An interview with The Crystal Casino Band

The DC based indie rock band The Crystal Casino Band is releasing their latest album “TCCB’s Maryland House.” The four person collective consists of Peter Stevens, Jordan Mullaney, Jarrod Hendricks and Joey Mamlin who was not present for the interview. The band sat down with underground zine to talk about their latest single “Antlers”, 2014 Tumblr and their favorite rest stop: Maryland House.

Hi The Crystal Casino Band! Could you guys please introduce yourselves?

Pete Stevens: So my name is not actually crystal casino as it says on this zoom. It's Pete Stevens. I'm the lead singer and main songwriter for the band.

Jarrod Hendricks: I'm Jarrod, I'm the guitarist / singer in crystal casino

Jordan Mullaney: I'm Jordan, I play bass for the band and do some vocals.

Stevens: And Joey can’t make it. He's in Italy right now. But otherwise, he would be here. But it's also probably midnight there and he’s usually asleep by 9

Hendricks: He does drums and he does stand up.

So how did The Crystal Casino Band form?

Stevens: So, Joey and I started the band back in 2015 when we were freshmen at George Washington University. I met Joey during orientation. So it was before classes even started, it was in July of 2015. And school didn't start until late August or so. I remember I met Joey, our friend group somehow crossed, and then I mentioned to him that I play guitar and then he brought up that he plays the drums. And a band that we really bonded over was The Black Keys, because they're a duo of just guitar and drums. And Joey's from Ohio too, so there's always a connection to The Black Keys as well. We bonded over that and I showed him a song that I had written pretty recently before then, just a demo on GarageBand. Then I sent it over to him, over email, before classes even started, and he laid some drums over it. So we had two songs written, and demos of them produced before the first day of classes even began. So the band has kind of been going ever since then.

Mullaney: So I joined when the band was still ‘The Colonies.’ I joined my sophomore year, and we're all the same year. I was in a different band that played in the same rehearsal space as ‘The Colonies’ at that time with Joey and Pete and we all worked in this space. So we were part of the organization to keep the space maintained and put on shows and all that. So after our freshman year, through mutual friends we kind of got the vibe that I'd be a better match with these guys. And yeah, I’ve been with them ever since.

Hendricks: So for me, I have a kind of a different story. I originally met Pete because we were dating roommates at the time. I was on the swim team at GW so I really didn't have the time to be in another extracurricular. I was like, ‘Man, that's so cool. He's in a band. I wish I was able to do that.’ And over time, I met everyone else. Like I worked with Joey over one summer, and then came spring 2019 when we were graduating. Jordan at the time was moving away to live in New York for a while and the other guitarist was moving to LA. And I was able to sort of sneak my way in, by just posting things of me playing guitar online, because I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I can hop into this.’ Then Pete reached out to me one day and was like, ‘Hey, do you want to jam with Joey?’ And I was like, ‘Sure.’ We did it twice and they were like ‘do you guys want to play a show with us?’ And I was like, ‘totally I’m down with that’ so I've been here in the band since 2018. Since July.

So now I got to note Pete Is there like a criteria that everyone has to be a J name before you get that?

Stevens: It is weird that I'm the only non J name in the band for sure. We joke around that whenever I hang out with anybody in the band I then replace the first initial of their names with the j so

So you go by Jete?

Hendricks: Yes!

Stevens: That actually has been a joke as well.

You all changed from being ‘The Colonies’ to being ‘The Crystal Casino Band’. How was it settling on that name?

Stevens: We originally went by ‘The Colonies’ because George Washington University's mascot was the colonial. So it made sense when we were in college to go by that name given that connection. But we were 18 and we really didn't know the implications of the name and everything. As we've gotten older and educated ourselves more on the issues of imperialism and just race issues in America, we definitely felt like we really had to change the name. And it was very apparent by the summer of 2020, with everything going on with the Black Lives Matter movement. We knew that we had to do it then. We were releasing an album at the time, “Someone When You Want It”, and we decided that would be like the last album under ‘The Colonies’ name. And then after that, we played a show. And we were like, ‘we need to have a new name for the show.’ So we went through this process where we ranked choices for all these different names. Eventually Crystal Casino was the one that we chose. I will say it was nobody's favorite, but nobody hated it. It was very, very polarized with the options, people would love it, and then another person would hate it. And this was one that we all collectively agreed that we could get behind. But Jarrod has the meaning of the name.

