If you could pick one song to represent your state, what would it be?
Lifelong Las Vegas resident and electronic superstar Scott Kirkland recently had that honor. His band The Crystal Method was chosen to perform on NBC's latest musical competition show American Song Contest, wherein one musical act represents all 50 U.S. states, five territories, and Washington, D.C. for the chance to win the distinction of the Best Original Song.
Last week, Kirkland was joined by an impressive lineup of rockers to bring his song “Watch Me Now” to life, the latest single from his seventh studio album The Trip Out, which was just released on Ultra Records.
We caught up with Kirkland to hear what it was like to bring his gritty electronic sound to the mainstream television stage; what inspired his energetic, eight-track album; and how in the world he’s ever gonna top that high-octane performance should The Crystal Method make it to American Song Content round two.
Congrats on your electrifying performance on mainstream television.
Yeah, who would have thunk it? That was a pretty unique opportunity for the band and for the song. It was really about the song. I really wanted to make sure people heard it in all its glory. Actually, it’s a different version than what everybody else would hear on the album, because we had these different musicians up there, so it was really cool.
Did it mean anything special to represent your state on a platform that large?
Adding another strange chapter to the career. It was cool, because the show spent so much time, effort and resources making each artist unique and their performances stand out. The team of creators and collaborators over there, they never messed with the song, but from Cory who was doing the visuals to Miranda who was doing all the set design, programming and cryo in there, having all these different elements, it was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Why not take it, make it really cool and represent the state in the way that you'd hope to one day be able to do?
It was totally bonafide rock star stuff up there.
I had bonafide rock stars up there with me. In the past when [former member] Ken [Jordan] and I would perform live, it would be with just the two of us. We've added singers and different musicians from time to time, but to really have the track presented with that quality of talented musicians? We had Danny Lohner from Nine Inch Nails and many other acts. Joe Letz is a supremely cool and confident rock drummer. Of course the collaborators Vaaal and Koda, and the coolest [bassist] Hannah van der Molen. It was just a great collection of not only super talented people, but all of them really cool and really kind.
The idea of us all in Rat Pack suits was something we thought of immediately when we thought of Vegas. When we were not in our suits, we were just a ragtag team of individuals, but when you put us in the suit, we all came together. It was a really spectacular event. On Monday, they'll announce the next round of winners, and then we'll see what happens from there.
That is a really stellar lineup. The Crystal Method has always had such a tie to the rock world. You've worked with so many incredible rock artists. I mean, Iggy Pop is on this album that's coming out tomorrow, but I'm personally a really big fan of the Filter collab from the Spawn soundtrack.
We were fans of Filter and loved the album Short Bus, and we had the same management. The opportunity to do a collaboration with them and for a pretty prominent soundtrack was way ahead of its time. It's truly a phenomenal album. Again, that was one of the many things that did bridge that gap.
We've always been huge fans of rock, alternative and metal. Having all that come together in a really natural way to show the similarities and the distinctions between those two worlds, that's always been something that we strive to do, whether it was using other musicians like Tom Morello or Filter or Scott Weiland; or just bringing those elements like big drums and all that stuff together.
Is that why you chose "Watch Me Now" for this performance? Because it had that kind of crossover capability?
Absolutely. When Koda and Vaaal and I wrote the track, it came together pretty quickly ... in a really cool session that we had in late 2020. Just going through all the different things that we all went through with COVID and the lockdowns, the separation and all that, we were putting a lot of that anxiety, angst and frustration into the track and thinking about the other side of it; how it would be great to have this song that was ready to go, and here we are.
As soon as they came calling, we immediately said “this is the track that we would do. If you're into the track, we can move forward with the idea.” They were of course really into it. They didn't have another song that was anything like this. To be able to go up there and make that performance significant, and then have it represent my hometown and home state of Nevada, it was really cool.
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Let's talk about the album, The Trip Out. I love how there are a few different vibes throughout it, styles and moods. It was written a lot during quarantine, and so it became an experiment in mental escape for you?
