“Twenty-something Socialist,” a single by the Crystal Casino Band that dropped earlier this year, starts with a bright guitar hook. Then the rest of the band comes in, and the song starts to sound like it could fit right into a 2010s Tumblr playlist that also features Two Door Cinema Club and Grouplove. But when Pete Stevens begins to sing, it sounds like he has something a bit heavier on his mind than what you may expect from a sunshine-soaked indie-rock track.
“I think this life’s much more/ Than leading families still built for the nuclear war,” Stevens declares, a hint of anger in his voice. “If you don’t want to conform/ Go quit your nine-to-five if you’re self-aware of your self-worth.” The song’s musical flourishes hearken back to a genre of music that thrived a decade ago, but by the bridge, its lyrics firmly plant it in the present: “The billionaires went up to space/ Sky’s no limit when you can pay/ But we can’t escape our fate.”
The Crystal Casino Band like to operate within this tension: Their music often sounds upbeat and carefree, but their lyrics can veer dark, complex, and—increasingly so—political. In addition to mentions of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, their upcoming album, set to be released in February 2023, touches on the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, the COVID-19 pandemic, and former president Lyndon B. Johnson.
“The vibe is just like, being a young person in your 20s in the nation’s capital while all this shit is going on,” Stevens says.
The boys in the band—Stevens on lead vocals and guitar, Jarrod Hendricks on guitar, Joey Mamlin on drums, and Jordan Mullaney on bass—met as students at George Washington University, which they graduated from in 2019. Mamlin and Stevens began writing together in 2015 as the Colonies, a band name that referred to their school’s mascot. They grew increasingly uncomfortable with the name’s imperialist connotation, and changed it in 2020. “It was important to not defend that odd choice we made five years before, when we were 18,” Mamlin says. (This summer, GW retired the Colonials moniker as well.)
As the Crystal Casino Band’s lyrics evolve and complicate, so do their musical arrangements. Their upcoming album features the ukulele, mandolin, 12-string guitar, harmonica, and trumpet. Though Stevens is the band’s lead singer and principal songwriter, the rest of the band is singing, writing, and generally becoming “more confident, and finding our own voices” on this album, Hendricks says.
They’re also establishing a voice for young people who live in D.C. “It’s not Brooklyn, it’s not L.A.—it’s D.C.,” Mamlin says. The band is not planning on abandoning it anytime soon, either. “We have a scene here, and we’re a part of it.”
In July, the band reached a milestone in their career when they sold out Union Stage. On Sept. 24, they’re playing DC9 Nightclub (right on the heels of their next single, “Antlers,” dropping on Sept. 23). They’ve played the venue before, but Mullaney still talks about it with wide eyes. “I took a class in college that was about the D.C. punk scene,” he says. “And I always think about it, and how it still lingers in the venues we play.”
By no means are the Crystal Casino Band punk, but they’ve got something in common with the storied local genre: Underneath their catchy guitar riffs and harmonies, the spirit of disaffected youth buzzes. As they sang it themselves: “When life’s like this/ All the 20-something socialists got 20-something bones to pick.”
The Crystal Casino Band play at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 at DC9. dc9.club. $15.