Fate brought them together, and an enduring first record made good on that blessing. Now, with a much-anticipated sophomore release in the works, an older, wiser CIRCA SURVIVE are once again blazing down an ever-shifting highway, and they’re just as curious as you are to see where it leads.
Story: Brendan Manley
If there’s a hell for hard-line, right-wing, Creationism-touting conservatives, one of its most sadistic tortures would inevitably involve driving in a van with Circa Survive. By the time the vehicle even stopped for burritos, said sinner would already be spouting conspiracy theories that’d make Fox Mulder sweat.
AP learns this lesson the hard way: While riding with the band to Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club for a Friday night gig featuring pals Thursday, Murder By Death and Fear Before The March Of Flames, singer Anthony Green brings up Montauk, Long Island, which the band formally name-dropped with the song title “Meet Me In Montauk” (a reference to the film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind). The conversation turns to the area’s infamous, now-decommissioned military base Camp Hero, where some claim top-secret research on electromagnetic stealth and time-travel technology, known most famously as the “Philadelphia Experiment,” was conducted during the 1940s. Although the grounds are now a public state park, tales persist of miles of hidden labyrinthine tunnels running underneath the complex, which some people believe are populated by a race of scientifically engineered “lizard men.” The band’s nervous, downward glances immediately make us regret scoffing at the idea so quickly.
“There’s a lot of really freaky stuff we’ve been reading about that lately,” explains guitarist Colin Frangicetto, breaking the awkward silence. A perpetual deep thinker, Frangicetto arm’s-reach recollection of just about any non-conventional and/or fringe theory one can muster threatens to lose the uninitiated at every turn. “Look at snakes, for example-they’re everywhere, throughout history,” he adds. “It all goes back to DNA.”
Obviously, it takes a pretty open mind to hang with Circa Survive; their ideology runs much deeper than just music. The band-Green, guitarists Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom, bassist Nick Beard and drummer Steve Clifford-will tell you they actively question the very basic assumptions of life, whether it be through voluminous reading, spiritual exploration or simply maturing into solid, well-rounded adults. Musically, they’re just as daring, their punk- and prog-infused alt rock continues to blaze dazzling, previously unexpected paths, and with a much-anticipated sophomore release-the follow-up to 2005’s acclaimed Juturna-well in the works, 2007 promises to be a breakthrough year. Although still in its infancy, the preliminary results of the Circa Survive experiment are already groundbreaking.
It’s a mellow, leisurely Saturday afternoon in Baltimore for Circa’s members, who’d ventured outdoors earlier only to take a late breakfast at the punk-chic, yet decadently pound-piling Blue Moon Café, where the day began over everything from veggie omelets to creamed chipped beef on biscuits. After hanging well into the early morning hours the night before at the gig, the band would much rather hole up indoors, well-fed and warm, than challenge the bone-chilling wind whipping through the Inner Harbor.
The band are holed up in famed producer Brian McTernan’s massive new Salad Days facility, the place where they live and work, usually 12 hours at a clip, six days a week, tracking their latest album, with McTernan at the helm. The coming month of tracking holds the key to the young group’s fate, yet no one is entirely sure where their collective path will lead them. “We’ve been astonishing each another, and freaking each other out. [McTernan’s] been pushing us to our limits, beyond all of our individual expectations,” says Green, huddling with the band in the studio’s downstairs lounge. He curls up on one of comfy chairs adding, “Everything-from bass progression to drum beats to guitar-it’s all still in a very early stage, but we know we’re stoked.”
“We get here and realize again, we have a lot to fucking learn,” admits Frangicetto, kicking back on a chair near the lounge’s wood pellet-burning stove. “As a band, we have a lot left to do, and that’s really exciting.”
After spending a couple of relaxed hours talking around the pool table in the downstairs lounge and finishing another meal (the second round of Chipotlé in as many days), the band settle into McTernan’s control room to play a series of rough pre-production demos. Thankfully, what emanates from the monitors requires little effort to get psyched about: Although still in its most embryonic, unrefined state, what Circa are creating is the kind of stellar second helping you get from a band who’ve only grown and solidified since recording Juturna, which was made almost immediately after the band solidified their lineup, and before they had ever played a show. At presstime, most of the untitled tracks include touches of everything from echoing Jamaican dub to vintage U2 to the frenzied post-hardcore of The Moon Is Down-era Further Seems Forever, with a much greater emphasis on dynamics and hooks. At times, the new material is downright catchy, a marked change from Circa’s more ethereal earlier work. “I think it’s definitely more song-oriented,” Frangicetto says, seated at a table in the center of the control room, after a particularly captivating chorus has played. ”I think we’ve rediscovered an extreme appreciation for solid, amazing songwriting.”
Much has happened in the years since Juturna, including countless tours with some truly great bands (My Chemical Romance, Thrice, Saves The Day, Rise Against and Thursday to name a scant few), and during that time, the five individual members matured into a cohesive unit. These new songs not only illustrate artistic growth; they capture Circa’s increasing ease with one another.
Their relationship with McTernan has also changed. Prior to Juturna, the band had never worked with a team-oriented, hands-on producer. The recording of the first album was rocky, with the band-who had over-demoed the songs well before even meeting McTernan-often bristling at his plentiful suggestions.
