Interview with Anthony Green of Circa Survive: Clear Skies Ahead

For Circa Survive frontman Anthony Green, each album represents a new chapter in the band’s career. With the release of Blue Sky Noise in April, the Philly band has entered the third chapter in its life—the chapter that “really fucks you up,” according to Green.

Green says he felt an overwhelming amount of pressure during the creation of the album—not from Atlantic Records, which the band signed to in the past year after its contract with Equal Vision Records ended, not from his bandmates and not from the fans —but from himself. As a testament to the band’s strength, however, the members of Circa Survive pulled together to put out a cohesive collection of polished, richly layered arrangements as well as a new message to fans.

The Aquarian interviewed Green about the new album, the self-imposed pressure during its making, and Circa Survive’s new mission.

So fans have been reacting positively to the new material?

Yeah, people have been reacting really positively—way more than I would have expected. I almost felt this record was a big coffin nail right in the head for our band [laughs]. I feel like maybe being extremely bold is what paid off for us. I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s been a weekend, you know. I don’t want to go ahead and start making these calls now [laughs].

Why did you originally see the album as that?

For a little while, from just me writing the album—just my part of it—I had these expectations of what I thought it was supposed to be, what I thought the band was supposed to be and what I thought people wanted from the band. It took me a minute to realize and remember that anybody who wants to share in this with us likes what we like. If we were to ever change that up, it would be hung up and revealed in the center of town, and we’d be dead musically because you don’t do that. People respect you working out your demons. They respect you writing music that you love, so that then you can go ahead and play it for everybody with a heart full of love. That’s what people respond to. A lot of people love their art, but totally spoon fed to them and forced down their throat. Luckily, Circa Survive fans aren’t like that; they’re freaky, they’re able to be real patient and they’re able to be real compassionate.

You guys all lived in the same house and wrote together, is that true?

We did for about four-and-a-half years, and then I got married literally when the band took a little break. They took a little break for me because my wife and I got married and went to Hawaii for three weeks. Then as soon as I got home from Hawaii, I started rehearsing and went out on a solo tour for this little album with Photo Finish. As soon as that was over, about six weeks of that, I went right from there to writing the Circa album. It was like going from this totally self-indulgent, selfish time in my life when I could write about anything I wanted and all the guys in Good Old War were like, ‘Fucking A, that’s great.’

Then to go write the most important record in Circa’s career and then not forgetting, but kind of feeling all this tremendous pressure to be the freakiest person I possibly could, I felt myself—for the first time in my life ever—really trying super hard to find something that was already there. I was finding it so fucking difficult to sift through all this hay when I had a pocket full of needles, you know. I’m like, ‘I don’t need any of that shit.’ I think that all that I had to do was go through this big slump where I realized, ‘Hey, maybe all these self-indulgent jingle jangle songs aren’t so bad and we need to just turn them into rock songs.’

It was also a good time where everybody in the band realized, ‘Yo, we all need to come together. Steve’s got to help with guitar parts; Brendan’s got to help with bass parts; Colin’s got to help with vocals. Steve’s helped me out with vocals.’ We all got into it with each other and really became a band on this album, and we had this producer who was fearless, who was so into doing anything we wanted to try.

Why was this album so important? You said this was the most important album in Circa Survive’s career. Why is that?

We’re all different than we were when we started this band. We’re a little bit older, we’re a hundred percent sure that we want to do this for a living. That all wasn’t a hundred percent there when we were 21, signed to Equal Vision and just wanted to put Juturna out, tour and get out of our parents’ houses. This time’s different because we’re almost 30-years-old, and we feel really young. We feel super young. I know that we’re not 16 or 17 or whatever, but in my heart I feel wild.

