Frankie Rose had a decision to make this past summer. For a year and a half, the Brooklyn drummer and songwriter was pouring all of her energy into two groups that were simultaneously blowing up during the hot months of '08: Vivian Girls, the garage-y surf-shoegazer trio she'd co-founded (and sometimes played bass and sang in); and Crystal Stilts — Rose's longtime friends and "favorite band in Brooklyn," one that'd been around in various incarnations since 2003, had played her birthday party two years ago, and which shortly afterward asked her to fill their drum stool. Going bonkers with the increasing demands on her time, she was compelled to choose one group or the other. Crystal Stilts won out.
FRESH STUFF: Crystal Stilts have been around since 2003, but only recently began performing live.
"When we were writing the Vivian Girls record, a lot of the songs that I wrote were inspired by Crystal Stilts," says Rose during a short break from her bartending shift at Manhattan's Great Jones Cafû. "And then I started caring a lot more about Crystal Stilts than Vivian Girls."
Drama ensued on popular indie-music blogs like BrooklynVegan, which had been propelling the online hype that's enveloped both bands of late. Vivian Girls claimed they fired Rose; she says she quit.
"It wasn't an easy break, it was ugly," Rose sighs. "Have you ever been in a relationship where you kind of quit the relationship before you were really done with it? It was a lot like that. I stopped doing what I needed to do in that band a long time ago. And honestly, what it came down to is, one, aesthetics — what direction each band wanted to go in — and, two, who can I be in a car with for a month at a time? Two 21-year-old girls, or three 32-year-old guys?"
Whatever you may think of Vivian Girls, it only takes a spin or two through Crystal Stilts' recent full-length debut, Alight of Night (Slumberland) to make clear why full-time membership in the band was so enticing to Rose. It's moody, frosty dream-pop with the kind of guitar jangle, brooding basslines, deep and vaguely distressed vocal murmurs, and nods to '60s surf and girl-group music — all of it soaked in delicious reverb — that'd be appealing to anyone who fell for the Velvet Underground-inspired indie-pop that came out of New Zealand in the '80s by the likes of the Chills, the Clean, and Tall Dwarfs.
Crystal Stilts principles Brad Hargett (vocals) and JB Townsend (guitar) had actually been sitting on the completed Alight for more than four years before Slumberland Records put it out in October. "It was never really intended to be a 'band,' let alone a touring band," Rose explains. "It was just a recording project for so long — Brad and JB pretty much locked themselves in the practice space, and played out only once in a while. Being a live band has been a discovery for everybody."
The transition was made easier with the recruitment of Rose and bassist Andy Adler — both of whom have been heavily involved in writing new material, some of which will be unveiled during their gig at Great Scott next Monday — plus touring organist Kyle Forester (of the Ladybug Transistor). One hundred or so shows later, Rose says the band's developing the confidence to properly promote an album that's garnered loads of positive attention. "It's a really weird time right now because all of us are holding down day jobs and it's getting pretty tricky — we're going to Europe for a month and we're all like, can we make enough money to do this full-time? We're literally taking opportunities as they come right now, and we don't know what's going to happen."
Not a single regret, though. "I guess I'm becoming comfortable with the unknown," Rose laughs. "Joining this band was one of the best decisions I've ever made."
CRYSTAL STILTS + LOVE IS ALL + REPORTS | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | December 8 at 9 pm | $10 | 617.734.4502 or www.greatscottboston.com