Pennsylvania-born singer-songwriter and Circa Survive frontman Anthony Green has just put out a full-length follow-up to his last solo album, Beautiful Things. The vocalist’s most up-to-date work, Young Legs, showcases his ever-expanding musical exploration as well as his vast talent vocally. His arrangements on the current solo effort also display his knack for melodies that transcend the confines of a solitary genre.
Anthony Green is touring the States in support of the record right now and revealed in our conversation that 2014 will hopefully bring new material from Circa Survive as well. The band—whose 2012 release, Violent Waves, was met with rave reviews—have an end-of-year show in L.A. on Dec. 28.
In the middle of his nationwide tour, Green sat down to speak with me about what went into Young Legs, the forces that continue to drive him, and plans for the not-so-distant future. Here is what he had to say:
You just released your latest solo work, Young Legs. This record appears to be more structurally complex. How do you feel that you have developed as a musician since your last solo effort?
The last couple years I have been really paying attention to songwriting and structure a lot more than I used to. It’s fun, you can experiment with so many different things. I feel like that has definitely changed a lot of the vibes of my songs. You go back and listen to a song like “She Loves Me So,” it’s a verse and chorus pretty much. Listen to a song like “Breaker,” it has several different parts to it. It still manages to be simple yet retain a complex feel to it.
What motivated you to sit down and pen Young Legs?
I had at least half of the record finished before Beautiful Things came out. I started compiling this list of songs that I had written for other people. Young Legs sort of turned into this collection of songs based on, like, somebody going through a divorce or breakup. I would use that and try to write a song about it. Didn’t really do that in the past, this is probably the first time I ever really did that. That’s why I feel Young Legs is a fitting title.
With all the options available for modifying a song in-studio, how are you certain when a track is complete?
Usually we make a little list. I’ll figure I want this many instruments on the song. Then we’ll record, go through the list, get the drums recorded, the bass recorded, guitars recorded, pianos recorded. Once you have everything that you want to mess with, you want to make sure that they are all balanced.
There is a saying that is, “Work is never finished until it is abandoned.” I fully believe in that. I would never be finished with a song, I almost need someone to come in and say, “Hey, knock it off, you’re finished.”
How do you differentiate the music that you write for your solo work as opposed to Circa Survive songs?
I really don’t, you know… I write all of the time. Stuff that doesn’t get used for Circa I usually use in my solo stuff. Recently, I feel like if I write a song that feels more personal to me, then I keep it.
After years and years of being in Circa Survive, I know what those guys like. I know when I write a song, I know if it will be a Circa song or if it’s a solo song. There’s nothing that I hate more than writing a song and bringing it to the band and having them say, “Hmm, that sounds more like a solo song.” It was the type of thing where I was always writing songs and bringing them to the band, and rather than having them say that, I’ve been trying to be aware that these songs are really ultra personal, and those are the ones you have to keep to yourself. Ultimately, some ultra personal stuff will end up in the Circa catalog.
Your voice is pretty much unmistakable. How do you keep it fresh when performing nightly?
I brought my kids out on the tour. They’re up every morning at eight o’clock. It’s a lot of work, you have to keep in mind that you have to sing all night. You can’t talk all day, you have to get a good night’s sleep, you can’t smoke too much, you can’t drink too much, you can’t eat too much. You really just have to take care of yourself, that’s the bottom line.
How do vocal warm-ups work for you?
I usually just run the scales. In the morning, I’ll do that just to get my voice awake. Most of all, I think it should be depending on what you need to do.
What vocalists inspired you as a budding musician?
Maynard [James Keenan] from Tool, Kurt Cobain was the ultimate poet, badass when I was growing up. When I was growing up, Kurt Cobain was the voice of anybody who was a nerd. He wasn’t great at guitar, but he made everybody who couldn’t play that well feel like they could play.
I would say growing up Nirvana had a huge impact on me and I wanted to know what that felt like. I love that fact that they were just regular guys up there in jeans and t-shirts, playing rock and roll music. I feel like my brother and his friends could have been making it in a garage. There was nothing technical about it, it was completely visceral and grungy. I wanted to be a part of something like that.
How does songwriting happen when you are doing it with the guys of Circa Survive?
Sometimes it will start on guitar—one of the guys will get an idea on guitar. There’s not really, like, one process. We try to make different approaches to it. We try to keep the process really open so that it’s always different, so the songwriting is more fresh.
How is the process different when you are doing it on your own?
I don’t think that it is as fun doing it on your own. Even when doing my solo stuff, I always depend on my friends to help me make the songs what they are. It was never about just me, even when it’s solo stuff. I had our producer helping me a lot. I got the final say on everything.
With Circa, with my solo project, I always try to involve people—people that are on the same page as me—so they can listen to something and say, “That’s really cool, you should do that more, do that higher.” The way we write songs, it’s always teaching me. It makes for an exciting adventure every time we go to write. You never know what’s going to happen.
Do you think you could choose a favorite track within your own discography?
A favorite song overall?
That’s so hard to do. There are so many songs that I absolutely love. There isn’t one favorite, there are thousands of them. There are songs that I haven’t even recorded yet.
Then let me edit the question. What are your favorite songs to perform live?
“Breaker” from Young Legs. It translates live better than any song. Maybe because it’s brand new it makes me feel really good, to play it live, rock out, head-bang. That’s it.
“Moon Song” is my favorite song to play live. That’s my favorite song to play live. It goes from one place to another by the end of the song. It’s a crazy journey.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Let me take a look at my iTunes really quick.
Sure, go ahead.
OK, so on my iTunes we have the band Everything Everything. They are from Manchester. They are incredible, people should check them out. I’m listening to the new Queens Of The Stone Age, Balance And Composure, Local Natives, Good Old War, there’s a little Portugal. The Man in there, too.
Actually, I believe there’s a band touring with you guys right now, a Jersey band, Brick + Mortar. Local guys.
Yeah, they are like the nicest guys ever.
Speaking of, are there any up-and-coming artists that have motivated you to work harder at your craft?
There is a singer-songwriter—his name is Henry [Kohen]—his band is called Mylets. He lives out in California. Incredible singer-songwriter. He plays everything himself; he uses loop stations to do all of the instruments and rhythms. He just makes me want to be a better player. I just met him the other day, we’re buddies now.
What are your plans for the end of this year into 2014?
Circa has a big show in California later this month. We’re going to play a bunch of B-sides and old songs. I am writing and recording a children’s album that will be released next year. There is a lot of fun stuff going on next year. Festivals, we’re trying to put out new music for Circa.
It’s so cool to be in The Aquarian. I always used to love reading the articles and the music pieces that you guys would do. I appreciate you guys taking the time to cover our band.
That’s awesome, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us!
Anthony Green will play at the Bowery Ballroom on Dec. 13 and Union Transfer on Dec. 14. Young Legs is available now. For more information, go to anthonygreenschildren.com.