Hendricks: When I was working in an office I was just watching YouTube videos. This guy was trying to spend a thousand dollars on a mobile app or mobile game. And it's like essentially gambling. Getting the money in game currency it was called “Saint’s Quartz.” And I was like, ‘Quartz. Gambling. Crystal Casino. Alliterative. Sort of catchy.’ And then I just threw that on a list. We all had too many names.

Stevens: We probably had like 25 names that we narrowed it down to

Hendricks: And then eventually we were able to whittle it down to the last few. And then Crystal Casino was the last one to make it through. And we were like, ‘that’s us’

Stevens: Then we added ‘the’ and ‘band’ and we really liked that because we like the acronym that it spells. TCCB is good and catchy and pops and everything. It’s eye-catching.

Hendricks: Yeah, we also usually call our fans the TCC besties.

What were each of your favorite ‘almost’ names?

Hendricks: Mine was ‘Hill Park Society.’ That was kind of my favorite because there was a good vibe to it.

Stevens: I liked ‘Talk Show Ghosts’

Mullaney: I wasn’t in the band at the time, but I was acting as a consultant, you could say. And I really liked ‘Congressional Little League.’

Stevens: Granted we did like that one too. But then we looked it up and it was taken. So otherwise we probably would have taken it.

You guys sign off every post with “TCCB loves ya!” where did that originate?

Stevens: I kind of just like the acronym. I write the social media posts so sometimes I do ‘Love, TCCB’ and then our T-Shirts started saying “TCCB loves ya!” So I just started adding that as well.

Hendricks: Our graphic designer guy did “TCCB loves ya!” on a T-Shirt and we were like ‘that sounds fun. That sounds cool.’

Stevens: And we do love our fans. So we try to show that as much as we can. Because we're just normal people with day jobs who somehow have an audience that listens to us.

Hendricks: I'm literally still wearing my work shirt right now. Still in work mode.

Stevens: I literally signed off my remote work job and then just logged on to here so

On Tik Tok, I've noticed that you guys are marketing yourselves as like the resurgence of 2014 Tumblr. What does that mean to you guys? And what side of Tumblr would each of you say that you're part of?

Stevens: So I started saying that because back in the day when I was a senior in high school, on Tumblr when that whole era was really popular. The two biggest bands at the time were Arctic Monkeys and the 1975. I think our song “Waste My Time” sounds very influenced by them, but also unique to us. But they definitely are a huge influence on that. So I figure that if I joke around saying that's the rebirth of 2014 Tumblr, then that would catch more listeners that way and it definitely has. I made a Tik Tok and a Reel like a month ago, and it kind of blew up. It got like 100,000 likes on reels. And then Tumblr even commented on it saying, “you might have revived it” or something like that. Then for my side of Tumblr, mine was mostly memes. There were a ton of memes on time. So I would just like reblog the has

Mullaney: I never used Tumblr, but I will say I'm always a fan of Google searching Tumblr quotes as responses to things. Because they're just so dramatic. Especially ones that are cheesy and are just four words with a period at the end and they were with really small text. So I'm always a fan of those and I feel like our lyrics kind of fit in that vibe. I could see some of our lyrics being Tumblr quotes, in a funny way.

Hendricks: I was on Tumblr, I had a Tumblr for a little bit. I guess I still have a Tumblr, it's still around, but I don’t post on it. My Tumblr was related to anime. My name was a reference to ’JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ if that makes any sense to anyone. And that was my kind of side of Tumblr. But before I had Tumblr, I would see posts, kind of just online before I had an account and The 1975 was my favorite band in High School.

While you guys have marketed yourselves as a 2014 tumbler resurgence, you are also very experimental with your sound. How would you guys define this new era of music?

Stevens: This album that we're working on right now. I wouldn't say it's like quite 2014 Tumblr, but it's definitely taking all those influences. It's definitely the most collaborative one between everybody's tastes that we've done to date. Everybody sings on the record, which is really cool! We all love the Beatles… except Jarrod. He doesn't hate them. He just doesn’t love them as much as the three of us do. But I would say we definitely even have elements of The Beatles on this album.I don't know how exactly to describe the vibe. But lyrically it's just about living in DC for like the past two years during: the pandemic, the insurrection, and the last election happened. Just a really turbulent time to be living here. So often you see the lives of young kids on TV shows living in LA or living in New York or young 20-somethings but you never really see what it's like in DC. I think that that's something that makes us stand out a little bit more just because there is so much stuff going on and we're kind of at the center of it. It affects everybody's lives but just being here definitely gives us a different perspective to share with the world then that really hasn't been shared.

