Interview: Sister Crowley Carves Out A Spot In Long Beach’s DIY Community

SISTERCROWLEY-jamesjuarez-lowres-2197
Jonny, Brent, Jarrett, and Brad hanging out in Little Armenia, Los Angeles, CA.

Sister Crowley debuts the first single “Black River” off a forthcoming release, and talks to us about their origins and why they take pride in being from Long Beach.

They feel that Long Beach is ready to step out of LA’s shadow. There’s a fervent and burgeoning punk community with many players, DIY labels, and a crop of new bands. Sister Crowley is part of this wave. In addition to their own output, they hook-up their friends’ bands with DIY gigs, and run their own label Astro Lizard Records, which in turn supports local and international acts. Where they find the time to do it all, I don’t actually know. Their success is partly due to their ‘think it, do it’ mentality, basic and simple at its core, but it’s one that has allowed them to progress and evolve in a myriad of ways.

Long Beach punk, in all its incarnations, is picking up steam these days, and the more time you spend there, it’ll have an effect on you. It’s definitely played a part in the evolution of Sister Crowley. Members Jarrett Killen (guitar/lead vocals) and Brad Crocker (drums) toured around in different psych bands while living in Austin, prior to moving to Long Beach. It was there they met Brent Lindemeyer (guitar) working on a studio project. Still short a bass player, they recruited longtime friend Jonny Esser (bass/backup vocals), and then, it all clicked. Their first record was a psych-garage album dripping in reverb. But just a couple months later, they released the Nightmarers EP, which had stripped away some of the psych layers and channeled their punk roots and surroundings into a rawer sound.

This leads us to today. The new material on Black River—to be released as a 7” flexi disc on Astro Lizard later this summer—is fast and powerful, seeing the band on a new trajectory. Its title track is a showcase of full-throttle garage punk, soaked in buzzing riffs that wind their way into fuzz-metal territory.

Listen to “Black River” below.

These days, Sister Crowley find themselves playing more shows than ever before, working on a new album, and still enjoying everything Long Beach has to offer. I got to sit down with the guys in a cafe in Little Armenia, and ask them a few questions about how they actually see themselves.

When you guys are writing songs, do you all listen to the same music and get inspired by it? I wonder if there’s an album or a band that you all listen to, you know, something that inspires you together. Has there been something like that?

Brent Lindemeyer : Yeah, I remember when we were recording, we were listening to Thee Oh Sees and stuff like that. We were like, ‘how do we drench this stuff in reverb and make it sound this cool,’ but also, try to not get too wet.

Jarrett: Honestly this is a weird reference, but when I start feeling a certain energy from a new song idea, I kind of look for that counterpart in music that I listen to. So if we start recording or writing something, then someone goes ‘Oh that sounds like The Ramones’, then I’ll fucking go and listen to The Ramones. I don’t know why I do that.

What was the last song you listened to?

Brent: I listened to the new Radiohead single. “Burn The Witch.” It’s weird. They just put out a single today.

Jarrett: I actually listened to the GØGGS single. That’s the last song I listened to.

Brad Crocker : The last album I listened to the Quarters! album by King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. It’s a pretty good album.

Jonny Esser: I was listening to some Clutchy Hopkins actually, that song called “Bad Influence” with him and Shawn Lee.

Those are mostly contemporary influences. So you’re very into what’s happening now.

Brent: Yeah, and as far as major current influences go, I mean, you’re also influenced from forever. Like you have a little bit of everything in you all the way up to what you make today. Bowie will forever influence me.

Jarrett: There really are a ton of amazing musicians making records right now. I feel like we’re in a pretty incredible time for underground music.

But with Thee Oh Sees, were you paying attention to what was going on the Bay Area when that was happening?

Jarrett: Yeah, that was a pretty big explosion. It was hard to ignore. And we have so many musicians that circulate around us. There’s a band that I’m pretty into right now, like oddly, and a complete contemporary that I’m really interested in right now. They’re called Assquatch, from down in Long Beach.

All: Yeah!

Jarrett: It’s one of Paul’s [Death Hymn No. 9, Ghoulhouse Records] bands. I just like the use of organ, instead of traditional guitar punk, and the uptempo nature of the songs. I’m very influenced by the way the songs move.

And they were probably influenced by something else entirely.

Jarrett: Yeah, exactly.

Brent:  For Nightmarers, when Jarrett was writing a lot of it, I think Jay Reatard was the big influence.

Brent: And with Speak in Spells, we were just becoming a band. Jarrett had a set of songs he brought in, and it was much more of a psych influenced album.

