Interview: Circa SurvivePosted 05/06/2010 08:43AM by Jonathan as Interview
In the following phone interview, conducted April 26, Circa Survive guitarist Colin Frangicetto shares about making Blue Sky Noise, the creative approach the band took on the record and the importance of open communication.
Does it feel good to be back out on the road doing shows again?
It feels awesome, man. It’s been a while for us. We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time.
The last tour you were on was the one with Thrice a couple years ago, right?
Yeah. We did a little headliner a few weeks ago but it was only, like, two weeks long. Before that, the last real proper tour we were on was with Thrice and Pelican.
Have you been able to play a lot of the new songs yet?
Yeah. Basically we’re playing four songs right now and we played two other ones, so we’ve played six total from the record so far live.
The title of the new record is Blue Sky Noise. How did you come up with that and is it related at all to blue skies research?
It is. It’s definitely related to that term. That was initially our fixation and the term blue sky kind of sparked that, just the idea. Obviously, it’s a cool visual you get when you hear blue sky, but it’s also a business term and a term for what it means as far as experimental. It’s sometimes worthless for businesses that believe they’re doing research that doesn’t gain financial return necessarily. We just found it to be a really interesting term and almost even ironic.
If I understand correctly you secluded yourselves in a little cottage called the Creek House to do most of the writing. What was that experience like?
It was great. This was our first record where we didn’t actually live together while we wrote it. For the last two records we had a band house that we shared, two different ones for each record, and it was basically like our living space and our working space were the same. This time around we got the Creek House, which was a good meeting spot for everyone. We worked there every day. It was on a nature preserve and had really beautiful surroundings. We were looking out this window the entire time we were playing that focused up on the creek and this huge wooded area.
Since we wrote for over ten months or so there it was interesting watching the seasons change as we were going through it and really soaking in the reality of how long we were spending on writing it. It was incredible, actually. It was a really peaceful place and I think it gave birth to a lot of really awesome creative energy.
Another thing I heard was you had more open communication between the band members this time around. How important was that to the writing of this record?
Extremely. Everything we do as we grow as a band we try to step it up and improve skill wise. When you’re talking about interpersonal communication between band members, it’s always been an important thing to us. You start to realize somewhere along the lines that there’s work to be done within your own relationships in the band. That’s the stuff that really improves how the band operates, and the quality of art that we make definitely depends on what’s going on between the five of us.
We wanted that openness for the second record but we quickly learned when we were in the studio that it wasn’t necessarily there. That was one thing we can thank our previous producer Brian McTernan for pointing out, helping us get closer to that and that is was necessary to be a communicative band. Having gone through that before, this time around working with David Bottrill was the perfect producer for this period in our lives. We were able to hone in on those skills that we learned from McTernan and cut through all the bullshit and make awesome songs.
Halfway through the writing stage Anthony had something of a breakdown and had to leave for a little bit. How did the rest of you handle that situation?
We “held down the fort.” Obviously, it’s one of those things that’s a little worrisome when your friend needs to go away and take a break, especially when it’s easy to associate the stress and everything he’s dealing with with the band. I think that was the number one concern, hoping he gets better and hoping he’ll come back. Overall, the main concern was that he get healthy. That was really the only concern of ours. It didn’t really seem like that much in question whether or not he was going to come back to the band, the thing in question was would it be the best thing for him. I think by the time he came back from taking some time off it was apparent it did really good things for him and that he was even stronger for it.
How long was he gone for?
I guess around three weeks or so.
McTernan seemed to have a big influence on the sound of the first two records, and then this one you have a new producer and a completely different sound. What was your thought process going in with that?
Every producer has their own way. We always look at it as we’re learning from these people. We’re learning their techniques and their way about creating albums. We felt like we had learned a lot from McTernan and we were really anxious to work with someone else and get another take on it. One of the benefits of being on Atlantic was there was a larger amount of people to pick from and talk to of who we were going to work with. Getting to talk with David Bottrill was, like, “Oh, man, really? I love all the records this guy’s done. That would be incredible, but who knows if that’s even possible?”
It ended up being a perfect match. We felt immediately drawn to him and his energy. We loved all the records he had made before with Tool, Silverchair, King Crimson and a bunch of other people. It was a pretty easy decision once we really sat down with him. It definitely affected it in an amazing way sonically. I think also the energy that was coming through us at the time was really calm, peaceful, creative energy. He’s a Zen type person and keeps everyone focused and unpanicked.
It definitely is more aggressive and bigger sounding than your other two. What was it like to do some of that and do you think it’s still as progressive and experimental as your others?
I think everything that’s different about it is totally a result of where we were mentally throughout this writing process. If you really listen from The Inuit Sessions to Juturna to On Letting Go to even the b-sides from On Letting Go to this record, there is a pretty natural progression. A lot of the heavier elements of the band have been brought to the forefront by the time you get to the b-sides of On Letting Go. I think we were experimenting with that side of ourselves for a while before we could find a happy medium of both.
This time around I think we really ran the gamut while writing the record of trying a lot of different sounds and a lot of different ways of expressing our tones. I think at the end of the day the collection of songs that was the strongest tended to have a little more aggression and a little more punch to it, as you put it. Overall, we still really wanted it to have an adventurous, experimental side to it, which I think it totally does. Even on the more straightforward songs there’s really interesting stuff going on, the rhythm section especially. I think that’s always the kind of record we wanted to make, something that could accomplish a certain straightforwardness to some of the songs but really take you back and forth between different feelings and different sonic arenas.
One song I want to single out real quick is “Get Out,” which is probably the heaviest song you’ve written to date. That song gets me pumped up every time I hear it and I’m curious but how did it come to be?
Nice, I’m glad you like it. It’s kind of a mutual feeling amongst the band as well. That’s why we chose it as the first song to show the world for this record. It was an undeniable song that makes you feel something immediately. When we first heard it it was a little demo recording of Brendan and Anthony working on the song. It was really bluesy and it was just the main verse riff. It was a completely different tone than what’s on the record. I think all of us were immediately drawn to it. Nick and I were talking about what we should work on for the week and it was, like, “Oh, we should try that one.”
Then all of a sudden you plug in and you play it loud, you start accenting certain things, and it was apparent it could be a total burner. It was a really natural process and that song especially just flowed out. We worked on it for two days straight, getting all the starts and stops. At first we really didn’t know how to start the song. We struggled with if we should make this intro for it, but eventually we were all, like, “Nope. We’re just going to bust right in with the vocal and the band and kick you right in the teeth.” It was a real accomplishment for us because I think being able to write a straightforward, awesome rock song that isn’t cheesy or contrived is a difficult task. I think we felt really proud of this song and definitely thought that it showcased a new side of the band.
Also on the album you did lyrics for the first time on two songs, “I Felt Free” and “Imaginary Enemy.” What was that like for you to do and how did you approach writing them?
It was really interesting. Throughout the writing process everyone was taking a swing at writing full songs, writing melodies, lyrics and stuff like that. Those two songs were just two ideas I had that came out pretty naturally and I presented them to the band. I’m not exactly sure why in the past we never really did it, other than the fact of certain confidence levels. My confidence level definitely was never there before. I never really felt like I could write lyrics or melodies or entire songs for the band, outline and present it and have it work.
That communication we talked about earlier, because that was so strong and because everyone was so open to each other’s ideas, I felt like it opened something up in each of us. One of us would be, like, “Oh, hey, I wrote this thing.” There’s no fear there. Give more credit to Anthony for being able to sing someone else’s words or sing a melody someone else wrote. He really gave himself fully over to the big picture and made all of us want to do the same thing with our instruments, so that’s how that all happened.
For me, personally, it’s incredible to have a singer who is one of my favorite singers of all time/my best friend/someone that I really respect musically sing words that I wrote. For the band to have liked the songs enough to want to drag them through the writing process, add to them and make them songs for the band was really flattering. Those songs wind up meaning just a little bit more to me because it’s an accomplishment that always felt like a goal. It’s a really awesome feeling.
Another thing with the record is it seems to be less cryptic and maybe a little more personal, especially on something like “Spirit of the Stairwell.” Do you feel like that makes it a darker record than your other two?
I definitely think it’s a dark record. I definitely started picking up on the fact that we were making a dark record while we were in the studio. We had a lot of songs to pick from before going in, so it was kind of hard to tell what it was going to be like, but as we started shaving down the songs I think it became apparent to us that it was going to be a dark album.
I think there’s a lot of uplifting aspects to it, maybe simply in the way that it’s communicating to people that feel the kinds of things being felt on the record and that they’re not alone. I think the overall message and feeling we’re trying to present is that we all feel this kind of intensity in our lives and go through maybe some horrible things, but there’s a way to overcome them. You’re not without company and there’s a lot of people who are feeling that at the same time.
I think as far as being less cryptic and maybe being a little more personal, I think that’s definitely a fair analyzation. I still think for the most part the songs are pretty open for interpretation and there’s still a certain cryptic nature to them. But in one of the songs that didn’t even make it on the record, it’s going to be part of the b-sides that we release later on and there’s an acoustic demo of it floating around now for a Safe Camp version called “Every Way,” Anthony wrote in that song, “If it’s the most important thing you’ll say/Make sure they understand.” I think that was something he was thinking about for a long time, like, “I love playing music. I consider it the most important thing I do. If the main function of what I’m doing is communication, then I should make sure that I’m communicating properly.” I think that came to be something he was feeling and trying to accomplish with this record, and I think he definitely did.
