed, we live in a transformational era fuelled by digital technology, which manages to lurk around every movement we make. It's extraordinarily challenging to appropriate any form of music or art in a way that seems raw and fresh, and for Crystal Antlers, the knowledge of this common artificial parade detracted from the value of work - for them nothing seemed real anymore. With this in mind, they took the rock and roll narrative and stripped away certain clangs. They used the creative plasticity they had from being a band that actually enjoys playing with one another.

Together with fellow South California native C.R Stecyk III who actualised the cover art and whose life was portrayed in the film Lords of Dogtown - the album became a statement to the glory days of the California dream. The lasting impression I got from them wasn't just a clever politicking of lead singer Jonny, but a drummer so casual and unrehearsed that even a story about a Swedish crazed fan offering up sexual favours could muffle the ire right out of me and replace it with sheets of curiosity.

Everything felt very real.

So tell me a little more about the title of the album Nothing Is Real?

[Clears his throat] Well, let me see just hang on - Guys! [Shouts to everyone in the van] what does the title of our album mean?

Okay, okay, this is a message from Jonny - he says that he hears people saying that nowadays about everything, that it seems it's a recurring theme with the, you know, modern world.

Between you and me though - how do you actually relate to it?

[Hear someone shouting in the back] With the internet, everyone has knowledge and no experience.

You mean people in general are speaking just because they now have a platform to talk from?

Yeah and everything you ever want to know is just out there on the internet. Everyone is an expert in everything, but not really, you know what I mean?

Sure yeah - So you've been with the band from the start and for the first time you're releasing an album on a new label

It was pretty natural experience for us, we put out the last album on our own and we had known the guys from Innovative Leisure for a while. It's pretty cool - we have a second record deal! Making the album was a pretty natural process too, Jonny built the studio at his house called 'Jazz Cats' and we had a place to work and an outlet for the music.

So tell me about the process, does Jonny usually write the songs?

We normally write and work on the songs together as a group as much as we can but Jonny has ideas all the time.

I think there's an immediately clear difference from when you did Two Way Mirror and your previous work - the songs feel more direct now.

Yeah I felt like we were more comfortable when we were making this album because we wanted to make it and it wasn't a stressful situation for us. We were able to just work on the songs and flesh them out and it was a more enjoyable experience - I think you can hear that in some of the songs.

Completely, also ending with the 'Prisoner Song' was quite clever, a really strong anthemic closer. Who decides on the sequence of the album?

We actually spent a lot of time doing the playlists in different orders together.

...Sorry we're in the middle of the desert so the reception is choppy.

Yeah it must be boiling in that tour van too!

Guys - is it hot or cold?

Ha! Did you just ask someone else if it was hot or cold?

[Laughs] You know it's always jeans and t-shirt weather.

More importantly, who was behind the brilliant cover art?

We had the privilege of working with Craig Stecyk, he did some pretty amazing stuff for us and we got to spend some time working with him taking photos and making the videos. It really fit in perfectly with the vibe that we were already working with.

You brought some of those ideas into your 'Rattlesnake' video - was this an extension of the California outsider culture?

You know living in Southern California is a unique thing - you get to see this when you travel a lot like we have, I guess the statement is to the glory days of the California dream and where it is now.

Do you think the concept has changed?

That idea maybe exists more outside of California now.

You're not wearing shoes now are you?

No I am wearing shoes but I refuse to wear sandals we're driving in a vegetable oil powered van!

Oh tell me about that! Does it have a name?

We tour everywhere in a vegetable oil powered van - every tour we've done in North America. The van's name is Doris.

Keeping it casual...

We jam econo.

In terms of touring and playing live then - what's the best song for you to play and just just flippin' let go?

I really like playing the song California right now and Liquorice Pizza too.

That's a great one for your drums.

Yeah! I get to yell out the chorus, that's fun [mumbles lyrics] I'm not the one that tried to sell you - it's a reference to the old record store called Liquorice Pizza in California that's gone now.

Sorry for these answers, I'm just the drummer so I'm normally not the voice of the band all the time.

You know I don't go by that rule in any way, it's really about your music and as a drummer you're pretty much the backbone to the band as your rhythm sets the pace.

Yeah, thanks I appreciate that, I think it's attributed to Jonny being the singer and playing bass the two of us have been playing music together for so long that the foundation is the rhythm section.

So then do you guys have a tour ritual before you play?

For a while we were trying to do the Royal Bundy before the show it never really caught on.

WHY!

I think we should though sometimes we just get to the club right when we need to play and then jump on stage

So you get to the show and then you're faced with these fans - what's your craziest experience with a fan?

I guess the first thing that popped up was when we were in Stockholm playing a Cultural Festival, people kept telling us we could play at cooler shows than the one we were at and asking us if we could play at their house parties afterwards. There was this one guy who would not stop talking about having us play at a party at his house.

It never ended up happening so we landed up going back to the hotel and at about 7:30am in the morning we get a phone call and it's the same guy from the night before saying that he's brought a gift for me. After telling him I really just wanna go back to sleep and he can leave it at the desk, he was like well, I have to come up to the room and give it to you, I really just wanna give you a blowjob!

NOOO that's horrible!

It really took me by surprise too I wasn't expecting that

Sensual - and in that foreign accent as well

Yeah so you know I invited him up to the room and the rest is history.

Nah I'm just kidding.


Then, to no surprise the phone went dead, just as I was expanding on a rant about sexual predators. No one answered for me to say goodbye and to leave it on that note felt surprisingly apt. I suppose with all that changed in their hometown, nothing felt real for them anymore but they're adapting quicker to new ideals and new ways of approaching their music. Nothing Is Real, featuring cover art by famed surf/skate/graffiti legend C.R. Stecyk III, is out now on Innovative Leisure and catch the band live at one of these shows:

  • Tue 25 Feb 2014 Brighton Sticky Mike's Frog Bar
  • Wed 26 Feb 2014 London Shacklewell Arms
  • Thu 27 Feb 2014 Manchester Roadhouse
  • Fri 28 Feb 2014 Dublin Workmans Club
  • Sat 01 Mar 2014 Glasgow Broadcast
  • Sun 02 Mar 2014 Leeds Brudenell Social Club