“We really fought a lot the last time we did a record,” McTernan says two weeks later, taking a break from recording drums once Circa’s formal tracking had begun. “There was a love/hate situation. I’m not tough in the sense that I’m mean, or whatever, but it’s like, I want it to be the best it can be, and that’s how it has to be. There was a period of time after the record when none of us were even sure if we would work together again.
“Between making the last record and now, just seeing the guys at shows and them coming through town and staying with me, we actually became much, much closer, as friends,” McTernan continues. “So this time, we were really honest with each other. We all kind of got on the same page, and for me, just the fact that everybody’s having such a good time, makes me so excited because last time was really not that way.”
There was a time where there wasn’t a lot of good energy surrounding Circa Survive. People love a juicy band shakedown story, especially one where drugs are allegedly involved. The rumor mill surrounding 24-year-old Green has churned without pause since the day he made his now-legendary phone call during a flight layover in Phoenix, resigning his position in California-based post-hardcore buzz band Saosin. It’s tough for outsiders to comprehend the logic: Lately, popular theory attributes Green’s seemingly erratic decision to an alleged drug problem. In the past, the singer has shrugged off the accusations, usually without comment. But with so much now on the line and with unending pride in the music his band is making, he knows he can no longer remain silent.
“I was really surprised when I read the Saosin article in AP [AP 220], and people were saying that I left the band because of drugs,” he says later in the evening, as he cozies up to the bar at local Fells Point hangout Friends. “I think those dudes really felt fucked over and needed to blame it on something. But I really did try to communicate with them about how I was feeling. At the time, I guess I just wasn’t emotionally mature enough to handle a situation like that.”
When original Saosin members Beau Burchell and Zach Kennedy (who at the time were still playing in Open Hand) first called Green-after hearing him on an old Zolof The Rock & Roll Destroyer demo Green’s friend Mike Dufresne had passed them at a show-the singer was just coming out of one of the most turbulent periods in his life. It took a year after that call for Green to actually arrive on the West Coast and finally play with Saosin. Looking back however, it was still too soon for the Philadelphia-area native to undergo such a radical upheaval.
“Four years ago, before I was in Saosin, I went into rehab,” Green explains, the effects of his vodka tonic being offset by his gossip-related frustration. “I was a total junkie and had completely hit rock bottom. But I haven’t touched dope since, and although drugs continue to be an issue I struggle with, they had nothing to do with leaving Saosin.”
Green’s admission, fueled not by alcohol, but rather by feeling perpetually misunderstood, further illuminates his dark time in California. In the studio earlier that day, Green spoke of the vast disconnect he felt with the SoCal culture he was immersed in while playing in Saosin, and the many negative outcomes of that rift. “I just didn’t belong out there in California,” he continues. “I was off my medication because I couldn’t afford it, I was eating fucking junk food every day, and my hair was falling out from dying it black every month. I was living in Beau’s garage, which had been converted into a studio, and I was sleeping in the control room, which was, like, the size of a bathroom.
“Saosin’s a great band, and those guys are great dudes,” he continues, “but it’s not like we were friends who hung out all the time. They’re California dudes-they’re basically into tanning and, like, boning chicks-and I was this weird guy from Philly who had dyed black hair. I left because I hated what I was doing, I hated who I was, and I basically wanted to kill myself because of it.”
Despite the controversy, Green knows he made the right choice and feels he was meant to play in Circa Survive all along. In Circa, Green’s regained the vital elements he’d lost during his Saosin years; friends, family and a home, which in his case, is shared with Circa’s other members. He says after returning to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, he never needed to go back on meds. “Being around my mom and dad and Colin-and jamming with him-was my therapy,” Green says. “I was able to be myself. I was going through an identity crisis out there. [Circa] was my salvation. I never meant to fuck anyone over.”
Green’s now channeling the positive changes in his world and his maturing perspectives on life into his latest round of lyrics. He hopes that by their final version, his words will reflect this latest stage of his personal journey.
“I’m starting to understand that being honest to myself, my family and the people I love, and being open to your vulnerability, [is] where the most beautiful feelings in life come into you,” Green explains, with genuine, tremble-inducing emotion simmering just under the surface of his words. “I’ve been trying to solidify my relationships with the people who care about me and who I care about. That’s what this record means for me.”
It seems like the partner and muse Green needed all along was longtime friend Frangicetto, who grew up with Green in the Philadelphia suburbs. The two met as teens through Bob Meadows, singer for A Life Once Lost and a major figure in the Philly hardcore scene. That friendship endured the ensuing years with both men eventually going off to pursue their own various bands. It was their conversations and jam sessions during Green’s Saosin woes that planted the seeds for Circa Survive, culminating in Frangicetto picking Green up at the airport after Green quit Saosin and flew home-which, historically speaking, is the day Circa were born.
“I kept saying, ‘I can’t quit. I have to do this,’” Green recalls. “Colin said, ‘You don’t have to do anything.’ And he was right.”
Ahh! Cliff hanger! Pick up AP issue No. 225 to see how the story unfolds for Green and the gang.