Russian Circles bring instrumental music to the masses
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Generally speaking, instrumental bands have to work harder to make an impression. Sure, instrumental music has its devotees, but then there’s that other 98 percent of the population: How do you hook them? Russian Circles use equal parts musicality and volume. The latter gets attention, but the former sustains it. Russian Circles mix metal, punk, indie rock, and prog into a surprisingly palatable—and unsurprisingly forceful—sound. When Russian Circles began playing out in Chicago early last year, they didn’t have problems hooking people. Word of mouth spread quickly, earning them a spot on Flowerbooking’s roster and an offer from respected indie label Jade Tree. Protracted negotiations eventually sunk that deal, but local indie Flameshovel filled the void. This month, the label will release Russian Circles’ full-length debut, Enter. Before their CD-release shows, guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz, and bassist Colin DeKuiper spoke with The A.V. Club.
The A.V. Club: What are some advantages to being instrumental?\
Dave Turncrantz: Sometimes I think singers can hurt a band like us—if we had a guy screaming the whole time, it’d be a completely different feel. People can actually hear the catchy, poppier parts when it’s instrumental instead of some guy screaming pain.
Colin DeKuiper: Because we don’t have a vocalist, we get to push things a little bit harder, if we have a sound guy who’s willing to let us. That’s always really nice. It’s hard not to take notice when it’s so fucking loud, but not in a bad way. I think there are a lot of people who don’t necessarily like heavy, abrasive stuff, but it really captures them, because they have to pay attention to it.
DT: You lose track of what’s going on musically if you just have some guy screaming in your face the whole time.
Mike Sullivan: We didn’t really think about why we like being instrumental. We knew there were reasons, but now doing interviews, I’m hell-bound: “I love instrumental music! We can do whatever the fuck we want!” It’s crazy. We can go write a fucking pop song and then turn it into a metal song, and no singer is like, “Wait, what do I do here?”
DT: People are like, “I can’t believe you don’t have a singer,” but they don’t take into consideration that music for generations—classical, jazz, blues, you name it—the root of it is not a vocalist. Sometimes it is, but not for the most part. They don’t think that’s music, sometimes. “Classical and jazz? No you’re an instrumental band.”
AVC: Releasing Enter was a bit of an ordeal. What did the Jade Tree fiasco teach you?
DT: You think that once you’re on a label, everything’s dandy, and everything’s fair, and everything’s going to be awesome, especially independent labels, but that’s not always the case. We were so stoked when everything kind of came into our lap. Then reality set in.
CD: We weren’t expecting a label to come along and take care of us. We weren’t naïve enough to think it’s going to be that, but it was just sort of like, “Oh there’s a catch here, there’s a catch here.” The simpler a record label operates, the easier they are to deal with.
MS: We had never seen a contract before, so we were like, “Oh, maybe it’s cool,” and everybody that saw it was like, “Whoa!” [Laughs.]
DT: It was a major-label contract without a major-label advance. I tried to read through the first page. It was fucking hilarious: I was set up, got a soda, laid in my bed, grabbed it, fucking fell asleep the first page in. I read it like 80 times.
MS: It was like in Wingdings.
AVC: You recorded the album in five days. Can such time constraints be beneficial?
DT: I think if you have too much time, it can really hurt you, but if you have too little time, it could hurt you also. There’s that middle ground that we didn’t have—but we almost had it.
MS: We were very conscious not to overproduce: “What can we pull off live? What can’t we do? If we can’t do this sound live, let’s not go too overboard.”
CD: You can hear when records are rushed, and that’s not a good thing, but you can also hear when records have been so heavily polished. They lack a certain amount of emotion.
AVC: Would you have done anything differently in retrospect?
DT: I think with any artist, you always think, “Oh, I could have done that better,” but for what it was, the whole package, it was fucking awesome. If we had more time, it could have been the same thing—or it could have been crappier.
CD: Every time you record, you learn more about the process, and you learn more about what’s important, and hopefully you take those things and say, “Okay, this is what we do next time.”