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Whenever the Crystal Casino Band head north on I-95, often on their way to a gig in Philadelphia or New York, they make sure to pull off at the Maryland House Travel Plaza. “The worst first stretch of the trip is getting past Baltimore,” bassist Jordan Mullaney tells City Paper. It’s a bit easier, he explains, when you know a rest stop with a Dunkin’ Donuts awaits you on the other side.
Last October, the band piled into a van rented from Zipcar for another trip along the interstate. This time, Maryland House was their final destination. And it wasn’t just for the Dunkin’ Donuts.
The local indie-rock outfit, spotlighted in City Paper‘s 2022 Fall Arts Guide, were shooting cover art for their sixth album, named after their favorite rest stop. Maryland House, released on Jan. 27, is a window into young adulthood as experienced by four 20-somethings living in the District. Flaky friends, tricky situationships, political pessimism, and contempt for capitalism all make their way into the album’s 13 tracks.
“The album is kind of like an anthology of our lives in D.C.,” Mullaney says. The name is also a nod to the band’s musical inspirations, he adds: “We have a lot of East Coast influences.”
At the top of that list are the Strokes, who have shaped the Crystal Casino Band’s alternative rock sound since 2015, when the band formed at George Washington University by lead singer Pete Stevens and drummer Joey Mamlin (Mullaney and guitarist Jarrod Hendricks joined later). Their biggest hits, which include 2021’s “Waste My Time” and “Complicated,” also bring to mind other bands that thrived on 2010s Tumblr, like the Black Keys and Cage the Elephant.
Indie rock is the Crystal Casino Band’s bread and butter, and Maryland House has plenty of it, found in fan-favorite singles like “Twenty-something Socialist” and “Boys & Girls.” But the band also venture into new territory. “Talking Stage,” featuring Meghan Kelleher of Divine Sweater, is a twangy duet equipped with a call to “giddy up!” “Wealth and Riches” is a dreamy waltz with wide, instrumental spaces, while closing track “Getting Closer” is a campfire sing-along about tending to your inner child.
Produced by Kyle Downes and Jay Nemeyer of Color Palette, the album finds the band using new instruments—trumpet, ukulele, and mandolin among them—as well as new voices, with every member singing lead vocals on at least one song. Maryland House was written and recorded between December 2021 and September 2022, primarily on Tuesdays after work. The weekly routine got them “on a roll,” Stevens says.
But it wasn’t always effortless. On standout track “Quarter-Life,” Stevens sings about how the death of his father, who suffered a heart attack when Stevens was 6 years old, gave him a fear of life’s abrupt end.
“When we were deciding how to make it the best song possible, there’d be a bit of tension because it’s really personal to me,” Stevens says. “But in the end, we compromised on everything to make it the best it could be.”
This Thursday, the Crystal Casino Band bring the fruits of their labor to 9:30 Club, a venue where they’ve seen inspirations such as the Districts, Dr. Dog, and the Fratellis take the stage. Though they’ve opened at the venue once before, this will be their first time headlining at 815 V Street NW.
“It’s the venue in D.C.,” Mullaney says. “I mean, I don’t have to explain it to anybody …There’s something on that stage that’s magical.”
Afterward, the group will head to Columbus, Ohio, Chicago—a hometown show for Stevens—as well as Pittsburgh and Toronto. But it won’t all happen in one run. Although they tell listeners to “go quit your 9-to-5 if you’re self aware of your self worth” on “Twenty-something Socialist,” the band members are still working day jobs themselves.
“We just try to squeeze whatever last drop of PTO we can and use it on traveling for these gigs,” Stevens says. “There’s really no time off if you think about it. It’s just time off from one job and working on the other.”
Time off, though, doesn’t seem to be a major concern for the Crystal Casino Band. They plan to be back in the studio in three weeks time, Stevens says, breaking ground on the next album.
The Crystal Casino Band’s album release show starts at 7 p.m. on Feb. 9 at 9:30 Club. Local act Jeff Draco opens. 930.com. $20.