The Christal Methodists began working together during the late 1980s. Formed at Portland, Oregon’s Reed College, the group went through several lineup changes (and one band name) before it released its first cassette under the Methodist moniker on its own Goy Division label, in September 1994.
After recording two seven-inch singles and two more CDs, the Christal Methodists last release, Keep the Faith, Baby, a one-sided white label 12″, was released in January 2000 on the now defunct Kolazhnikov imprint. The single included the only remix of the group, a minimal, vocal-focused interpretation by Seattle DJ Masa Tauchi.
Best known for their recordings of prank phone calls to Christian talk radio programs (“Can you recommend a good Christian abortionist?”; “I’m reading the Mein Kampf translation of the Bible,”) the Christal Methodists also created thoughtful montages out of other people’s conversations. Some of these works, particularly 1998′s “Raped, Can I Get a Witness?” are a serious bummer.
The track features a recording of a woman caller asking a radio minister if she was justified in seeking God’s judgement against a man who raped her. The clergyman tells her “No”: the violation is her responsibility, not the man who, he insinuates, reciprocated her interest. Set to a vintage, Kraftwerk-sounding analog synthesizer arrangement, “Raped, Can I Get a Witness?” is disturbing in its artful narration of religious misogyny.
Despite the uniqueness of their approach, the Christal Methodists never made a dime. Though well-liked by critics, receiving regular reviews in magazines and newspapers, and airplay on college and community radio stations throughout the US, bigger labels interested in working with the band repeatedly got cold feet.
One highly reputable indie distributor, who had agreed to reissue the group’s catalogue, changed its mind at the last minute, concerned it could not market the work as “music.” Another even larger label that had agreed to manufacture and distribute Satanic Ritual Abuse also withdrew at the last minute, this time purportedly because of legal concerns about the band’s samples.
Like many indie artists of their generation, the Christal Methodists found it easier to get distribution after their demise, when they were able to reissue material through digital channels. Although the band had been broken up for years, by 2006 iTunes was carrying their complete catalogue. Though two records have recently been deleted (1996′s New World Odour and 1998′s Satanic Ritual Abuse) the titles will be restored soon.
For the Methodists to have experienced such opportunities during their active existence would have been anathema. They had a hard enough time filling mail orders for their cassettes. Though they never aspired to “make it” in a conventional rock-and-roll sense, the Christal Methodists were a political group. They wanted a real audience and had no problem seeking one out among other musicians and punk fans. After all, this was the band’s community.
Still, the idea of proper fans eluded them, so much so that when the first video of a Methodist song, “God Wouldn’t Like This” was discovered on YouTube in 2010, it was shocking. Featuring three songs, including “Raped, Can I Get Witness?” the video is a spirited recasting of all the cliches about Evangelical Christianity in which the band trafficked.
Much to our surprise, the same person who produced this video also created one for the band’s only cover song: Reality Asylum, by the legendary British anarcho-punk band Crass. Featuring guest vocals by Team Dresch and Hazel’s Jody Bleyle, who had been a classmate of the Christal Methodists back at Reed, and Pansy Division‘s Luis Illades, the track is a poem about religion and sexism, set to ambient guitar sounds and orchestral samples.
Though the Methodists obtained the approval of Crass for this cover, to this day they still don’t know what the group thinks about the final product. That’s okay, as members of the Christal Methodists also have mixed feelings about their take on the song. Sometimes they love it. Sometimes they hate it. Sometimes they think it’s delightfully amateurish sounding: “Oh, how indie rock” etc.
Much to the band’s surprise, as this article was being put to bed, a third Christal Methodists video appeared on YouTube. Using “Wicked”, the opening track to 1996′s New World Odour LP, the video documents what looks like a Pentecostal church service featuring only children. It is a demented scene, perfectly illustrating the sense of madness the Christal Methodists excavated from American Christianity: