In many ways Circa Survive seem to have a life of their own. Over the course of five years and 10 albums, this Philadelphia-based fivesome have evolved from a scrappy post-hardcore act to one of the most original and uncompromising acts in rock, a progression that’s culminated with their latest album Descensus. Better yet, according to the band’s charismatic frontman Anthony Green it’s never been a better time to be in Circa Survive. “The dynamic of a band gets difficult as you get older and the more the band tours,” Green concedes. “Recently I think things have been effortlessly fun [within Circa] and we’ve evolved into a group that’s extremely amicable and filled with understanding and compassion. It’s just an ideal situation because those relationships that tend to deteriorate in most bands just seem to keep getting stronger within this band.”
However, Circa Survive—which also includes guitarists Brendan Ekstrom and Colin Frangicetto, bassist Nick Beard and drummer Steve Clifford—have had anything but a fairytale existence since the last time we spoke to Green on the eve of the release of 2012’s Violent Waves. That conversation was dominated by topics such as his wife’s miscarriages and his struggle with mental illness which culminated with him getting the band’s logo tattooed on his head during a bender in Texas. “Yeah,” Green sighs, “for a couple of years it was getting a little bit difficult and adding drugs and alcohol to the mix definitely made things more volatile.” Green reached his turning point last January when he had to take his son home early from a screening of The Lego Movie and had a chilling realization that the opiate issue he had been hiding for almost two years was destroying the relationships that were most important to him.
“I remember thinking on the drive home from the movie theater, I feel like all these people in my life that I love so much, I can’t do anything to help them anymore,” he recounts. “I can’t fix this. One way or another they’d be better off without me so maybe I should just leave and go be a fucking junkie and I’ll just kill myself.” When he got home, Ekstrom showed up and Green laid out exactly what was happening to him. They made a plan for Green to check himself into treatment and stay as long as they would keep him. “When I came home [from rehab], for months all I could do was play and write music, hang out with my kids and go to therapy. I didn’t have a cell phone, I didn’t really communicate with anybody. I just sort of spent some time with myself trying to figure out if this was something that I could do.”
After sticking to this regimen and doing some heavy soul searching, Green decided that his suicidal instincts were just a barrier he was creating between him and the ones he loved. “At one point, I realized what would be best for everybody wouldn’t be for me to die or go away. The thing that would be best for everybody that I cared about would be for me to fucking deal with this shit and move on and really give being present and being the person I know that I am a shot,” he continues. “That feels better to me than anything. It feels better than any fucking drug. To just be accountable for my actions and set out to accomplish the things I want to do and be around my wife and kids, it feels like a gift. It almost makes me feel sad when I think about how much I wasted that over the last couple of years.”
When Circa entered the studio to record Descensus, Green was two months out of rehab while the other members of Circa were dealing with similarly serious issues involving addiction and divorce. However, instead of letting these experiences splinter them as a unit, in many ways it seems to have brought them together. “I felt like I owed it to myself and to Circa to try to really put everything I had into the creative process and try to do what we started out doing as a band when there were these goose bump moments in the songs where we were guided by the song and we weren’t forcing anything,” Green elaborates about his mindset while creating this collection of songs. “I wanted to show myself that this was still right, that I wasn’t just in this cloud for the last 10 years. Anyone can put together a song, but I wanted this to come from a truthful place in me that’s scary to explore. I felt like I really had a lot to prove going into this record.”
Musically, Descensus is a beast that Green describes as “the most psychedelic, drugged-out record we’ve ever done,” acknowledging the irony of the statement. (One just needs to listen to the stoner-worthy syncopated breakdown on “Child of the Desert” to confirm this statement.) However, maybe more impressive is the fact that climactic ballads such as “Nesting Dolls” contain the same level of emotional weight without an ounce of distortion. If anything, Descensus is more about creating a mood than defining a genre, which is why the downbeat, jazzy vibe of “Phantom” is able to flow so seamlessly into the stratospheric, delay-driven “Sovereign Circles.” Circa have created a distinctive musical identity of the past decade; however, this album sees them challenging their own conventions to create something that actively redefines who they are as a band.
“Writing these songs was the same process as recording them, so it was the entire experience of being in studio together and creating on the fly that provided the catharsis,” explains Frangicetto. “Not so much the themes or content of the songs but the fact that we were all coping with our afflictions and healing our wounds by simply doing what we do best together.” Understandably Green was nervous about tracking vocals with a completely clear head for the first time ever in Circa—but if anything,the frontman’s signature falsetto sounds more powerful and inspired than it ever had in the past, a fact that he also attributes to producer Will Yip. “My original intention was for us to go in there and work on melodies with him and not worry about the lyrics until later,” Green explains. “The first song we worked on was called ‘Only the Sun.’ He had me sit down and take five minutes to write lyrics and when I tried them out l liked the scratch lyrics so much that we decided to keep them.”
In fact, Green liked this approach so much that he wrote all of the songs in this manner over the course of an hour or two. “I feel like that awareness wasn’t there for a really long time in the sense that I was looking for other people for validation,” he continues. “This time around I had so much more confidence.” This statement is also true when it comes to Green’s recent ink—and instead of getting a tattoo he barely remembers or trying to buy pills from fans, this time around Green got the phrase “REAL LOVE” on his knuckles as an homage to both the Beatles and Mary J. Blige. “When I was in rehab my wife was sending me these letters with little stickers of hummingbirds on them so I got this badass angry-looking hummingbird on my wrist,” he continues, adding that Frank Guthier from Mercury Tattoo in Doylestown has done much of his work over the years. Yet despite the fact that he’s seen countless Circa Survive tattoos both online and in person, that experience never ceases to amaze him. “I don’t know how to feel about it,” he admits. “I don’t really think about it too much, but if I do I’m just like, ‘fuck, dude, that’s insane.’”
If this all seems overwhelming to Green it’s because despite the fact that his band are universally loved and acclaimed, Green claims he’s still shocked at why people gravitate toward Circa Survive. “I haven’t been able to figure it out,” he admits. “We bring lots of honesty and passion into what we do and we never have any illusion about who we are but we’re also not trying to change the world with our music,” he says. “We’re just happy to be able to travel the world playing music, making songs that we like and sharing these moments with each other and with people that generally feel the same way about art and music as we do, you know?
“It’s like this little community of people that for the most part are just like us,” he summarizes. “If someone listens to our band and it inspires them to change the world, that concept is way cooler to us.”
In many ways Circa Survive seem to have a life of their own. Over the course of five years and 10 albums, this Philadelphia-based fivesome have evolved from a scrappy post-hardcore act to one of […]