Crystal Castles talks about their new album, the oppression of women in the world and burkas

Alice Glass and Ethan Kath on their new album's themes of oppression, and why their beyond-dire outlook is based on much more than a goth-tinted hallucination.
By Ryan Dombal, November 8, 2012

Photos by Erez Avissar

When most think of Crystal Castles, they think of the Canadian duo's riotous, strobe-strewn live shows, or frontwoman Alice Glass' manic yelps, or producer Ethan Kath's paranoid synth static. They don't think of the words coming out of Glass' mouth-- probably because nearly all of them are distorted beyond recognition. But they're there. And they're important to Crystal Castles.

On new album (III)-- which you can listen to in full below, via Spotify-- Glass' lyrics attack various forms of oppression: religious, societal, governmental.
Her overall outlook, as you might guess from her dying-animal delivery, is quite bleak. On "Insulin", between claustrophobic bass hits, she cries: "Your first born will be accosted/ Fill their lungs with tar and sage/ Make the stem cells act their age." Her message is unrelenting as it depicts a dystopia filled with disease, hypocrisy, and bride burnings-- it makes The Matrix look like "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood". And, as Glass explained to us over email, her words are even scarier because they're all based on real-life injustices happening right now around the world.

Pitchfork: In your opinion, what are some of the worst forms of oppression in today's society? How can we positively combat them?

Alice Glass: The worst involve exploitation of children, preying on vulnerability, denying others the right to live safely, and denying people of their right to education. Two-thirds of the world's illiterate are women. Sixty-six percent of countries have no laws to protect women from domestic abuse, and battery is the largest cause of injury to women in America. Native American women are two-and-a-half times more likely to be victimized, but no one from the House Republicans voted in favor of the Violence Against Women Act that would have protected undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and LGBT women.

African women are responsible for 75% of agricultural work and never see fair pay. In America, women still average 77 cents to every man's dollar. An average American woman will get ripped off $431,360 in her career for not being a man. Two thirds of lobotomies are done on women. Older white men dictate women's right of choice-- there were 604 abortion and reproductive provisions at state level as of June 1. Fifty-four percent of rapes will remain unreported to the police, and 97% of rapists will serve no jail time. There are over 12.3 million victims of human trafficking for sex slavery, and less then 1% have been identified. The average age for trafficking minors in America is 12-14.

Addressing the issues is the first step. There needs to be more awarenes

Pitchfork: Considering the album's cover photo-- which shows a Yemeni woman consoling her son, who was exposed to tear gas-- as well as a song like "Sad Eyes"-- which seems to be about the effects of Muslim burkas upon those who wear them-- do you feel like people should respect burkas as a religious tradition or are they always an oppressive tool?

AG: Burkas represent different things to different people. Some see regression, some see liberation.

Pitchfork: Did you grow up with religion at all? What's your overall relationship with religion now?

AG: I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school until junior high. I don't believe in transmigration or anything like that. I have resentment for being forced to believe in something. I will always think of the church as an institution and not a comfort.

Pitchfork: There are many lyrics on the album that deal with the idea of a "first born" and infants. Considering your dark view of the future, would you consider having kids? Should anyone have kids?

AG: No one should say whether others should breed or not, that would go against how I feel a woman has the right to choose. Everyone has the right to feel regret.

Pitchfork: The idea of "purity" shows up a lot as well-- do you think that is an unrealistic ideal, or something that can be achieved if it were not for forces aimed at sullying such purity? What is pure to you?

AG: Purity is an illusion. The idea of purity has been used as an excuse for calamities like honor killings, bride burnings, child molestation. Purification is genocide.

Pitchfork: After the Robert Smith version of II's "Not in Love", some people assumed you may record vocals for this album in a more traditional manner. That is not the case. Did you consider doing that at all? Why or why not?

EK: Robert Smith's vocals on that track are actually home demo vocals. We cancelled the studio time booked to record final vocals because we were all attached to his raw demo vocals. I went with this idea of first-take vocals on the [III] tracks "Pale Flesh" and "Insulin".

Pitchfork: Where do you think the world will be in 50 years time?

AG: When I genetically engineer my child from a test tube, I want them to have big eyes.


I pretty much bolded everything. This is a great interview whether you like the band or not. What are your favorite songs from (III).