Interview: Russian Circles

Russian CirclesIt would be fair to say that there were some nerves on my behalf before I sat down and spoke to Chicago’s Russian Circles, but these all but dissipated with Dave Turncrantz hospitable attitude, and the fact that sitting but a metre away from me, Brian Cook is clipping his nails. With MC Hammer and various other 80’s cheese blaring out of the PA, I settle down to talk to the band about Station, the recruitment of Cook and plans for the future…among other things.

I want to start by talking about Station. It’s been out for quite a while now – how do you feel it has been received by (the most important people) the fans?

Dave Turncrantz (drums): It’s got a pretty great reception. Our fans have liked it, and it’s definitely a different turn to Enter. It’s a little more clean, and it’s not as up and down, up and down.

When you’re listening to it, it feels a little bit more compressed, more reserved.

Dave: Yeah, it’s not as kind of washy; you can hear everything really well. There’s nothing you can hide behind and I definitely think it’s a different turn to Enter but we didn’t want to write Enter again and I think with records down the road we’re going to try new things, different ways to approach being an instrumental band. We could easily write another Enter but it would just get boring, and we have that certain group of fanbase and we kind of want to spread our horizons a little bit.

Because you’re instrumental, people tend to unfortunately lump you into that whole post rock genre which is normally quite samey, with little reinvention. How do you feel about being grouped with bands like that?

Dave: If people choose to use that term that’s fine. You’ve got to classify music somehow so it doesn’t really bother me. Whether I agree with it or not doesn’t matter. We don’t try to be post rock and we didn’t really think about it until recently we heard a lot of people tell us we were. We didn’t even know what post rock was until Cliff from Red Sparowes and Isis said “this is what it is” and we thought “I guess this is right?”

I wouldn’t totally agree, what you guys are putting out isn’t as pompous and up its own arse.

Dave: Yeah but I guess people have got to label everything. If it doesn’t have a label people will try and push it towards a certain genre.

But for you guys, you’re not working within any genre boundaries?

Dave: Exactly. It’s not about trying to do something it’s trying to do whatever’s comfortable. That’s not why we started the band up, and each time we write a song it’s different to the last one. I think it’s healthy learning how to try different ideas out and grow from there.

One song that I want to quickly focus on is Xaavi. Everytime I’ve listened to it I get this religious tone to it. When you’re writing instrumental songs do you write with themes or lyrical ideas in mind?

Mike Sullivan (guitar): That song started off as a very soft, acoustic guitar part and we dumbed it down to just simple notes. In the studio we were just throwing ideas round for a keyboard and upright bass so the song just kind of came together without too much effort. The initial vision for that song was way more complex than it is, now it’s got a more natural feeling.

Brian Cook (bass): I like that song because it feels as if there’s going to be a sequel to the record. It kind of leads up to something and then leaves you hanging on the end of it.

Dave: We all decided that that would be the best closer to the record because it seems like you’re expecting to get huge at the end but we wanted it to end on a pretty note.

Readying it for the sequel.

Dave: Well yeah, once we write it.

Regarding Station, what’s the album art all about? Was there any particular reason you chose that image?

Dave: It kind of goes back to not wanting to write the same record. I think every record we want to look different. Station is actually an inside thing between us that I don’t think anybody else would really get. But the whole army theme just fit well with Station. I had that picture in my house a few years ago and, if you see the actual print, it’s kind of eerie. It just fit perfectly.

(At this point the band begin to grumble at the schizophrenic nature of the music blasting from the speakers.)

This is the first date of your UK tour, and with Brian in the band (Brian is also the bassist for These Arms Are Snakes) how are you going to cope playing two massive sets in succession?

Brian: Well, at some point I’m going to be playing three hour sets anyway so I’ll be fine.

Talking about you Brian, you’re here because Colin (deKuiper, former bassist) left. How did you end up getting drafted in to Russian Circles?

Brian: I’d played shows with them before and we had a lot of mutual friends. They were going to record out in Seattle with my friend Matt (Bayles, producer of Station) and it kind of made sense. Like “you don’t have a bass player, and you’re going to be recording in Seattle I can just play on the record.”

Is Brian considered a fully fledged member of the band?

