There is something strangely familiar about the Bomb Shelter. While it has all the regular trappings of a high-end Los Angeles recording studio, first-time visitors to the room the Crystal Method have used to create their music over the past decade are more likely to think they’ve just wandered into a NASA mission control center. Several computer monitors blink silently, thick wires run out of keyboards and into mysterious dark corners. There is an arsenal of hard drives obscuring the pictures on the walls and at the center of it all a pair of imposing office chairs.
Located in a two-car garage in a small house in the suburban neighborhood of Glendale, the studio takes it name from an actual bomb shelter that was installed in the front yard during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nearly ten years ago Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland moved into the house and converted the space into their own private recording studio using just a few hundred dollars. Now the only element that looks out of place in this ill-lit, decidedly technical environment is the band itself.
Dressed down in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers, the duo is filling out a semi-circle with John Garcia, one-time frontman for California desert rockers Kyuss, who has come by to add vocals to a track for the Crystal Method’s third album, Legion of Boom. The song is called “Born Too Slow,” and at the moment it is stubbornly living up to its title.
Former Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland was here earlier laying down the powerful, textured riffs. Jordan and Kirkland have already knocked out the bass and rhythm parts. Now it is up to Garcia to deliver a vocal that matches the song’s exuberant fury, except he’s not really feeling it. Being that this is the first time he has met the duo, it’s necessary to break the ice before work begins. As the studio fridge only has a few cans of beer to offer, someone is sent out to retrieve backup in the form of two additional twelve-packs. Then a bottle of Jack Daniel’s mysteriously appears.
Each take sounds better than the last. The longer it goes on, the more Garcia gets into the spirit of the track. “Let me just try it a different way,” he announces, before belting out the song from the very bottom of his gut. He takes heavy breaths between the verses, panting for air. Having imbibed with their guest, Jordan and Kirkland are just managing to stay vertical at this point. But as the end of the day approaches, they know the song has turned into something truly incredible.
Their work method may be a little odd, but the Crystal Method have their reasons. Since Jordan and Kirkland left their native Las Vegas and started releasing indie 12″ singles in the mid nineties, their bass fortified, hard rolling concoctions have marked them out as leaders of the American dance music scene. Vegas, their 1997 major label debut melded pounding beats with hard rock dynamics, but the most distinctive sound it made was that of ground being broken.
The group’s influences ranged from AC/DC and Led Zeppelin to Stevie Wonder and New Order – and you could tell. Blistering early singles like “Busy Child” and “Keep Hope Alive” arrived perfectly formed, yet sounded like they were from another planet.
Having spent years on the road – playing just about every club and festival, licensing their music out to everything from video games to major blockbusters – the Crystal Method returned to record store shelves in 2001 with Tweekend, which saw the duo collaborating with heavyweights like Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello and Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. Once again, new terrain was being explored, as the fences between rock, techno and soul were breathtakingly torn down.
In no time, the Crystal Method sold a million-and-a-half albums and became America’s number one electronic band.
Instead of rushing back to the studio, however, the group prepared for Legion of Boom by getting back to its roots. Jordan and Kirkland returned to the clubs for a series of DJ dates, put together their first mix album, Community Service, and tried out some of their ideas on live audiences at every opportunity. By the time the basic tracks were laid down for the album in January 2003, the music once again sounded exactly like the Crystal Method and no one else. Jordan and Kirkland went into the recording sessions with just three essential requirements for each track: A great beat, a great bassline and a great hook.
They worked every day from around noon to late night, bringing in another eclectic list of collaborators and producing more memorable sessions. Roots rapper Rahzel spent the day at the Bomb Shelter composing the lyrics for “American Way,” soaking up the TCM vibe before laying down his unique tracks.
After recording the vocals for “Bound Too Long,” San Francisco poet/recording artist Hanifah (formally known as Shä-key) free-styled the captivating poetry of “Wide Open” off the top of her head when she was told the subject matter of the song was “totally wide open.” Lisa Kekaula of the Bell Rays came by to add her ravishing, soulful vocals to “High and Low” and “Realizer,” the latter pairing her with multi instrumentalist studio maverick Jon Brion on guitar.
The electricity is in the grooves. Legion of Boom is spontaneous, defiant, intense, loud and occasionally insane: It’s exactly what people have come to expect from the Crystal Method.