Video premiere: Crystal City, ‘Three-Dimensionality’

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Crystal City Vinyl Release Party w/ Cedar County Cobras

The Mill — Saturday, May 18 at 9 p.m.

Crystal City — Shadow Fox Photography

Crystal City is hitting its decade mark as a band this year, and it shows.

Sam Drella and Dave Helmer have a tight sound together that could only come from an instinct for each other born in synchronicity, honed through familiarity and sparked to life by a mutual joy in experimentation.

The Iowa City duo bill the band they front as “heartland rock and roll,” but when you’re comfortable making music together, labels are irrelevant at best. On their third full-length album, Three-Dimensionality, out tomorrow (available for presale now), they eschew the roots rock of their roots for something more fluid. As Michael Roeder writes in his review in the current issue of Little Village, “The high points involve the new sonic directions the band is trying out.” He points out that the pair “have taken steps to bring their music to a new place that’s more complex, musically and lyrically.”

This is evident off the bat in the album’s dreamy title track. Embodying Roeder’s take on the meaning of the album’s title — “time to move from being obvious and two-dimensional to working towards a three-dimensionality” — the song is delightful and complex. It features Drella and Helmer’s close vocals. The pair are both natural crooners, and singing together as they do here, with close harmonies but no rhythmic variations, all but erases the space between them.

“We are just so excited to share this video with everyone as a visual representation of the way we feel about these songs,” Helmer noted in our email conversation (continued below).

The video for “Three-Dimensionality” premieres here.

“Three-Dimensionality” is the album’s title track; what’s your take on the philosophy behind that title?

We’ve always had a multi-dimension to our band; we regularly play as an acoustic duo or as a full rock band. This album is the first time that Dave hasn’t had any songs from his early 20s hanging around. The first two albums felt like we were playing catch up trying to release a myriad of songs that Dave had amassed that we felt were strong songs. Three-Dimensionality as an album is a right turn from the other two albums we’ve put out. The first two album were heavily rock influenced, mixed with a few rock ballads. This new record has rock, country, jazz — and it feels like it has more dimension to it overall.

The title track, “Three-Dimensionality,” we have to come to realize is a song about leaving our hometown and moving somewhere that we believe offers more opportunity. Maybe not realizing how hard attaining our dreams may be and the disbelief that we (or anybody) aren’t going to have to work very, very hard — we’ve always heard the phrase “if you love what you do, you won’t have to work a day in your life,” which doesn’t reflect the day-to-day reality of working toward a goal, because it is hard work. It’s really just about how hard both Sam and I have been working the past few years to make records and play shows.

How do you feel this track and this album fall into your trajectory as a band, from your earlier records?

Everything was written and recorded from start to finish in about 18 months. Five songs on the album Dave played the guitars and bass parts, minus a mandolin part and a guitar part. The recording of those tunes were the final part of writing the songs; they were just rough ideas when we tracked the drums (June of 2017). The other seven tunes we recorded at Flat Black Studios about 10 months later. That process was much different. Dave sent out demos to everyone playing, and we did two quick rehearsals leading up to the session. We just tracked the tunes live, all playing in a room together (May 2018). Very different situations or dimensions, we suppose.

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Previously, we had a dedicated band of players who didn’t change from song to song or show to show, and now we have a more fluid identity. Dave decided that the song should dictate the players, and he decided to augment our live band and add in players that we are close friends with who we knew would add their own touch to the songs to help flesh them out and make them come to life better.

It was also an experiment in giving up control, having these incredible musicians play my songs. I decided before even asking any of them that I would not be nit-picky at all and just accept what they were offering, and that the sound would take care of itself. This helped give another dimension to the sound of the record, giving it an organic sound. We tried not to labor over it too much — we trust our friends’ musical abilities, and we wanted to capture what we really sound like all playing together.

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