John Belushi was punk rock. Onstage in Chicago or on TV in New York, the doomed but talented comic binged, bellowed and blustered his way into the hearts of an America that recognized the danger of embracing such dangerous habits, but embraced them anyway. His middle finger to respectable behavior vibed well with musician Johnny Costello, who, many years after Belushi’s death, moved to Chicago to kick-start a career in stand-up.
Costello’s comedy career died on the vine, but his love for entertaining people did not. When he returned to Dallas and moved in with an old friend, he lucked out: That friend had a recording studio and some enviable rock 'n' roll connections. Costello started looking for musicians who were, like him, looking to make the kind of music they loved as kids. They weren’t hard to find.
Costello’s band’s routine is pretty simple. Crystal Rippers, a quartet of punk rockers and music veterans of various stripes, grab a case of beer and their instruments and head to drummer Noah Eichler’s home studio. Once there, they riff, either on a song they have already written, or new material they make up on the spot. No matter the track, each member of the band — Eichler, Costello, guitarist David Ponder and bassist Sam Owens — takes pride in their aggression; they push the tempo and each other to go faster, faster, faster.
Owens has the best analogy for it: “The Rippers are an engine, and we’re just four pistons in it. As one fires, we force one another to fire faster and faster. There’s no steering wheel; it’s just an engine.”
The band approaches these sessions and their recordings like a live show.
“We like to record everything at once, just like we’d play it onstage,” Owens says. “We’re all bouncing around, improvising, soloing when we want to solo. If it feels like a show, we’ve done our job.”
That frenetic fervor is a throwback to the bands the members of Crystal Rippers loved when they were growing up, groups like Autolux, Spoon and Queens of the Stone Age.
“Crystal Rippers is like a band you dream about when you’re in middle school and wanted to play guitar,” Owens says. “But then you try it, and it sounds like crap. This is that same dream. The difference is now that we’re older, we can actually do it.”
Crystal Rippers was formed in late 2018. Costello had tried stand-up; another member worked as a booker and manager. They all had Dallas roots but were expats who had returned to Texas after stints elsewhere. All members were united by a love for rock music and energetic performances.
“I’ve been in all kinds of bands, and we’ve all played in other bands together,” Ponder says. “So we all wanted something different. We started talking and jamming together, and realized we all wanted to harness a crazy energy — high energy songs and high energy performances.”
It helped to have semi-famous friends in high places. Popular local bands like The Texas Gentlemen and Medicine Man Revival also played an instrumental role in Crystal Rippers’ formation. Frontman Costello shared a house with Medicine Man co-creator Jason Burt, a producer who has made a name for himself as a local musician and a collaborator with the likes of Leon Bridges and John Mayer. Burt opened up the doors of Modern Electric to the Rippers, who brought their beer-drinking, hard-charging routine to the same studio as the Gentlemen and Frankie Leonie.
Burt was happy to help out his roommate, who gives him something he been had looking for but had yet to find.
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“It’s fun, but it makes me want to punch somebody,” Burt says of the band. “I think that’s what I’m looking for in a punk band. They play loud and fast, which is nothing new, but I think Johnny’s lyrics and cadences are what draw me in.”
The band’s first single, “Girls Like You,” does indeed sound like the perfect face-punching song. It is easy to see it being played in a dive bar where haymakers are thrown and bottles smashed, just as it is easy to see it being the product of four early 2000s-obsessed fans and a six pack or two.
Burt has a lofty and colorful way to describe that kind of sound.
“They are like if FIDLAR and the Ramones had a baby that was raised by Black Sabbath’s ex-wife,” he says. “It’s fucked up, I know, but how else can we contrive such an evil yet energetically playful sound?”