Hendricks: For this next album there's a lot of varying styles but there’s a core theme I guess. You're gonna know it's a Crystal Casino Band song when you hear it. We have some trademarks like, coarse guitars, chord driven leads, Pete has a really certain audio, especially the way he makes melodies.

Mullaney: I think there's definitely some of a country vibe on the songs that have been unreleased. There’s a certain cadence, like a chug. There's definitely slide guitar. And also, I think just the fourth vocalist, give somewhat of an Eagles or Fleetwood Mac kind of vibe. Where you can distinctly tell the few voices that are a part of this, which I think we're all excited for.

Hendricks: That's something that we've really tried to work on for this album, to have our own voices within the songs. As opposed to just having one vocalist saying different harmonies we have other people singing them so it has a different feel and texture to it. It leaves you feeling like, ‘Oh, that was really, really well done and that was really cool to hear.’

You guys mentioned the making of “Jamie”, it was a very collaborative process. Has that kind of carried over into the making of this album? or what does the musical process typically look like for you guys?

Stevens: I would say in the past, I would write most of the songs, then I'd present it to the band, and we would all work on it together, in a practice room or so. And then we would either play it live a few times and test it with the audience and then go straight to recording. But then with the pandemic, we would go straight to recording right away. But for this one we did a few writing sessions at Jarrod’s apartment, all four of us together, to work through the songs and everything. We would demo them out before our producers then would work on them. We would then demo them ourselves and try to add whatever we would want to add to a song with any of the sounds or textures and stuff like that. So we would kind of have an idea of what it would be like going into the actual recording process. And then from there, our producers, Kyle and Jay, come in. Jay usually kind of reworks the arrangements of our songs a bit. Sometimes we like them, sometimes we have some suggestions of how else we prefer it going. But we definitely value his opinions a lot. Everybody has had a say on the parts that they want to get added into songs and the structures of them and the textures, the tones and all of that.

Mullaney: Yeah, Pete’s still very much our lead songwriter. But I think we've moved towards a system where we'll present songs then we kind of become like the leaders of those songs. “Jamie” was definitely a unique example in the sense that I had brought together this one piece that we all liked, which was the verse pre chorus. And there were no lyrics or anything. We were all at Jarrod’s apartment there and there was definitely a struggling, struggling moment of writer's block before we hit any progress. And one of us had the idea to write the lyrics or melody around this person who doesn't come to our shows, and that gave us a huge momentum and stake to really drive the song forward. And I think all of us left that session having a lot of fun and feeling really good about the song. So I think that's like a good example of how we worked together. But not represented with every song.

Hendricks: Yeah, that's for sure. The process has become really collaborative and a success. It’s us trying to feel comfortable with our talents and mentally be there. Pete’s been doing this for years and he has such a high caliber, he's really good at it. So we're finally seeing his level, I don't know if we can do that yet but now we're getting to a level where we can throw out some songs ourselves, we're cool and we can do this. And I think that's definitely shown in the album with “Jamie”. Jordan brought that to us and he also brought another one that’s gonna be on the album itself that 's a really good one that’s going to come out. And also Joey’s done some writing so that's in the works. We're all just trying to get our ideas out there confidently the way Pete does, and he’s been a really good help.

Does the person that you guys wrote Jamie about know about Jamie?

Stevens: They might have an inkling but I still think they don't. Alright, so

Mullaney: I don't think they know.

Stevens: I think they're sus about it. I think they're suspicious of it but they’d have to be so egotistical to go out and say like you wrote this about me.

Mullaney: Yeah, it's pretty crazy that they would think we were just talking about them.

Hendricks: Yeah, it's not about you!

Have they come to any of your shows since Jamie came out?

Stevens: Yes.

Well, something good came out of it.