On the second half of the album you used a lot of acoustic guitar, which you haven’t necessarily explored at least in the studio in the past. What sparked you to do that?
It’s always been a pretty important aspect of our band and writing process. It’s always been something we’ve wanted to add to our records and we actually had time to do it this time. It just so happens that we arranged it on the album in a way that it’s almost like a movement. It’s like a three-part or four-part thing where it’s there pretty expressly on the second half of the record. I think it’s pretty rad [laughs].
You have a boy’s choir on two of the tracks as well. How did that end up making it on there?
That was something we always thought would be neat. It’s definitely influenced from Pink Floyd and The Wall. It was a thought brought up by our producer and even brought up by us separately. Once we heard our producer bring it up and we had already talked about it we were, like, “Oh, yeah. That’d be awesome.” We went for it and we were going to record it and see how it came out. It was an experiment but it sounded awesome. We loved it and it’s on two of the songs now. The kids were really cool. We had a day with them and it was pretty fun.
Also I think you can’t really talk about Circa Survive without mentioning Esao Andrews, who has created three amazing cover images for you. I know you’re something of an artist yourself and was curious whether there were any ideas you gave to him regarding the cover and what do you think of the final product?
It was weird. He gave us ten different sketches at first. I think we were all feeling like the last record’s image was going to be really hard to top. A lot of us were feeling, like, “Alright, where is it? Where is it?” because he always delivers. I remember sending an email of a list of thirty different things, like imagery, that I thought were really cool and had been playing with in my own art. Towards the end Esao was feeling a little bit of frustration and maybe, like, “Oh, shit. How am I going to top this last record?”
So the last thing I knew is we sent him an email of some imagery and we had given him one of the sketches specifically to focus on. Then a couple weeks later we saw the final image and it was just, like, “Bam. It was there [laughs].” As soon as I saw it I was so excited and so happy. I felt like he totally nailed it again. I’m a huge Esao fan and I have three of his prints hanging in my apartment that I live in with my girlfriend. I’m a fan beyond just what he does for us, and I was, like, “Wow. He just created my favorite painting that he’s ever done and it’s for our album. That’s double awesome, so it’s, like, bonus.” He’s fantastic. He’s an antenna for the band. He can pull things out of the ether that are so perfect it’s almost creepy how perfect they are.
What exactly is the creature that’s behind the guy?
That’s open to interpretation on how anyone wants to see it. For me, I kind of interpret it as there’s this halo aspect when you look at it from afar. It immediately makes me think of a blessing and a curse, or what makes you eventually destroys you. That’s how I interpret the painting, but I think everyone has their own interpretation of it. I’ve heard so many interesting takes on it that it’s cool to just leave it open.
In addition to art I know at least for the first album there were a couple of films that inspired the band. Were there any non-musical influences for this one?
There always are. I know for a fact that Anthony was watching There Will Be Blood, like, five times a week during the writing process, which might tell you about where he was mentally. That’s a pretty heavy movie to watch five times a week. Other than that, there’s always films, there’s always digital art that’s inspiring us in different ways, but nothing in particular sticks out in my mind.
You have an instrumental song called “Compendium,” which I believe is the first one to make it on a record. It seems like you’re a natural fit to do that kind of stuff. Is that something you do a lot while you’re jamming and it just now ended up on a record?
Each of us is pretty into creating our own instrumentals. A lot of us will present full band ideas to each other that are already composed. That was a song idea I had a while back. It was just two guitars and I gave it to Nick and Steve, or actually they just kind of took it and put these cool accents on top of it. We had that for a while, the first half of it. Then I had the guitars going in this other place in the middle of it and we really didn’t know what to do with it.
So we put it on the shelf for a couple years and picked it back up in this writing session. All of a sudden it just kind of came together when we all worked on it. It was a song that felt like a musical movement and an instrumental piece. We’re huge fans of instrumental music, so it was really cool to get to do something along the lines of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky, those kinds of bands. It’s definitely a natural thing for us and we love doing that stuff.
What would you like people to be able to take away from listening to Blue Sky Noise?
For me, the most important thing I always want people to take away from our music is a split down the middle between a sense of empowerment and a sense that they’re not alone. That’s really what I want our art and our music to do, to make people feel like they can do anything they want in their lives and they don’t have to feel powerless. That’s something Anthony says over and over again, like, “You can do this. You can do what we do.” Also I think art and good music makes you feel less alone, so that’s what I would hope for.