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SA trio Crown’s Raw Blues Rock Power on Debut Album

Photo: CRAIG GABRISCH, License: N/A

CRAIG GABRISCH

Carlos Zubillaga, Josh Borchardt and Oscar Webber of Crown


In the oversaturated market of blues rock, a band really has to believe in their tunes to stand above the crowd. Cream, the Black Keys, the White Stripes, every White Stripes rip-off—in such an established form, it’s tough to get your work heard among the white noise of distortion pedals, bass and drums. (And yes, that noise is typically white, despite taking all of its inspiration from an art form pioneered by African Americans, blues rock as a genre was made enormously popular by pasty English performers.)

Catch non-pasty SA raw power trio Crown around town and it’s obvious that the three-piece believes deeply in their riffs and shredding them as viciously as possible. Groove-centric bassist Josh Borchardt holds it down on the low end as guitarist Carlos Zubillaga draws the most out of each bent tone.

Drummer Oscar Webber’s fill-friendly rhythms drive the trio forward, as Borchardt and Zubillaga swap vocal duties. With thick bundles of hair slapping around on stage, a blues rock style with a lysergic drop of psych and a badass take on “Helter Skelter,” Crown is one of the best live acts currently operating out of SA.

But Crown hasn’t always held such popularity in local music circles, taking some time to gain traction since forming in 2010. Like SA garage dudes the Rich Hands, Crown experienced a paradigmatic shift when they tightened from a four piece down to a trio. “We had to make a change from hearing the songs as a four piece to how they sound as a trio,” said Borchardt. “Now, we write the songs differently because we have to do the job of more people.”

Zubillaga added, “The less people we have onstage, the less room for error there is.” Wary of this slim margin, Crown is incredibly tight, switching between heavy riffs with dime-stop accuracy. “We used to not be too heavy,” said Zubillaga. “We’ve been getting progressively heavier so we’ve slowly gotten used to the change while keeping it tight.”

In January, Crown released the EP Thousand Men to Save the King on the sly, without much 210 hype or an album release show. It’s a solid, self-recorded collection of songs—particularly the scorching closer “Black Fleet”—but two years in the making, it doesn’t quite capture the band’s growth spurts in style and energy. “It took us so long that the songs felt dead,” said Zubillaga.

“Free stuff? It’s not free. That’s what we learned with the EP,” said Webber. “For the album, we decided to pay for a legit studio and legit mastering ’cause when you cut corners, it really has an effect.”

On the debut full-length Are These the Good Days?, Crown hit the studio with Austin producer Nick Joswick, short on time but with clear intentions for the final product. “We went in the studio without a lot of money so we only had two days to record,” said Webber. “Two days sounds like a long time but when you’re recording it’s not. We were nailing every song, only one or two takes.”

“We scraped together the money for recording and mastering,” said Zubillaga. “I’d work doubles, go record, come back and work doubles.”

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