Ever since we started getting over the humps of this album, songs like ‘Get Out,’ ‘Frozen Creek,’ and ‘Through The Desert [Alone]’ got written. After I went through a really hard time, we realized that this music is way more important than any of us. Our friendship is really more important than anything, but this album really brought out the mission of the band, which is to tell people that they don’t ever have to worry, that they don’t have to do shit they don’t love, the only way they can be happy is to not be a dickhead to their friends and to work on their personal relationships. That’s what this whole album is about. We’ve got to work on our personal relationships if we ever expect anything to get better in the world. People don’t often think about this massive, overwhelming, idealistic way they can work with their family, get with their friends and make their life happy and that people can be happy. That’s what I figured out writing this album, and it sounds so cheesy, but you can overcome any fucking type of darkness. You can be happy no matter what you think.

I know this woman, who will go unnamed. She’s this old friend of mine, and she’s the type of person who, ugh, everything bad happened to her. You know what I’m talking about—there are those people? Every time something happened, it was like, ‘Ugh, of course.’ Every time something went down, it was like, ‘Yeah, that shit follows me around. I’m fucking cursed.’ She was horrible to be around. You know, she was right, fucked up shit did follow her around. But you know what? It was because she fucking begged for it. She never shut up about it. She only focused on the negative shit in her life—always. That was at the forefront. ‘Ugh, of course this happened to me, it always does.’ Well, yeah, now it always does because you fucking beg for it. You’re drawing it in. You’re expecting it. What do you think is going to happen if you’re just sitting around expecting bad shit?

I think that if you kind of do the opposite of that, you’re going to maybe think bad shit, then maybe you think good shit, then maybe you go ahead and erase those expectations, and you just take what’s coming and try to take it with a super grateful, compassionate heart. Like I said, if you’re really a good person and you live not by anybody else’s standards, you really know who you are, you’re a good person, you’re not afraid, you will bring so much happiness into your life and people love you no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re a musician, an artist, a plumber, a painter, a fucking candlestick maker. It doesn’t matter. It’s a fucking fact of life that people don’t realize. If you can gain perspective seeing through all the shit, the horrible shit that this world is, you’re going to be alright.

What did you do differently in creating this album and in working on this album compared to past albums?

Instead of the songs getting written and me just going into the studio and writing vocals for these massively long, crazy-ish metal songs, I got to take songs and the form that Circa was putting together, strip them down to acoustic and write vocals to them that way, in kind of the way I would write them. Then we would mess around with the key of the song to see how high we could get the vocals and if it fit right.

‘I Felt Free’ is a song that Colin wrote the lyrics and melodies for. That’s never happened on a Circa album. ‘Imaginary Enemy’ is a song Colin and I wrote together; he wrote the chorus, I wrote the verses, and he wrote the music.

There’s a lot of stuff we did differently. The song ‘Fever Dreams’ was a song that was written musically from front to back without any vocals. It had been written for months, and it was sitting on my shoulder like a fucking rabies-infested parrot, like [in parrot voice] ‘[Squawks] Write stuff to this! This is good.’ Brandon, every once in a while, would be like, ‘This song musically is important to me and I don’t know why. Please take a minute and try to write stuff to it.’ And I was going through this egotistical thing where I was like, ‘I can’t just write stuff to this crazy shit.’ I’ve always done that, that’s been my thing. I walk in, listen to the melody, listen to the groove and I just start singing. I felt all this pressure. All of a sudden when it was lifted, songs like ‘Fever Dreams,’ ‘Through The Desert [Alone],’ and other songs just got written because I was like, ‘Oh, I remember, I can do this, and it’s the best shit ever.’

Have you been working on your solo project at all since the release of Avalon?

Yeah, I have all these songs ready to go, and they’re the coolest songs. There’s this one song that I’ve been working on just on this tour, and it’s all about just wanting to be around somebody so bad and not know why. It’s kind of like a beggar’s song, telling someone that they’re fucking crazy and they’re awesome to be around. I wrote a song about antidepressants called ‘I Love You When I’m On Pills,’ and it’s a work in progress. There’s a song that’s an apology to Meredith for cheating on her for so many years and being such a terrible partner. There are all these weird songs that I’m working on with Good Old War, but nothing is going to happen until Circa is taking a big break. I don’t see that happening for a long time, so I have plenty of time to write songs for Good Old War.

Circa Survive will perform at Rumsey Playfield in New York, NY on May 26.