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Flavor Crystals: Blue Haiti

There's something important we need to know from Josh Richardson of the Minneapolis psyche-rock band Flavor Crystals: Is that square where Mary Tyler Moore threw her beret in the air during the opening credits of her famous television show still there?

Like, can we go there and throw our caps up as a homage to her?

“Oh yeah,” laughs the singer-guitarist, “Where's she's by the statue? That's down on the Nicolett Mall. I've also heard stories of people going to that house she's supposed to live for the show. They go to the front of it, it's like a big duplex and I know roughly where that is.”

Okay . . . and we could also speak to him about his interesting day job for a private company Prairie Restoration which restores native habitats. It takes land which had been converted to grass or ruined through bad farming or industry practices and turns it back into a healthy ecosystem. That's a good job.

“Yeah, I love it. I don't want to let it go but if the music took off I'd step away for a while . . . and they're pretty nice about letting me take off for tours”.

And yes, now we are on topic because Flavor Crystals are one of the most interesting psyche-rock bands in the States at the moment, and we are talking to Richardson at this time because exactly a year ago this four-piece released – on white vinyl no less – a wonderful triple album entitled Three.

4065066674_1These are tripped-out dreamscapes which have received excellent press and brought them attention in a way that they hadn't enjoyed for their almost 10-year career and previous two albums, despite their second album Ambergris being produced by Kramer (Bongwater, Galaxie 500) and some high profile support tours.

“We always felt like we were the only people who liked that sort of music, us and college radio music directors,” says Richardson. “We don't draw huge crowds but it seems people who like a lot of music tend to like us, which is exciting because that's how we think of ourselves too.

“This last album we saw a big change and we are now being treated like the granddaddies of the Minneapolis psyche-rock scene. In the last four or five years there has been a whole bunch of psyche-rock bands in Minneapolis. Many are really good and we've made more of an effort to play with them. And so they are all treating us well.

“It's been gradual. We take the music really seriously but we have never been in a huge rush.”

Richardson says the Minneapolis scene is so good – lots of clubs and places to play, friendly rather than competitive between bands – that many musicians don't even bother to leave town and tour.

Their break came almost by accident when, five years ago, the sound guy at a Brian Jonestown Massacre show in Minneapolis played some Flavor Crystals before they went on.

“They accosted him and asked who the music was by. We weren't even there but had some friends down there who were telling us, 'You better come down to this show right now'. We ended up getting there after but they contacted us and took us on tour.

Flavor_Crystals_heliotrope“We played to really nice crowds and there is a wonderful fanbase of people here who really love the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They are laidback and not what what you might think. The general public knows of them just from the movie (DIG!), but the people who love their music are really sweet and sincere music fans.

“So we now have this group of psyche-rock fans who know about us and respect us.”

They also did a short stint in Canada, then West Coast dates with the UK band Telescopes, and most recently played the pre-party show at the famous Austin, Texas psyche-rock festival which is the biggest such festival in the States and is put on by Black Angels.

A clearly still-buzzing Richardson says they got to meet “the Cult of Dom Keller from Nottingham, the Dead Skeletons from Iceland, the Spectrum, Sonic Boom, so many amazing bands . . .

“One of the really amazing things we got to witness was the [Sixties British prog-rock band Kaleidoscope who played. It was the original singer Peter Daltrey but his backing band were some LA musicians who were associated with the Brian Jonestown Massacre and other bands. They were fantastic and they even did a show as Fairfield Parlour which was their later incarnation and that was a little more free folk.

“We played the pre-party show on Thursday night with them as the Fairfield Parlour, then we saw them two nights later as Kaleidoscope. That was the highpoint of the whole thing, just being backstage with them. Very cool.”

Richardson says that although all the band members have listened to a lot of music they also don't agree on some of it.

He and co-founder bassist/Moog player Nat Stensland are big fans of Flying Nun: “The Clean, David Kilgour, Mad Scene; Nat and I saw David Kilgour open for Lambchop and that was an influential show on us. I've seen the Clean open for Yo La Tengo, never seen the Chills but would have loved to. And our new guitarist Vince Caro loves that stuff too.

“But also we like the Church, Sonic Youth and shoegaze. I grew up on Ride and My Bloody Valentine.

“But I don't know if we've heard a band that sounded like us. We know what our limitation are and just play what we can play. I try to play what my personality is and do what feels natural with the group chemistry. We do a lot of jamming to find out what works for us.

“It is hard not to sound derivative but maybe it's just that we're not that good at imitating,” he laughs. “We are terrible at playing covers. Every time we've had a song fall apart on stage it's been a cover, never one of ours.”

Richardson says that, against expectation on the evidence of the free-flowing music on Three, when they play live the songs are close to the recordings.

“When you listen to the records they sound improvised, but that's because we actually record everything we do and we keep the first take of a lot of things. Sometimes there's not a predetermined idea but we just played it, liked it and kept it. But then we go back and when we play live we play them pretty close to that. It works for us.

“Three is probably more improvised than the first two records. It's a matter of did we like what we did or do we think we can do it better. The first track Mirror Chop we literally played that without talking to each other about what we might do. We just played it and then stopped and were, 'Hmm that sounded like a song'.

“Three turned out that way almost by accident. We kept making music and not finishing any of it so pretty soon it was like, 'Okay, what are we going to do with all this?'

“We're set up to record at all to times to catch those moments. We know were not going to make the most polished records, but what we want to do is just capture those moments when we feel excited and we're inspired. And that's what we want to share.

“It's important to sound human. Most arts have evolved to the point where most people want to show personality and humanity in what they're doing. That's what we want to do.

“I admire bands and artists who can do intricate and precise things and can display their musicianship and how great they are at playing. It's not like I don't respect it.

“But we just play to make something that we actually want to listen to."

For more on Flavor Crystals and their albums you can find them on bandcamp here. The vinyl version of Three has sold out through bandcamp but some US distributors may still have copies. THree has also been released in New Zealand through Crooked Little Fingers who have  a few vinyl versions left. See their website here.

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