Jarrett: Brad and I have toured together for a lot of years, and we were like let’s make something fucking weird and with heavy, dark psych. I was really into The Black Angel’s Phosphene Dream. It was because I lived in Austin, Texas, and that whole scene was kind of exploding around the time when I moved back to Long Beach.

So you brought that with you.

Jarrett: Yeah. And it went deeper. Night Beats was around, too.

Brent: We listened to early Night Beats, that was a big one for us. When we started doing Speak in Spells, it was really a psych album. But when we started playing on Speak in Spells, we started writing this whole new set of songs. And they were much faster, much more like Jay Reatard. It was more fun to play. That’s when we had a paradigm shift. The Speak in Spells stuff is great, you know, we love it. But we have a background in punk. People get so much more initiated with punk, like they aren’t droning out when you’re playing punk.

SisterCrowley-HamEggsTavern-JamesMichaelJuarez-1413

That’s true. When I saw you at Ham & Eggs, it was almost like a seeing a different band since the last time I saw you almost a year ago. You were still doing a lot of the psych stuff then. The first record Speak in Spells is definitely not as punk when compared to seeing you live now. There’s a been a different progression. What’s changed?

Brent: Basically, Jarrett brought in a bunch of these ideas, and we worked on them to make them super psyched out and lots of reverb, it’s what we liked at the time. But we did them all before we had even played on them. So we had no feedback from the audience. We liked these songs, they sound really good. But then, we played ‘em live. And then, we started doing the new shit, which there’s a lot more fuzz, they’re a lot more punk. That’s when we started to feel some feedback from the audience.

Jarrett: It makes you move, it gives you a feeling. It gives you a visceral reaction.

Jonny: Absolutely, we’ve been doing weird things on stage like laying down or jumping off of amps and shit.

Stage presence can be one of those things.

Brent: But yeah, we don’t want to rest on our laurels. We always want to try something new. When Jarrett and I talk about the genesis of the next album, we ask each other, ‘Do you want to do something super punk? Do you want do a Sgt. Pepper’s album?’ Probably because I have ADHD, we always want to do something different, we always want to progress.

Totally. But you guys are currently playing in a scene where, generally speaking, it feels like everyone is in a psych band. Everyone has a punk band.  The saturation is at an all-time high. It’s not a bad thing, but do you feel that standing out becomes harder to do?

Jarrett: Absolutely, I think standing out is harder to do. But being yourself is important.

You guys were just up in the Bay Area playing a show. Do you have any plans to go back soon?

Jarrett: We want to start bridging that gap. It’s not that big of a drive. We’re gonna go back. The more time we spend up there, the closer we’ll start to integrate.

Brent: Yeah, it was pretty rad. It was also with The She’s, Dinosaurs, and this band called Scumdrops opened. We’re planning to hop up there, and jump up to Portland and Seattle, too.

That’s right, we share some friends up there.

Brent: Yeah, there was an exodus from Long Beach. A bunch of bands and musicians that we all knew went to Portland like it was the land of milk and honey.

Jarrett: And now our friends that moved up there are like, ‘You guys have fucking turned Long Beach into what we thought Portland is!’ And we’re like, ‘Well, it’s all been here,’ you know. We just carved our own little spot out.

Brent: Yeah, exactly. We all have a “think it, do it” attitude. So it’s like we were gonna make this happen for ourselves, play a lot.

Jarrett: Like if you build it, they will come.

Do you guys call yourselves a Long Beach band. Do you guys have pride about it?

All: Yeah!

Jarrett: There’s a lot of rad music and a lot of cool shit going on Long Beach, and I think having it well represented is important. Long beach is one of the biggest cities in LA, you know. And we stand behind it, it’s stood behind us with the label. We have a lot friends there, and it’s an awesome place to live. It’s a cool place to be. Our friend Rudy de Anda said to Brent one day–

Brent: – Well I said, ‘Long Beach is such a good music town, but nothing is ever going on.’ And Rudy said ‘There’s music here everyday!’ But nobody knows, really. Long Beach sits in LA’s shadow.

I can see that. There are people that pay attention, it’s just not as easy to get to. It sucks that Long Beach is definitely in its own pocket.

Jarrett: We’ve been getting a lot of comments like ‘What the fuck is happening in Long Beach? Why is Long Beach a thing?’ And we’re like, ‘Dude, there’s T.S.O.L., JFA, and other big bands that have come out of Long Beach.’

Brent: Yeah, but then it dipped for thirty years.

Yes, but LA is a juggernaut.

Jarrett: But we don’t want to go up against LA, as a city. We just want to parallel. LA and Long Beach should be paralleling, you know. There’s a lot of East LA kids that are down to come to Long Beach for shows.