Dave: With Station me and Mike wrote everything without a bass player and it was all kind of like loosey goosey so we got Brian to come in and tighten everything up. The next record is going to be hopefully us three and there’s going to be a lot more collaboration between all three of us.

Does it ever get tense between the three of you?

Dave: Not really. There are three different musicians, three different types of instrument so it’s quite easy actually. We’re lucky it’s the three of us.

I think your guy’s big break came when you supported Tool over here. Did you feel like it was an important step? How did the tour come about in the first place?

Dave: We put out Enter on Black Records, and Justin’s (Chancellor, Tool bassist) brother runs Black Records and so our manager kind of worked it out to the point where he was putting pressure on Justin’s brother to get us on some shows. It just worked out. Tool are one of my favourite bands so it was awesome.

I didn’t go to the shows myself as I couldn’t afford to give Tool any more of my money, but hearing the reactions it sounds as if there was a really good crossover, and it was a really good stage to show off your sound. Did that give you a big boost?

Dave: There’s no question how helpful that was, in the UK and Europe especially. It was only three shows but it was more important than other six week tours with other bands. The crowd was very receptive – we’d heard bad things about opening bands for Tool getting booed off all through Europe but the crowd was awesome and very open-minded to it.

They’re quite a fussy bunch Tool fans aren’t they?

Mike: Not in a bad way, but they are yeah…

Dave: We found out about an hour before our first show with them that the Melvins got booed off stage last time they played with Tool. And I remember being in Brixton (Academy) and looking around at the bottom floor thinking “you know what, it’s not that bad” and then I’m like “wait a minute…there’s a fucking upper level!”

Going back to Colin, how did it come about that he had to leave the band? It must be quite hard having to get rid of a founding member.

Mike: Yeah, it was pretty mutual. Everyone was ready to part ways. Our last show with Colin was actually at this club and when we got home I think we all knew it was going to happen.

Dave: It’s kind of like a relationship when you’re in a band. Not in a weird way, but it’s totally like you’re dating, like I’m dating these two. When we first started the band writing was fine and slowly it just got to a point where the three of us couldn’t write together. It got to the point where we wrote one new song in a year. The third member became a roadblock and when we parted ways we all knew why.

Looking towards the future, could you give us a sneaky peek at what kind of direction you’re heading into?

Mike: It is all over the place. Some new instrumentation, Brian will be a little bit more involved so we’ll have to deal with his bullshit more.

Dave: Bass solos.

Mike: Yeah, bass fucking slapping. Nah, but for now we’re just trying to explore different options so I can’t really say if it’s heavier or floppier, it’s everything at once. I would say that the songs that we have so far are a lot catchier, I feel like they have more of a hook.

Are you working to any particular time constraints?

Mike: Well we want it to come out by October, just before winter comes, which means we’ll have to be in the studio by May. We already have about four songs worked out, and enough material for about three or four more.

What inspires you to carry on then? Given that you’re the kind of band who will never be likely to be headlining somewhere like Wembley Arena.

Mike: We have no interest in that.

Dave: Yeah, the bigger the stage the more awkward it is. I think a big part for me is coming over here and playing somewhere like Russia and people knowing the songs. That’s mindblowing to me because I’ve always played in shitty bands from the Mid-West area that my mum knew. Everytime I see that it gets me choked.

To close things off let us know what’s being played in the tour bus at the moment.

Mike: Er, well the CD/Stereo was stolen in Barcelona so we watch a lot of Lost and Arrested Development because we still have a TV still.

Dave: I’ve been listening to a lot of the new TV on the Radio stuff, that’s really good.

Mike: Recently I’ve been obsessed with the new Sun Kill Moon album, and Bjork but that’s routine. Sometimes I’ll hear an album and listen to it until it’s driven into the ground.

Brian: I’ve been listening to a lot of droney stuff, like Stars of the Lid, Brian McBride.

Mike: Oh, and Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins. I never liked that album until two weeks ago and now I fucking love the guitar sound. It’s really asinine.

Dave: Yeah, that’s a good record. Check out this band! They’re gunna be big one day I’m telling you!

Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me, anything else you’d like to add?

Dave: Er, well we’re happy Obama’s in office.

Mike: Yeah, Gobama!

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