Norman’s Crown Imperial is a no-name, lo-fi, indie-pop band. Or at least it was for its first show.
The group was born as a side project of garage rockers The Mean Spirits, and it had a gig at The HiLo before it had a moniker.
“The Mean Spirits were playing a show, and we had three songs, so we just got up and used their equipment and played them,” singer/guitarist Zach Massey said.
Added drummer Martin Kornhaas, “I think people just thought we were The Mean Spirits.”
After their second show, Massey was scrolling through a register of flower species when he landed on Crown Imperial. It stuck.
“We waited till we absolutely had to,” singer/guitarist Cali Tonnu said.
Just six months later, Crown Imperial already is making a name for itself, playing pure, straightforward and hard-to-describe rock songs.
“I wouldn’t say there’s an aesthetic in mind, other than simplicity — getting to the core of a song instead of the silly, superfluous bullshit,” Massey said. “We wanted to get to the catchy part, focus on it, and build on that.”
They’ve crafted a pleasant, jangly pop noise inspired by The Velvet Underground and Pixies, but it seems to be born out of the bonds of personal relationships more than anything. Kornhaas has been friends with bassist Wesley Dean since high school. Massey and Kornhaas have been Mean Spirits together for more than half a decade, and Massey and Tonnu are an item.
“Hopefully, the friendship aspect comes out in the music,” Kornhaas said. “It’s a big part of it.”
Said Tonnu, “I love these guys. We laugh a lot. Our band practices end up being eight hours long.”
“It’s hard to overstate the personal bonds,” Massey said. “It’s like a family: If we weren’t playing, we’d be sitting around listening to vinyl records and drinking beer.”
The intimacy helped them get over a few hardships, like what could have been a deflating experience playing at the 35 Conferette in Denton, Texas.
“We enjoy the car rides to shows as much as anything,” Kornhaas said. “We thought we’d be playing for tons of people, got to the festival, and played for like 15, 20. In other bands, we would have been really disappointed and slumped back home, but it just a blast riding down there and hanging out with each other.”
Playing home turf Friday at Opolis, Crown Imperial hopes you feel the love through its simple, shoegaze pop, although it seems unlikely love will ever match the love they feel for each other.
“I don’t know what separates us,” Massey said, “but I know this: We’re friends, we’re family, and we want to keep it straight to the heart of the issue, which is the essence of the song.”