Musicscan: Please, tell me a little bit about the writing and recording process for this album. How did you put this album together and what were some of the biggest obstacles?
Russian Circles: Geneva was written between the summer of 2008 and April of 2009. I’m not really sure what to share in terms of details for the process. I suppose it came together like most albums do: there were some initial ideas, they were worked and reworked, we critiqued it endlessly, we drank a lot of coffee during the day, played cards and drank beer while listening to our favorite records at night. We would rehearse for 8 hours a day for a week at a time, then go our separate ways for a while. We recorded the album at Electrical Audio in Chicago with Greg Norman engineering it and Brandon Curtis from Secret Machines producing it. Brandon, Dave Turncrantz, and I slept on Mike Sullivan’s couches for the month we were in the studio. As far as obstacles, I think it was just finding a balance between what we wanted the album to sound like versus what we were willing and able to actually play in the live setting.
Musicscan: What do you look for in music? What makes music a particularly interesting avenue for artistic expression?
Russian Circles: I look for something intangible. When I was younger, I would latch on to something and exhaust everything that bared a passing resemblance to it. I gradually learned that liking Bob Dylan, does not mean liking Dylan’s peers, or people that sound similar to Dylan. Only Dylan can do what Dylan does. But there is other music that can make me feel the same way that “Blood On The Tracks” made me feel the first time I heard it. Currently, that record is Brian Eno’s “Apollo Atmospheres and Soundtracks”. Sonically, they have very little in common, but they trigger the same emotional response for me. I don’t know why that is, but that’s what I look for. And I guess that mystery is what makes music interesting.
Musicscan: Do you have a problem when people categorize you as "post-rock" and what is usually associated with that label? Do you feel comfortable with that?
Russian Circles: I don’t really have a problem with the label. What does it mean? It’s rock music that comes after rock music? I’m okay with that. A lot of musicians grumble about being pegged into specific genres. I totally understand and relate. Once someone slaps something like “post-rock” on your band it tends to close off the conversation. It’s a cheap and easy generalization that says nothing. Does being “post-rock” mean we sound like Tortoise? Rachels? Trans Am? Labradford? I have no problem being associated with those bands in terms of being in their league of artistic integrity, but I doubt anyone would argue that we sound like any of those bands.
Musicscan: What makes for the perfect song in your opinion? Have you ever achieved something like a perfect song in your opinion? How would you define a perfect song?
Russian Circles: Answering this question would basically be me repeating my answer to your second question. I think “Long Monday” by John Prine is a perfect song, but I don’t know why. And I don’t think we’ve written a perfect song yet.
Musicscan: How does the songwriting process work in your case? Do you all contribute equally or is there one major songwriter?
Russian Circles: Mike comes up with a few guitar lines. He shows them to Dave and they come up with some loose arrangements. I come in and try to emphasize or elaborate on certain parts. Then we play those parts over and over until something resembling a song forms.
Musicscan: Do you write songs specifically for a record or do you just gather everything that you have worked on over the year and compile the best songs in the end?
Russian Circles: The first one.
Musicscan: Would you say the songs on your albums are somehow thematically connected and intertwined or does each song stand on its own with no direct relation to the other songs on the album?
Russian Circles: Ideally, both. I’d prefer people to listen to the album in its entirety, but the songs are crafted to stand on their own as well.
Musicscan: What makes for a good live show in your opinion? Are you very much focused on what you are doing on stage or is there a strong interaction with the audience? Is the response and energy from the audience less direct and intense maybe or harder to make out or pick up when playing instrumental music if you would compare it to a rock band with 3 minute songs?
Russian Circles: Well, we don’t have a singer, and we don’t have vocal microphones on stage. So we don’t converse with the audience. There is definitely an ingrained notion in my head from growing up in the punk and hardcore community that the crowd and the band are on the same level. Both parties are a part of the show. Yet, with our music we’re definitely trying to divorce ourselves from the audience. It’s not a matter of trying to elevate ourselves as performers, but rather we’re trying to let the music work entirely on it’s own instead of trying to win the audience over with witty banter or trying to exude some sort of strong persona. We want a neutral context for the music, and in turn we don’t want to be dependent on having an enthusiastic or engaged crowd to deliver a good set.
Musicscan: What inspires you apart from music, literature or art?
Russian Circles: Good people.
Musicscan: What is the difference between art and entertainment in your opinion?
Russian Circles: Good art should be entertaining. It should remind you of being alive. Entertainment doesn’t necessarily involve communicating ideas or expressing an emotion. All art is entertainment. Not all entertainment is art.
Musicscan: Is it necessary to create a certain distance between you and the music in order to get a better understanding of its inherent quality? Do you rely on outside opinions on your music?
One should never rely on outside opinions for music, unless it’s something like “do I sound out of tune there?” or “is the bass loud enough?”. A little distance from music now and then doesn’t hurt, though. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Musicscan: Please tell me a little bit about opening up for Tool. What was that experience like? How were you received?
Russian Circles: I was not in the band at that point. Therefore, I can’t comment on this.
Musicscan: What effect do you think does the accessibility of music have on the music itself? Do you think music might be valued differently nowadays because it's basically free for everyone and one does not necessarily have to engage with any of its context in order to appreciate it? Do you think people will still listen and make records in about 20 years?
Russian Circles: People will always like music. That will not change. But the overwhelming popularity of modern music, the easy dissemination of it via the internet, and the inundation of live music can’t sustain itself. In fact, I think the bottom is falling out already. Album sales have been on the decline for years, but the flipside was that the concert industry was thriving. As of this year, that is no longer the case. Every aspect of the music industry is ailing, and I think that stems from people being burned out. The internet has basically opened up the market. You can have whatever you want, whenever you want, and it’s free. People got spoiled, lazy, burned out, easily distracted, and acquired a false sense of entitlement. Those are not good attributes to have as a patron of the arts. And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.