From a Thurston Hall study room to a headline show at the 9:30 Club, indie-rock group The Crystal Casino Band has climbed through the D.C. music scene since its early beginnings on campus.
The Crystal Casino Band – which features lead vocalist and guitarist Pete Stevens, drummer Joey Mamlin, guitarist Jarrod Hendricks and bassist Jordan Mullaney – first took shape when Stevens and Mamlin met at orientation ahead of their freshman year in 2015, originally dubbed The Colonies. During their time at GW, the band played all the live shows they could find across campus, ranging from philanthropy events to friends’ fraternity basement parties, amassing new fans along the way and leading to their breakthrough in D.C. that would take them all the way to the 9:30 Club for the release show for their sixth album “Maryland House” Thursday night.
Since Stevens and Mamlin met at Colonial Inauguration – the previous iteration of New Student Orientation that took place over the summer – the duo said they bonded over similar music inspirations like the Black Keys, joking since day one that they could start a two-person band. Even before their freshman year began, the pair said they were sending each other songs they created on GarageBand.
“We basically had already started the band by the first day or week of school, so we showed up to college, and we were already the band,” Mamlin said. “I feel like throughout our whole college experience, people would always be like, ‘Oh, you’re that guy’ – we were kind of just those guys in a band at GW.”
Stevens said his roommate at the time helped the group secure their first gig during their freshman year at a Residence Hall Association Halloween party, but the agreement came with a price – the roommate stipulated that he sing one of the songs. The party took place in a Thurston Hall basement study room, much to the dismay of students working in the space, Stevens said.
The group’s volume entangled them in a few similar roadblocks throughout their years at GW, prompting GWPD to shut down their shows on a number of occasions.
“It always ended up being sort of dicey, and plenty of times we were not allowed to finish our set,” Mamlin said. “But that definitely was formative for us – we got a lot of reps just setting up and playing.”
Mamlin said he met Mullaney through the Student Musicians Coalition, a student organization that supports the music community at GW, and the bassist joined the band their sophomore year. Once they all graduated, their previous guitarist, Dylan Trupiano, moved to Los Angeles to pursue filmmaking, making way for Hendricks, who also attended GW, to enter the band after sending the group videos of himself playing guitar. Stevens said Trupiano has since stayed close with the band and directed the music video for their catchy rock single, “Boys and Girls,” off the “Maryland House” album.
The weekend of their graduation, Mamlin said the band played an “emotional” show at Roofers Union, a bar in Adams Morgan, where many friends and families in town for Commencement Weekend attended. He said the band played for three and a half hours, commemorating the end of college.
“The band was a defining experience for us, obviously, but I also think lots of people have classic college memories at our shows, specifically our friends and our close friends,” Mamlin said. “So it was a cool moment for everyone to send off our college experience in that way.”
As the band made their way up the D.C. venue ladder – from smaller venues like Songbyrd Music House and the now-closed Mason Inn to opening sets for rock band Judah & the Lion at the Anthem – they turned to perform their original music instead of covers. While the streams of original songs surpassed 100,000 monthly listeners and they forged a name for themselves, Stevens said the band noticed their concerts inching toward sell-out crowds.
“Building off the last thing and maintaining the momentum is what we’ve just been doing ever since graduating,” Stevens said.
Their January album “Maryland House” acts as a loving tribute to the DMV and the music community that accompanies the area and delivers a distinct political focus. Stevens said the band wrote the album’s songs in 2020 and 2021 in the midst of pivotal political moments, including the height of the pandemic, the insurrection and the presidential election – all of which Stevens said influenced their music.
“Living in D.C. while all of those issues were going on, that just carried on into the songwriting,” Stevens said.
The band, which opened a show at the 9:30 Club the fall of their senior year in 2018, took the stage under vibrant spotlights for the second time to perform the album in its entirety in front of a packed crowd of about 1,000, filled with GW students and other local fans Thursday.
To open up the show, pop-rock musician Jeff Draco brought groovy guitar melodies and intimate lyricism. Throughout the night, The Crystal Casino Band built up new sounds throughout the performance through collaborations with other musicians and friends onstage. Stevens said the band prepared for the show more than any other concert before with about 15 practices, calling their 9:30 Club performance the most “special” show they’d ever performed given the space’s prominence in the District and the guests they invited.
“9:30 obviously is such a famous venue – it’s such an important venue to D.C.,” Stevens said. “So it’s really important to us that we’re finally able to headline this and especially for an album that’s about this area, I think it’s really special that we get to perform it in its entirety there.”
The group’s chemistry radiated throughout the venue – Stevens and Hendricks shredded guitar duets as they leaned against each others’ backs and jokingly sent kisses to one another. While each member distinguished themselves through vocal and instrumental solos during the show, the band felt, above all else, like a complementary, cohesive group of friends having fun together.
Looking ahead, Stevens said the band plans to return to the studio in March to work on a new album, prepared to build their presence and work their way up to bigger venues like headlining the Anthem. In recent years, Stevens said watching fans connect to their music has been the most meaningful experience in their musical journey, and he hopes to build a following where fans can grow “with” the band.
“It’s so fun to be singing and seeing fans already know the lyrics of the songs,” Stevens said. “That’s been a development over the past two years or so ever since our music started becoming more popular. And that’s just been unreal.”
This article appeared in the February 13, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.