Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan, aka The Crystal Method, have turned the world of electronic music on its ear. Guitar Center recently got a chance to hear from the duo about their love of E-MU instruments, their influences and what exactly inspired the Crystal Method.
GC: When did you start work on "Tweekend"?
Jordan: It wasn't until the "Family Values" Tour. During the last three months of those two years we realized "God, there's got to be a way that we can at least try to write while we're touring." So on that tour we set up a mini studio in the back of the bus. Now we know that for a band like us it is a necessity. If we're not writing and creating on the road, then there's going to be another huge delay. We've been really seriously working on the album since 1999.
GC: Your music seems often to be composed of layers of ideas. Could you describe the process that a typical song goes through from start to finish?
Kirkland: It's different. An idea may come from a great sample or hook and after a few moments of jamming, it could become a great song. If every song was that easy we would have been finished with the album a long time ago! Sometimes we'll put it aside for awhile. "PhD" took on many different forms, but the drive and rhythm were always there.
GC: What are the differences in the electronic music environment/audience in Europe versus the United States?
Kirkland: "Tweekend" has not been released in Europe yet, but the differences between the U.S. and Europe are not as big as they would seem. The biggest difference overall is how concentrated the markets are over there - one break on the radio can break a band and turn on an entire country to a new sound.
GC: There's more and more gear available these days that's targeted at the electronic musician. If I wanted to make & record music in the same vein as The Crystal Method, what are the essential pieces of gear I'd need to start with?
Kirkland: We get asked this question quite a lot. A song can be created from the smallest piece of gear. With all the mixing and sound capabilities in the E-MU XL-7 and E4s, you can basically do everything on a train trip from Frisco to L.A. if you wanted to. What I always tell people is to utilize places like Guitar Center where you have the ability to go in and play with a piece of gear - just sit in there and touch and feel what's out there. If you take it home and don't like it, bring it back within 30 days and get something else. Just do your research on it. Get a feel for the work environment that's been created. Things like the easy interface. That's one of the reasons that I've always loved E-MU. Many, many hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent to make sure that it is easy to move around on. Everything is right in front of you. You have the ability to work at your own pace and create.
GC: What do you use the XL-7 for on tour?
Kirkland: The string sounds from "High Roller" and he (Jordan) uses it to trigger. We can go into a hotel room with a Titanium powerbook and use the pads to create the parts. The strings are rich; the overall sound quality is awesome. It's another piece from E-MU that's revolutionized our live show. We've been using the E4s the last two or three tours, where the bulk of everything was coming off of them, including sequencing and the triggering. Ken is running everything on his side through the E4 Ultra RFX-32 (mixing/effects system).
GC: What about your studio? Have you named it?
Jordan: The Bomb Shelter.
Kirkland: It's also been dubbed the E-MU SoCal Demo Headquarters, home of many E4s.
Jordan: There's actually a bomb shelter in the front yard from the 1961 Cuban Missile crisis. We don't have the name registered. It's not a business. We've just always called it that.
GC: And the group's name? Have you always been The Crystal Method or was there an earlier name?
Jordan: First we were working with another singer and then we were working more as producers, producing different things.
Kirkland: One day we were working with this rapper, and he used the phrase "The Crystal Method" in a sentence. It was so completely detached from anything. Wow, those three words together really sound cool. We just loved that name. A few people over the course of our early career encouraged us to change it, but I can't remember who those people are now.
GC: Were you originally into the same music back then?
Kirkland: I was a big Depeche Mode fan. I just love the melodies and melodic structure of Depeche Mode and New Order. Ken used to run this college radio station, called KUNV, during the peak '80s new wave/modern music. And, of course, he is a huge fan of melody and harmony. We'll amuse ourselves by blurting out these amazing hooks. We both understood what was so great about the music in the early '90s, the electronic music of 808 State and all the great techno bands that released albums. We made an effort to combine things like Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Led Zeppelin - bands that had that real organic feel - combined with the sounds of the electronic artists.
GC: How does the gear you use help to reach that goal?
Kirkland: The equipment that you see surrounding you now is the attempt to make synthetic music sound organic and make it sound like you don't know where it came from. So, you can't really peg it down as a drum machine, synthesizer and so on. Like on "PhD" we have this great Jupiter 6 sound that sounds like a huge lead guitar part, but it doesn't. It's one of those things where you say, "What is that sound?" That's always intrigued us - not being able to peg it down. We try to not to rely on what sound comes out of an instrument when you turn it on. We have so many old foot pedals, all these old boxes, so that when everything is hooked up together we get something that sounds fresh and new. That's really what we're all about.