Initially, my goal was to release A Trip Out in 2020, with The Trip Home being the 2018 release and having this sort of a companion idea, not only in the title but the theme—and then who knew in 2018 that everybody was going to be going home?
I like to have this continuity of a sound and vibe, because I'm one of these guys that has a lot of love and appreciation for the album format. There was a track with Danny and Hannah called “Hesitation” that just didn't make the cut, mainly because it's a song that really needs to shine on its own. There was a lot of effort put into The Trip Out. Each song does have a slightly different feel, but it was meant to be a sense of propulsion and movement, a feeling like fighting your way out of something. That was the overall theme. A lot of aggressive, big, dynamic beats and sounds and different things. It's just a big sounding album.
There’s a video for “Watch Me Now” that came out along with the album, and you’re releasing part of it as an NFT too, right?
The whole thing is going to be an NFT, and then there'll be different slivers from it. I, like so many others, have really come to understand this concept over a pretty short period of time. It's such a game changer when it comes to the way people buy and sell art. The thing that I've been able to really grasp onto is the idea of a baseball card or a poster. On the surface, a baseball card doesn't necessarily have any value, right? It's a piece of paper with ink on it ... but somebody said this one thing is worth something because people appreciate it and understand it.
I think that Micah Monkey. did such an incredible job making a wonderful piece of art, bringing the elements of Vegas, tying in Area 51, and doing it in a way that's really fun and brilliantly executed color-wise and theme-wise. It's just a really fun, cool, beautifully-animated video, and I'm really happy it's going to come out and just be another part of this release.
Vegas does feature prominently in the video. Your debut album from 1997 is called Vegas. You represent your city all day, but is there a way Vegas and Nevada influence and inspire the art and music that you've created over the years?
I would think it would have to. Vegas was a small town when I was growing up here, and when a band did come to town, it was a big deal. Judas Priest or Motley Crue or any number of bands that I was massively a fan of when I was younger. Those visits were special. The Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts, which is now the Zappos Theater, was right down there on the Strip. It felt like you were going out in Vegas when you went to these, like the Thomas & Mack Center. Now, of course, there are so many venues within the confines of these resorts, whether they're showrooms or clubs.
The idea for calling our first album Vegas, it went towards this darker, more traditional side of Vegas; the neon or the late nights, of course the beauty that’s encompassing all of it. Vegas for us, when we were growing up, had this more adult, seedy, sort of dark gaming, gambling, old school mob style. That was always a fun way to look at it. The art director for Vegas was Eli Bonerz. He did some Beastie Boys covers and ran X-Large Streetwear, the clothing company that was out of Los Angeles. He's just a really cool dude and understands that world. You hope to find people that are excited and as into a project as you are.
That's how it's been for this album cycle. I found Nate Hill who's an incredible artist out of Australia. I found him on Instagram. Nate could not have been more cool. He did the first piece of artwork for "Housebroken" and it was like, "I just want you to be the art director for this album."
Well, I hope you celebrate when the whole album comes to life, and I hope you have more reason to celebrate on Monday. What happens Monday if you continue on through the next round?
They will bring back all of the acts that didn't go through immediately, because only one artist goes through immediately, and that's the top vote getter within the jury. We're sitting at number three, and four artists will ultimately go through to the next round. It's down to the home-viewer vote, so it's out of my hands at this point. If I could have imagined going through to the second round? I mean, I would imagine that the production we had on the first round would have been the ultimate. Who knows what we're gonna do if we go for the second one, but we'll worry about that if that problem comes about.
There's already been a lot of love and appreciation for the performance. In today's world, you put something out there, it's going to be out there forever, so if you can have something out there forever, this is a pretty cool visual-audio experience. I think it matches the intensity of the track. When you get a bunch of really cool artists having a good time onstage with tons of cryo and lasers, it's ridiculous. It's such a cool moment, and we'll see what happens on Monday.
Listen to The Crystal Method's The Trip Out now on Spotify, Apple Music or other digital streaming services, and tune into American Song Contest on NBC at 8 p.m.
Photography by: Sam Hodges