Hendricks: They’ve taken the hint. I know some of my friends have been bullied by the song because they'll say they'll come out and then they are about to say no and then they're, ‘oh, I don't want to be a Jamie.’ We have a friend that's done some of our music videos and stuff like that. I saw her last like on Saturday night and our show. And she was like, ‘yeah, I wasn't gonna miss, I didn't want to be Jamie’ I was like ‘ you got it girl. you know.’ So it's become something now. One of my other friends once the song came out that day she said she couldn't make it and she was like, ‘I’m sorry. I was Jamie that night’

Stevens: It's become a meme now.

Hendricks: It's like a good psychological thing to people to come to our shows.

You also have a series on your YouTube called “Explain that track” What inspired that. And what has been a highlight of that series and doing that together?

Stevens: I think it was our former manager who came up with the idea. A way to get us to tell the stories of the songs and make YouTube content. It was a great idea that they had so we just kept doing it throughout this entire time. I especially liked it when we started meeting all together and doing them in person, because it's really fun to be talking about, all four together. It’s usually Jordan or myself that edits a lot of these YouTube videos. So it's more fun when we're all together because, editing wise, we all kind of say the same exact thing in every video because we don't discuss who's gonna say it. So I'm like, ‘Alright, I gotta cut this out.’ And then one person's only in it for like, a minute. So I think the highlight is definitely us just vibing about the music and when we're all in the same room and just talk about it

Hendricks: Yeah that’s for sure, we banter when we're all together talking about a song. Then we’ll start riffing on each other. And it's just a great environment where we can talk about our songs pretty openly and explain them to our fans and the people watching:

Mullaney: I'm pretty forgetful about the past recording session so it's nice to have an archive. I definitely go back and watch us.

Let's talk about your new single Antlers! What's it about? What's the inspiration behind it?

Stevens: So “Antlers” was written last year, last fall of 2021. We'd never played a gig at a wedding before. This is so far the first and only– we may accept them in the future. I don't know. I need to keep that open ended. Basically what happened was while driving back from that wedding a deer just ran across the road out of nowhere right in front of my car. I was in a Zip Car because I live in a city so I don't own one and I hit the brakes so fast and I swear I was really close. I definitely could’ve hit it. I had all the gear in the back and the gear went flying forward and luckily nothing went out the window or anything but it shook me up. For sure it was just a nerve wracking moment. Then literally on the drive home just to get my mind off it I was just saying “I don't want to see antlers.” And then the first verse came. Literally the first verse and the entire part before the chorus came to me on the ride home. That's the fifth single leading up to the album, all the other things that we've released in 2022 will be on the album as well. This song is just really cool. It tells a story, I think more than any song that we've done before, it's very much a storytelling song. Also it features the most experimentation that we've done so far. There's other stuff on the album that will be really cool that are very similar to that. So while the first few singles have been straightforward rock, this kind of presents that other side to the record, which is really cool too.

Mullaney: I think we presented this song to Jay and Kyle, our producers, as just Pete’s vocals and a piano. isn't that right? We gave it to them really bear because we didn't want to overdo it. I think that was just a good decision on our part to not make this into like every other song we've done in the past. It had a really good melody, and we wanted to preserve that.

Hendricks: It's a different change of pace, especially from our last four singles and slow it down. Also it was more experimental, we were doing a lot of synthesizer, keyboards and stuff like that. We did some of the lay ins on slide guitar, and then more instrumental parts. It's a total shift and it's going to lead pretty well into our next single and then the full album.

Do you guys have a release date or a title yet?

Stevens: We have the title, the release date is in the works right now. But the title is “TCCB's Maryland House.” Maryland House is a rest stop in Maryland that we hit every single time that we take a drive up to New York or Boston or anytime we do a gig on the East Coast that we go north. We just like that place.

Hendricks: It's like usually it's usually the first rest stop that we're hitting when we're leaving or the last one before we get home. So it has the meaning of the beginning of a trip or the end of a trip. So it just has a lot of sentimental value.

Stevens: All have like our other albums have been song names. And this is the first one that isnt. The concept of that space just fits the vibe of all the songs that we’re releasing so we might as well just name it that rather than any of our song titles.

Mullaney: I mean a lot of what we do is traveling on the road on weekends with our jobs. So unfortunately a rest stop is something that means a lot to us.

Hendricks: Unfortunately? That's fortunate. That's the dream!

What’s been a standout memory at Maryland House?

