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Russian Circles

Brian Cook


An interview by Ioannis Patronas (For The Record 108)
 

It must have been somewhere around the age of 17 when I first heard ‘Russian Circles’. I remember watching “Death Rides a Horse” on YouTube and I still clearly remember thinking “what the hell? why haven’t I heard this band before”. I remember a friend telling me, “mate, that’s post rock” and I had troubles understanding what post rock meant for ages. Fact: the term “Post Rock” was first used by Simon Reynolds a well-established music journalist back in 94’. I was fascinated by the genre and I started looking for other bands that played the so called “post-rock”. I found many, I listened to them, but soon enough their music kind of “wore off”. Not with ‘Russian Circles’ though. It’s been ten years now since I first got introduced to their music and every single one of their albums surprises me and reveals another shade of the band. And after all this time, I can clearly understand what post rock is, and ‘Russian Circles’ take their music well outside the limits of it.

Four years after their last show in Athens, ‘Russian Circles’ will return on the 21st of April with their latest release ‘Blood Year’. With all this in mind, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to ask the band a few questions regarding their last album, writing process, as well as what has stayed with them throughout the years so far. Right before the start of their European tour, Brian Cook was kind enough to spend some time and reply to those questions. Here’s what he said:
 


Blood Year LP (out 1/8/2019 via Sargent House)


 


The Basement: 'Blood Year' is a great album and certainly one that will mark the band’s discography. What was new or different for you on 'Blood Year', either emotionally or technically?

I think the biggest difference for Blood Year was that it was the first time we tried to scale back and eliminate things from our arsenal. When we made our third album, Geneva, we added a lot of supplementary instrumentation---cello, violin, trombone, piano---but we worried that we were headed down a path that would make our records too ostentatious. We took a more stripped-down approach with our next album Empros but there are still a lot of variables we weren't going to replicate live that on the record---the first introduction of vocals, acoustic guitars, various noisemakers. And that was the pattern for the next few records. But with Blood Year we wanted to make a record that felt like an honest reflection of our live show. No frills.
 


The Basement: What’s your favourite track to perform live from the album?

Well, even though we've been touring on the album since August, we're still making small adjustments to the material when we play live. Hopefully by the time we make it to Athens we'll have settled in on definitive versions of the songs, and then I could answer this question. But at the moment, my favorite track varies from night to night.


The Basement: Could you describe each of your albums with a word or two? Which one was the most challenging to record?

I can't speak to our first album, Enter, as I wasn't in the band back then. As for the others, I would describe Station as liberating. For Mike and Dave, I think it was a very freeing record because they were no longer butting heads creatively with their original bassist, while for me it was so much more open and dynamic than anything i'd ever worked on before that it felt like a whole new sonic world had opened up to me. Geneva was a utopian record. We were all in good spirits and we were able to make a record that satisfied our ambitions. Empros was a response to touring on Geneva, which involved a lot of hardships and obstacles. And the recording itself was a difficult one as we were dealing with a lot of unexpected limitations in the studio. It's a record about pushing through the hard times. Our next record Memorial felt a bit like a museum piece to me. It was the most difficult album of ours to make, in my opinion. It was the least prepared we'd ever been when we entered the studio. The idea was to allow the album to take shape as we were recording, and that gave the record its own style and character, but there are also moments on that record that feel a bit impulsive to my ears. Guidance was a big question mark. We weren't sure what the future held for the band, and we wanted to go out of our comfort zone with trying a new studio and a new engineer producer.


The Basement: Do you ever get creatively stuck? What do you do then?

Creativity is a muscle. If you don't use it, it atrophies. You just have to wake up and make something every day, even if it's garbage. It's like going back to the gym after a long absence. Off course you're not going to be able to deadlift as much weight as you did when you were exercising every day, but if you keep up at it you can get back to that point and surpass it. You just have to work on it.


The Basement: What’s the most vivid memory you have kept from writing music, touring and playing through the years?

During an ideal performance, you're not aware of anything. The experience happens and you don't retain any memory of it. It's like your conscious brain turns off. So, my most vivid memories of the band don't involve playing music. They're more likely to involve something like playing cards, drinking beer, and listening to music with the guys at a house out in rural Wisconsin where we wrote Geneva, or listening through a final mix of an album at 4am after a long last day in the studio.


The Basement: I want to get a bit more into your musical influences… What were the bands you wanted to sound like, or admired when you started playing, and how far your music taste has drifted since then?

When I first started playing music at age 14 I wanted to be in a band that sounded like Dead Kennedys or Fugazi. I still love those bands for what they represented in my youth, but my tastes are much broader now. We try to not draw directly from any particular artist or genre, and we're generally open to anything that places nuance over virtuosity and texture over tradition.



The Basement: I see you have a lot of emotional connection with your albums. How does this reflect on the way you make songs?

Our music will always be some sort of personal catharsis. Sometimes that despair or frustration can be subdued by making something dark and imposing. Sometimes it better serves as a salve if it establishes some kind of calm or introspection. We don't overthink things. We just run with whatever sounds right to our ears.


The Basement: Have you ever considered differentiating from the instrumental genre and releasing an album with your own vocals?

Nothing is off the table, but we have no desire to make a full-length album that we can't recreate live, and we have no intention of adding members to our band.


The Basement: Is there a specific piece of gear that you are fixated with?

No.


The Basement: Joke: the world is about to end (coronavirus attack lol) what are the 5 albums you save?!

Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street,
Can - Ege Bamyasi,
Miles Davis - In a Silent Way,
Darkthrone - Panzerfaust,
Minutemen - Double Nickels on the Dime


The Basement: Apart from touring, in spare time, what are you working on? Is there another album to be waiting anytime soon?

We're in the initial stages of working on an EP of songs that explore the more spacious and atmospheric side of the band.


The Basement: It’s been four years since you last played in Greece. What are your expectations for the upcoming show in Athens?

I don't know. We were blown away by Athens last time we were there. I don't want to get my hopes up, but I'm pretty excited for the show.



I want to thank Russian Circles and Lauren for taking the time and responding to that interview. I am sure the show will be another one to remember!
Ioannis Patronas (For The Record 108)

Russian Circles Merch
Blood Year LP
Tickets to Upcoming gig (21st of April)
Official Website


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