It takes a long time for me to achieve a successful sit-down with Crystal Fighters, the British-American trio who have so far made three albums of sunny, world music-infused indie pop. “What do you expect? They’re hippies,” say their people, though I’ll admit that some parts of the chase have been more exciting than others. They get around.
In mid-2017, there was talk of joining singer Sebastian “Bast” Pringle in the Peruvian part of the Amazon rainforest, where he was being shown around by the deforestation charity Cool Earth. Then there was an invite to accompany American guitarist Graham Dickson and Oxfam to Ethiopia. But the band’s massive October 2017 Alexandra Palace gig, titled “Mama Earth” and with profits going to support those charities, ended up being cancelled.
“We had hoped to be a lot further into our new music however it is not going to be possible to complete it in time, and so with a heavy heart, we will be postponing “Mama Earth” until 2018 when we return with the new music,” they said in a statement at the time. Now, that new music is coming out song by song, a UK tour announcement is on the tips of their tongues and I finally catch up with them in slightly less exotic Dalston Roof Park, an outdoor club venue where the band are reintroducing themselves to London fans with a short early evening gig. At least it’s hot and sunny, and there are no spiders.
With the addition of a vigorous drummer, two dancing backing singers, the Basque percussion instrument the txalaparta and a large quantity of orange clothing, the group succeed in making even this hipster enclave in east London feel wildly exotic. Their comeback single, Boomin’ in Your Jeep, is a perfect summer bounce written about playing loud music with the car windows down, while older tracks such as Plage and Yellow Sun maintain that feeling of beachside freedom, a drink in your hand and sand between your toes. There’s a good reason why the band are currently much bigger in southern Europe than they are at home. Their other gigs this summer were headline slots in front of thousands at music festivals in Madrid, Valencia and Granada.
“We’re massive in Spain. It’s really fun,” says keyboardist Gilbert Vierich, a schoolfriend of Pringle’s from St Paul’s independent school. “There’s that Latin spirit – they like to enjoy themselves, they’re really expressive, and I think that works with our music.” As well as that txalaparta, a type of xylophone, they have taken inspiration from Basque folk songs and played a 2013 gig in a cave outside Pamplona, Navarre. Sometimes they add dance beats to the more organic sounds, but there’s no simple way to pigeonhole their style, which ranges from the carnival techno of their early single I Love London to the bubbly pop of their latest, Another Level.
“Initially we were making late night party music, and that’s what the Spanish people do best,” says Dickson. He met Vierich and Pringle when he moved to London in 2007, and is now based in Portland, Maine in the north-east corner of the US, while the other two are in Hackney. He says that Pringle lives in a “commune” in a warehouse in Hackney Wick, a definition the singer disputes before admitting that yes, if there is an average of more than six people per toilet, it probably counts as a commune.
With his shaggy mohican and tie-dye clothing, Pringle looks as though he has come straight from Alex Garland’s The Beach and should be performing beside a campfire for an avocado collective, rather than touring the world with the backing of one of the UK’s largest record companies. Another reason for the delay to their comeback is that behind the scenes, the band have been signing a new record deal with Warner Bros.
During the lull in Crystal Fighters activity he spent six months living in the jungle in Costa Rica, where he bought a plot of land. “It’s a community out there in a valley, with lots of forward-thinking people living there doing permaculture. It was veganism that brought me there,” he tells me, before going on to explain the prophecy of “The Eagle and the Condor”, a centuries-old South American prediction that the eagle of the north, representing industrialisation, is due to unite with the condor of the south, representing the old traditional ways, sometime around now. “So part of my process out there was reconnecting in some way with the spiritual aspects of this world, that maybe had eluded me in my London upbringing.”
The two worlds can be tricky to balance. There’s an awkward moment when I ask how he squared his veganism with the band granting permission for their music to be used in an advert for McDonald’s. (Oddly the clip, from 2016, uses their song Love Natural but stars Little Mix.) “I haven’t actually seen it. I don’t know whether I was vegan at that time. But we do save aside some of the money we get from these things and put it into better places.”
“It’s a Trojan horse,” says Dickson. “I support and admire people who do eject and go off the grid and live how people will do when all this is over. But at the moment we haven’t ejected yet. Back in the day, people sold records. I think fans are more understanding these days when a band is in a commercial. We’ve had our songs in a few commercials and people are still coming to our concerts, so hopefully it’s not too bad.”
Dickson spent some of his time away from the band in a retreat near Maine’s border with Canada. “We went on our own journeys in different ways, trying to recalibrate our lifestyles and mindsets,” he says. “We’d been living in cities for a long time, doing it hard for a while, so it was nice to get back to the cycle of the sun and the moon and turn everything off.”
Meanwhile, Vierich was in London working on the music. “I stayed at home thinking of new songs and these guys came back with excellent new clothing and good karma,” is how he puts it. The band have worked with some outside writers and producers this time, and with major label muscle pushing them for the first time, this could be their moment for an overdue hit.
Vierich has to ditch the interview early to deal with a technical issue before the Dalston gig. He’s an energetic, passionate fellow who can’t resist racing through some closing thoughts as he rushes away backwards: “Crystal Fighters are on a journey and we’re taking you with us. Now we’re releasing a different sound, we love mixing up music and making stuff we’ve never made before, and the next record will be totally different from these ones. It’s all part of the journey that we’re on together. Join us!”
Who could resist? No matter how long it’s been since your gap year, going travelling with this lot will be a trip to remember.
Crystal Fighters will announce a new single and UK dates next week.