Brent: Long Beach is cool. It’s eclectic. It’s cultural. It’s a weird little city. I grew up in Anaheim, so I’m from Orange County originally, but the way I’ve always seen Long Beach is that it’s like an amalgam of LA and the OC. Where they met in the middle and became that. Long Beach is a fuckin’ cool town, so we say ‘Come to Long Beach! There’s fuckin’ music here too.’

Jarrett: When Brad and I lived in Austin, Texas, we toured on  some of my old songs all the way up to the northern tip of Washington and back down to Austin. And both him and I on the way down were like, Long Beach is where it’s at. It was like if we were both going to live in California, let’s live there.

SISTERCROWLEY-jamesjuarez-lowres-2189

So wait, so when did you guys first start getting together as band?

Brad: Jarrett engineered an album for me and some friends when I was sixteen.

Jarrett: I was eighteen.

Brad: Then Jarrett moved to Austin, and I never really saw him again until he hit me up one day, and said, ‘I need a drummer.’ I was like ‘I’m down.’ At the time I was living in Oahu for a summer, and was like sure, I’m ready to move to Austin now. So I moved there and we started playing.

What about the rest of the guys?

So the origin story is kind of simple. I dated Jonny’s older sister when I was just getting out of high school, and Jonny was like twelve when I met him.

No way. What did Jonny think about that?

Jonny: Well–

Jarrett: –Jonny used to cover for me!

Jonny: –Yeah, I covered for him, and then he took me in. Every time I would be playing songs, he would come in and help me write songs. And we would like hang out for hours. He would just kind of bail on her, and we would hang out instead.

*All laugh.

Jonny: So I would take everything he said to heart, like “Oh my god.” But one thing that stuck with me was something Jarrett said, it was like “You got to be able to sing in front of your family. You can’t be all tied up in your own little circle.” And I just took that to heart, that’s why I kept playing music.

Brent: Jarrett kept you playing music?! He planted that seed! Wait, so he couldn’t have just said “Jonny, you should go to Stanford and get your engineering degree.”

*All laugh.

Jarrett: I wish! I fucking should’ve said that! Shit, I ruined his life.

And when did you all meet Brent?

Jarrett: So Brent and I met through a mutual friend. I was working on a friend’s record in Texas, and he was flying back and forth from Long beach so I could produce the album to this two-inch tape machine out of this awesome studio. This friend called me when I got home and was like, ‘I’m probably going to get this big spot, in Long beach. If you’re interested in moving, you can come set this place up with me.’ And so it was us three, and Brent was his friend.

Brent: Yeah, and then Brad was always playing with Jarrett. Brad’s the fucking best drummer in Long Beach. Brad’s the guy to get. And then we needed a bass player, and Jarrett said ‘my buddy Jonny’s an amazing songwriter, plays drums, bass, everything. Let’s ask him to play bass.’ And the next day, he was playing bass.

Jarrett: He came in and learned all the bass and the backups, and that was it. We started booking shows.

When did the name Sister Crowley come into play?

Jarrett: Sister Crowley happened as a recording project initially. Brad and I had just done this tour with yet a different band, where we had just happened to play a show with Drinking Flowers and Corners.  At the end of the tour, we were like fuck this band. And then in that break, I recorded the first Sister Crowley song, which was “Taipan.” Brent helped me structure it with our buddy Adam Fight, who is also on Astro Lizard. It was just this weird thing, like this is pretty cool. And then Brent called me the next day after I mixed the song and said, ‘We should make Sister Crowley a thing and make a record.’

SisterCrowley-HamEggsTavern-JamesMichaelJuarez-1404

So you had the name in mind already?

Jarrett: Well, no actually. I recorded the song before there was a name.

Brent: Jarrett liked to read a lot of occult shit at the time.

Jarrett: I was reading two occult books at the same time and I stumbled upon this information about Aleister Crowley and a lady, a high priestess of his dark church or whatever. They called her Sister Crowley. I thought it was a cool fuckin’ name, like that should be the band name. And that was it.

So that’s how it goes.

Jarrett: It was that simple. I remember talking to one my friends, and he was like, ‘That name is bunk.’ And I was like, ‘Nah, I’m gonna go with it.’

*All laugh.

Jarrett: This whole process with the band has been an evolutionary thing, it’s all evolved naturally. So that’s it, to make a long story… Well… very, very long.

Catch Sister Crowley on the following dates:
June 11:  Top Acid’s East End Block Party (Santa Ana, CA) 

July 22: The Hi-Hat (Highland Park, CA)
September 24: Music Tastes Good (Long Beach, CA)

This interview took place on May 3, 2016. All images Copyright © James Juarez.