As anybody who’s ever heard a musical note knows, tiny Muenster, Texas (pop. 1566) has become the new indie hotbed. Muenster bands such as Punky Brewster Soundsystem and Lars And His Horse People were the bands to watch at SxSW this year, not to mention Helsinki’s IceeBalls Music Showcase and Rumpster Magazine’s Provo-based RumpFest. Raconteurs frontman Jack White has recently announced that he’s opening a vintage 8-track store and BBQ shack in downtown Muenster, just another example of the town’s growing cultural capital. And, of course, there’s Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too, who seem poised to become Muenster’s Next Big Thing.
CWLFT is the brainchild of nineteen year old Ryan Dylan Ryan and his eighteen year old sister Brionna Jennee Ryan. Beginning in 2008 as a Christian indie folk duo influenced by Devendra Banhart and Loggins & Messina, in just three short years their sound has matured, mixing elements of the Arcade Fire’s post-ironic dreariness and the lush electro sounds of El DeBarge with the neo-folk of Mumford & Sons and the undefinable quintessence of Fleet Foxes, whose name inspired one of the words in CWLFT’s own name.
“We started out doing worship music,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, who refuses to do any press unless his name is printed in full every time it’s mentioned, “but after a while I realized that I had my own, like, musical path to follow. Plus people kept calling me ‘Jesus queer’ and punching me in the kidney every time we did a show at the roller rink.”
After purchasing a 1989-vintage Roland CR-69 drum machine from a neighbor with special needs who had previously used the device to communicate with his elderly parents, Ryan Dylan Ryan recruited his sister Brionna Jennee Ryan on hurdy-gurdy, tenor banjo and backup vocals. “I’m not really sure what Brionna was doing musically before that,” Ryan Dylan Ryan says. “I know she sucked a guy’s dick behind the rec center this one time so she could afford to drive to Dallas and see Someone Loves You Boris Yeltsen, so I guess you could say she’s always had this musical obsession.”
Brionna Jennee Ryan (who credits her unique fashion sense to her incipient fetal alcohol syndrome) prefers to avoid the limelight — and, in fact, according to her brother, light altogether. “Yeah, she was born with this weird allergy to light,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “so she never comes out unless we’re playing a gig. I don’t actually even, like, know where she lives or anything. We rehearse in this old abandoned nuclear missile silo that these organic farmers are turning into a massive grow station, but we have to turn off the UV lights or Brionna will start projectile vomiting and stuff.” Ryan Dylan Ryan credits his sister’s delicate, sunny pop-perfect arrangements to the fact that she was born without a lower brain stem or tongue. “She’s so real, you know? She doesn’t like worry about all the bullshit like other people. She just sits in the dark with her hurdy-gurdy and her Brian Wilson records and just, like, makes art and stuff. And hoots.”
Despite being courted by Williamsburg indie darling label Swollen Coke Fork Records, Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too refuses to leave Muenster. “We’ve got our roots here,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan. “In Brionna’s case, that’s totally literal, by the way.” They chose to release their first album, I Heard Somebody Crying And Then I Realized It Was Me, through Internet channels only, though a limited edition — carved into an Edison wax cylinder and wrapped in a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf — is available via mail order and through a special distribution deal with the Luby’s chain of affordable cafeterias, a move that Ryan Dylan Ryan describes as “thinking outside the Old Media box”.
The album — co-produced, like every other fucking indie rock album ever, by Steve Albini and Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo — is a curious mix of tender, heartfelt white people singing, reminiscent of Portland’s You Don’t Bring Your Mother and Bright Eyes, and dissonant electronica that one reviewer notoriously described as “sounding like Aphex Twin taking a violent shit at a truckstop in El Paso”.
“We slept in Albini’s studio while we were making the record,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan. “Only he didn’t know about it. He’s so funny — he’d walk around going ‘Why does my vocal booth smell like a sheep shit in it?’ and ‘Why doesn’t that albino whore have an indented nasal bridge like a normal human?’”
Critical success has come quickly for Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too, as well as a certain amount of underground fame. Ryan Dylan Ryan won’t discuss rumors that he’s currently in a relationship with Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis, but statistics and the law of averages suggests that he probably is. Meanwhile, Brionna Jennee Ryan has been seen doing high profile DJ gigs at vegan collectives in northern Sweden during the long, sunless winter months, and is recording a collaboration with Karin Dreijer Andersson of Fever Ray to be entitled either Ah, Fuck, The Goddamn Weasels Are Tearing At Our Clits Again or simply Eeeeeeeaaaaauuuugh, which reportedly uses no instruments other than the sounds of Andersson and Ryan banging their skulls against moss-covered Icelandic cliff faces and weeping. “I’ve heard it,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “and it’s a totally challenging record. But it’s like, totally sunny and pop-perfect and danceable too.”
Meanwhile, the mainstream world keeps calling too. Recently director Noah Baumbach used the CWLFT song “Thundercats Ho” in his indie drama Melvin, His Trust Fund And His Bicycle, which also features tracks from Cut Fleet Cold Furnaces, You Don’t Bring Your Mother, Hey Look It’s Lisa Bonet From The Cosby Show and Beck. Another track from I Heard Somebody Crying And Then I Realized It Was Me was used in a television ad for Same Ol’ Hootenanny Moustache Wax. “I mean, I guess it probably looks like we’re selling out,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “but it’s hard to live without money. Plus somebody, I’m not gonna say who, but somebody in the band needed a tail removal operation, and they don’t do that for free in Texas.”
So what’s next for Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too? Ryan Dylan Ryan says the band’s just taking it easy and preparing to go into the studio to record their sophomore album, tentatively titled Fuck I Wish It Was 1988, which is rumored to be produced by the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler. “I called Win up one day,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan, “and asked him if he’d produce the album, and he said he would if he could fly down to Muenster and give me a Brazilian. I started laughing, but he was totally serious. I mean, dude, what would you do? It’s totally the guy from Arcade Fire? So he flew down and we went out in a cornfield and he gave me a wax. His wife filmed it with an 8mm film camera, but I haven’t seen it on, like, their website or anything yet, so maybe when they do a DVD or something.” The album is apparently a radical departure from the band’s current sound, featuring sunny, pop-perfect vocals over rootsy alt-country rather than shimmery alt-folk. “We’ve got one track, which I think is going to be called ‘Trapper Keeper Yay You’re So Rad’, and we’ve got like seven hundred and thirty vocal harmony tracks,” says Ryan Dylan Ryan. “Most of them are by Grizzly Bear, but I got my neighbor who sold me this drum machine one time to sing some of them, except he couldn’t remember the lyrics, so he just sang about Huey Long and the fascist takeover of Louisiana, but it’s like way more organic that way, you know?”
One thing’s for sure: Crystal Wolf Loves Foxes Too is the band to watch out for, for at least the next seven or eight minutes.