Photo Credit: CraSH Photo
Black Crystal Wolf Kids. The name alone will grab any pop-rock music lovers attention and you bet your ass it was designed that way. This badass band is original in the concept behind the band, but not so much in its content considering they are an indie-rock tribute band. Holy hell are they good at what they do, and they will get any uppity hipster singing along or shimmying ever so slightly (or full out shakin’ that ass) to their covers. Which is precisely why they are joining the ranks of the Badass Bands family.
I first saw BCWK on a night I was sponsoring last year of Free Energy’s residency at The Echo. I’d heard their name around quite a bit and could not wait to see them. At this point though, no one had clued me in to the fact that they were a tribute band. So when they took the stage and I recognized “Pumped Up Kicks”, followed by another familiar song (I don’t remember what now) I quickly realized they were just playing covers. And you know what? They were such energetic, engaging, amazing players, that it did not matter. I watched them win over every person in The Echo and quickly.
Basically, if you want to see the best tribute band in LA, and have a hell of a good time, you need to get out and see Black Crystal Wolf kids.
Recently I chatted with BCWK originator, Jeff Miller, so read below to find out about the conception of the idea in the midst of hipster heaven, what’s with the name, and how they go about picking the songs they cover/bills they play on.
When and why was Black Crystal Wolf Kids formed?
Sort of ironically, it was born at The Satellite where we are standing right now. about seven or eight years ago I was here every Monday, all the bands I loved were playing and though I was always here, I felt like kind of an outcast in the scene. You know, I’m a big dude, I don’t wear skinny jeans and I get really excited when I see bands I like. I am up front singing along. I hate pretentiousness, but I do like a lot of pretentious bands. So, I had this idea, because I thought, “Why aren’t there bands playing these great indie rock songs, and songs from the past as well, and just having fun with them? Everyone is just standing here with their arms crossed.” Actually, a big inspiration were the Henry Clay People. I would see them do these cover sets on New Years Eve every year, like an hour and a half of covers. Then, all the sudden all these fans that were generally more passive would get really into it. I was playing in an originals band called City Museum, and the band was reaching its end naturally. Our bassist/front man was moving with his girlfriend, now wife, to North Carolina. I had the name Black Crystal Wolf Kids already, and I had a song list in mind. I just didn’t have time to put it together. Our last show was a Saturday and our first practice as Black Crystal Wolf Kids was literally the next day. I knew exactly what I was doing.
How did everyone come to be in the band?
The original lineup of the band, three of us were from City Museum, which was everyone except the other guy who moved away. Our keyboard player, Valerie Taylor, was a girl we had jammed with a bunch. I take back what I said earlier, the last show we played with this band called The Sexies, and their bassist was Marc Gasway, who I just started getting to know. He asked what I was going to do now that City Museum was gone. I said, “Funny you should ask that, I need a bassist for this project that I am putting together. “ He was into it and now he is one of my best friends and a core member of the band. That was the original lineup. Our guitarist Bernard, who was also in City Museum, moved to San Francisco to get married about two years ago, so we called the guy who he replaced in City Museum to come in. It’s incestuous, like every band.
Tell me about the name.
The band formed almost five years ago, so if you’re looking at trends in indie rock names, it was like every single indie rock band name at once. The Black Keys, Black Lips, Crystal Antlers, Wolf Mother, Wolf Parade, Cold War Kids, etc. So, I was like what is the most indie rock band name that we could do? The original idea was that we would change our name as trends changed, but then we started having people come to shows, printing merch, having a website, all of these things that bands have to do. So that plan didn’t work. I think at this point we would be White Mountain Goat Parade with no vowels and no caps.
When it comes to your sets, how do you pick what you’re covering? Is it a collaborative thing?