Stevens: There's one day that Joey kind of lost his mind there. He would not stop laughing, he was laughing hysterically for 15 minutes straight or so. Everything that happened in made him giggly. Jordan went to Dunkin Donuts and ordered a bagel. And at the kiosk, Jordan had a big argument about it. Like, “No, this is 100% gonna have cream cheese on it. Why would it not have cream cheese on it?” And then Jordan got a bagel, and it was super dry, no cream cheese at all. And Joey was just losing it over that. And then there was like, all these other things that simultaneously

Mullaney: Yeah, there was a 10 minute span, where just a lot happened. Like a woman spilled coffee on herself. And like Joey thought it was like the funniest thing ever.

Stevens: Like right after the bagel.

Hendricks: I also deleted my order. And then I made the band wait for like, half an hour to, get the order. And then they were like, “Oh that’s not in your order” and there were so many people in front of me so I was like “Where's this last part of my order? Or where's my drink?”

Mullaney: Pete was also approached by a little kid and asked if he was Clark Kent

Hendricks: It was Peter Parker

Stevens: I totally forgot about that. That was actually really cute.

Mullaney: A man also sneezed right on top of us.

Stevens: And that was all within like 10 minutes.

Mulleaney: Joey was hysterical

Hendricks: He was just the observer to all these shenanigans that happened to us. All these misfortunes. Like he had his food and he was just watching the rest of us. So he got a meal on a show.

Circling back to “Antlers” can you share your favorite lyric?

Stevens: I like “Officer I’m sober driving 20 over like a try hard//To be cool from a far.” That's my favorite one. I did not actually get pulled over but that was a fictional thing that went into the song.

Mullaney: I like the one that mentioned the wedding because that's how I remember the song. “Came from a wedding the band that was playing October// Window down temperature”

Hendricks: I think mine would be either “I don’t want to see antlers//to find out much I need her” because it just repeats and it's very honestly really cool. And then like right after the end of the chorus “I wish I could tell you it once more” I just love the feel of that. Pete did a good job

What is a track each of you are really excited about?

Stevens: I really like the last two songs on the album. One of them is really personal for me. I haven't really written about this. But my dad passed away when I was six like really, when I was really young. So I'm always a little nervous about heart issues in my family so it touches on that. But like the whole message of the song is that you can't worry about it because you never know what's really gonna happen in life. It's called quarter life and we're all 25 now so it's very, very fitting for that. And then the one right after it, I wrote for Joey, it’s called “Getting Closer.” It has a really good sing along moment with all four members and it kind of feels as if it could be a drunken bar song in the old days. It's a really cool way to end the album so I'm really excited for that one.

Mullaney: I think the one I'm most excited for is the opener of the album. I just think it's like a great, huge opener to an album. We really came close to considering it as a single but I think it's going to be a big surprise when we're going to hear the first few notes of the album.

Hendricks: I would definitely also say the first song has some “The Killers” vibes and it touches on DC life and whatnot. And it has some really huge moments in it. It really hooked us in when they hear that first song and people will be like, ‘I have to listen to the next song to see what's happening next.’ I'm really excited for the song I'm singing. That should be our next single coming out. I had it in the works for years now just trying to figure it out. And then I finally put some more pieces together and I showed it to the band. We were about to rehearse it for the first time and then Pete turned the mic to me and I was like ‘I didn't know it was supposed to sing this.” So then I just wrote more and then I just really put my heart into it. It's also about DC life, how everything closes really early. New York is the city that never sleeps but DC is asleep. It’s called “City That Sleeps” . I'm really excited to see how that goes and it's like a really fun thing to play live just because at the end of the song I'm just holding down the rhythm and they're just doing improv and it's a really cool little live moment. I really enjoyed seeing them really just go off like having a good time with the song that I created over the last 3 years.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Stevens: The album is probably coming out in February, we just haven't figured out the exact day yet. I'm pretty sure we know which one it is but I'm just not gonna say it just in case anything happens.

Hendricks: Can I say the zodiac sign?

Everyone *nods*

Hendricks: I'm pretty sure it's gonna be an Aquarius

Stevens: Does Aquarius fit the themes of the album? Like I don't know anything about astrology?

Hendricks: I don't know. But it's gonna be an Aquarius baby for sure.

Words by Minna