Field of Screams: Circa Survive
Circa Survive’s Music is not intended for the radio. Their idea is that if they build an artful sound, the fans will come.
Since the advent of rock music more than half a century ago, there’s always been a divide between “artists” and “musicians.” And while there have been plenty of people who embody both of these titles, today’s increasingly commodified music world often seems to put more emphasis on branding than on breakthroughs. But there’s no debate about which side Circa Survive come down on.
For their fourth album, Violent Waves, released in August, the band decided to toss the life vest of a traditional label overboard to see if they would sink or swim in uncharted territory. It’s a risk most acts would be scared to take, but Circa Survive has never been like most bands. “If we wanted to make a lot of money we could have done a lot of different things with this record, but we really wanted to be in control of every aspect of Violent Waves,” frontman Anthony Green says. “Ultimately we would rather have a small number of fans who are devoted enough to the message of creative freedom and who understand what we’re trying to do and support us than try to put a net out to the masses and see how many dollars we can pull in.” It’s that spirit that inspired these progressive post-punk prodigies to eschew the major-label world after 2010’s Blue Sky Noise and get back to their DIY roots.
In order to succeed on their own, the band—Green, guitarists Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom, bassist Nick Beard, and drummer Steve Clifford—decided to produce the album themselves, with longtime friends Will Yip and Vincent Ratti providing additional production and “an incredible rate” that allowed them to record at Studio 4, near Philadelphia. Green knew that the band would have to create their best record to date in order for the self-release strategy to be a success.
“This album is 100 percent us, and there’s not one song on here that’s good for radio,” Green says. “When you’re working with outside people, sometimes a little bit of the energy or excitement gets chiseled out of the songs in order to make something that’s not too weird. And we’re a weird band, you know?” Case in point: Violent Waves is bookended by two seven-minute-long songs. “We didn’t intend for those two songs to be so long, but they both have all of these patient moments where there’s building and repetition that’s very called for and necessary, and we didn’t want to neglect that aspect of the band,” Green says. From the psychedelic sing-along “Phantasmagoria” to the moody meditation “Suitcase,” Violent Waves is an ambitious album. And judging by the fact that all of the deluxe packages—including 11 that cost $750 and contained handwritten lyrics and sketches from the band members—sold out, it seems as if they will be able to sustain themselves for a long time to come.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Green—who suffered a highly publicized break- down and stayed at a mental institution during the writing of Blue Sky Noise—was in a much better emotional state this time around. Still, he has a constant reminder of that period of his life in the form of a head tattoo of the band’s logo. “Right when our last record came out, I was losing my mind and trying out all these different medications and antidepressants,” he says. “I shaved the sides of my head and while we were in Austin, TX, I got the idea that I was going to get the Circa logo on the side of my head. I remember telling someone about it and they were like, ‘Dude, that would be fucking brutal, don’t do that.’ And then the next morning I woke up and it was there.”
Wait, so does he not remember getting his head inked?
“I definitely remember getting it. You never forget a head tattoo,” he clarifies with a laugh. “Keith Underwood did it, and I remember his elbow or something on my head holding it in place. It was probably one of the worst experiences of my life.” Underwood and Dan Smith, of The Dear and Departed, are responsible for the majority of Green’s work. His pieces are mostly traditional, and he likes to personalize them, as in the case of the anchor he has on his arm that includes the birth date of his 2-year-old son, James. “Right now, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do for Luke,” says Green about his second son, born this summer.
It’s true Circa Survive aren’t the first band to self-release their music, but if they are able to succeed by selling Violent Waves digitally for $5.00, it could set an inspiring precedent for the music industry during an uncertain era. “We figured that if we made the price reasonable enough—where it cost the same as a pack of cigarettes, and when you buy it you know you’ve supported us and our families—then this could actually work,” Green says. “It’s a total Field of Dreams moment between us and our fans, and we’re just waiting for Ray Liotta to come out of the cornfield and tell us everything’s going to be okay.”
Take a listen to Circa Survive’s music: http://circasurvive.com/