I am definitely the in charge guy. I am most invested in the music and the scene so I keep up on trends. But, as the band has been playing more and more, other people in the band have gotten more involved in the song selection. If there is a song that is going to break, and its April, the goal is to be playing it by the end of April so when it breaks in May people are like, “Holy fuck, I heard this song for the first time last week! I liked it and now this band is playing it!” We have had a couple misses with that. There have been a couple we learned that didn’t go that way. The one that always stands out to me is, I work as a music journalist too, and I was going to SXSW to write, and Foster the People was the band to see. Obviously, they played “Pumped Up Kicks” and I sent everyone text messages from the show saying, “We are gonna learn this song, its going to be the biggest song of the summer.” By the time I was back in town, everyone learned it and I would say we were about a month before critical mass on it. The first couple times we played it, people were like, “Oh this song sounds familiar.” Then by the fourth show, people were like, “Holy shit!” That’s the goal, but it doesn’t always happen. We also go back into the older indie rock catalog. Initially, the idea was a little less of like the hit songs and more of a combo to expose people to classic indie rock stuff like The Pixies, Sonic Youth and Superchunk. What we realized is every time we played a Pixies song, everyone went to the bathroom, and also initially I was like we will be the ironic band at Spaceland and play like third or second of four bands and the hipsters would love us. Instead, everyone turned their nose up, but then we went and played Santa Monica at a frat bar and people are go nuts and are tearing their hair out.
Being in a cover band is definitely different from being in an originals band. You are there for the audience. You are there to throw a party. Everybody doesn’t know “Cut Your Hair” and you’re not gonna convince them it’s the best song of the night, but play “Say It Ain’t So” and they are gonna go nuts. Sometimes calling it indie is a stretch, but it’s like the mainstream-y “indie rock”.
You play with a lot of originals bands, how do you go about picking the bills you are on?
I didn’t want us to be just another cover band. From the very beginning, we put ourselves on bills with originals bands that are high energy and threw a party. Credibility is maybe overrated word if you’re in a cover band, but we are always a little more than every other cover band you go to see. We’ve played shows with bands that have gotten it, and had some of those bands sit in with us. Then there are bands that are like, “Eh, I don’t know,” but then they see us and they get it. So there has been a push to book more traditional cover band type shows and then also do traditional shows with bands we really like.
What is one thing you would change about the music industry if you could?
That is an interesting question because I’ve been writing about music for a long time and I know people who work in the industry as well. Bands are underpaid consistently; we are really lucky that you get paid a lot more as a cover band than an originals band. Some people think its bullshit, and I don’t necessarily think its not bullshit. I played in originals bands for 12 years and we sometimes make more in one show than I made in 12 years. Literally. We all have day jobs and this is not our main gig. Its takes a long time, especially in LA, it takes a really long time to make a living making music. I get it from the perspective of the clubs, I understand that their rent is crazy high, staff is expensive, there are a ton of good bands and a club owner needs to make money. I wish there was some way to get more people to come to enough shows that bands could at least be walking out with a couple hundred bucks at the end of a night. I’ve played hundreds of shows in LA where either we walked out with nothing or we had to pay for some aspect of the evening. There is no right answer, everyone needs to make a buck, but there has to be a way for everyone to work as a team.
One song you never get tried of listening to?
Right now, I would say “Uptown Funk”. It is the greatest song.
Best live show you’ve ever gone to?
When I was 16 I went to Tibetan Freedom concert in San Francisco. Firsts are always the best. The situation was it was the first long distance road trip I ever went on, I was with my friend and his girlfriend. The lineup if you look it up was insane. Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and the set to me that was amazing was Rage Against the Machine. Their sound went out in the middle of “Killing in the Name” and the audience just sang it. It was totally chilling. I was 16, sweaty, and in the pit like, “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.” It was one of those moments where you realize you want to do this all the time. Nothing has ever hit that peak, but I’ll go until I’m 80.
Favorite things to do not musically related?
Thankfully my job, I am the editor of Thrillist in LA, means that I get to eat amazing food all the time. I get to go to fancy restaurants and eat great food. I’ve also been golfing which is weird. Six months ago if you had asked me this question, that would not have been my answer. All the sudden, I’m someone who loves golfing.
If you could be a fictional character who would you be?
Russell Hammond from Almost Famous. Or maybe Luke Skywalker, or even maybe The Dude but I think my life generally already mirrors that character a little too well.
If you ran Badass Bands Blog, who would you feature?
I throw a mini fest called Citystock in my parent’s backyard every year and try to find the best smaller bands to play. So, last year PLaNETS headlined, everything that band does super impresses me. They are also super great people. Also, Open Mike Eagle who has played Citystock before. He is the indie rapper in LA who crazily has not crossed into the rock world. His album from last year is one of the best of the year. I used to play with a now defunct band called Burly Temple and their incestuous circles include Blackwater Jukebox, Del Champion, and Blue Bird Bandits –all great guys, and all great bands.
FIND BCWK HERE: