Prog Blog: Russian Circles Interview

Written by Mike Solo on 24th June, 2012

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Chicago’s Russian Circles are heading back to Australia and New Zealand this September and October for their second tour here (and for the second year in a row).

The experimental metal trio’s massive live sound and solid work ethic has earned them a dedicated live following around the world, with their latest release, 2011′s Empros, showcasing some of their heaviest groove-inflected riffs.

Their extensive European tour this year was recently documented by a rare tour diary by bassist Brian Cook, outlining the trials and hijinx of life on the road, including a nasty accident with guitarist Mike Sullivan’s thumb that nearly derailed the whole tour (read about it here).

The upcoming shows promise to be some of the band’s biggest here to date, so here’s an interview with Mike Sullivan (guitar) ahead of their visit.

Prog Blog: First of all, how is your finger?

Mike Sullivan: The thumb is good to go. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world at the moment, but I’m finally able to play a lot of songs that I was incapable of playing just a few weeks ago.

PB: This is your second time touring Australia, after your initial visit last year. What do you remember about your experience last time and what brought you back?

MS: That was a great tour, but we packed a ton of shows into a small amount of time. The people were one of my favourite parts of the trip: exceptionally nice people at every show. We didn’t have much time for sightseeing but met all types of good folks. This time we’re looking forward to seeing more of the country/cities and getting a better feel for the country as a whole. After returning home after the last Australian tour, I routinely sought out Bundaburg, Coopers and Vegemite. So to answer the question, the food and drink is what brought us back.

PB: Brian wrote an extensive tour diary for your recent European tour; will we see a similar diary for the Aus/NZ dates?

MS: I don’t imagine that will happen again anytime soon. We’re rather private people and that diary was a unique glimpse of what happens on a day-in day-out basis on tour. I enjoyed reading Brian’s accounts. It’s too bad he had to omit some of the juiciest parts of the tour, but I suppose that’s for everyone’s benefit.

PB: You’re bringing Eagle Twin along with you this time; tell us a bit about them.

MS: Heavy, gnarly, nasty two-piece that brings much more to the table than most sludge or doom bands. They’re the real deal as far as I’m concerned. We’re fortunate they’re on board for this one.

PB: How do you keep up such a hectic schedule of touring? As a working band, is touring enough to live on or do you still need to work a day job?

MS: As busy we may seem, we make sure we take enough time off between tours so we don’t get exhausted from what we love. Each time we head out on a new tour, we want to have that same excitement that we had when we went on our first tour many years ago. Touring as frequently as we do, there’s not a whole lot of time to work a proper job. Brian is a contributing writer for a Seattle weekly newspaper, which he’s able do on the road when need be.

PB: Last year’s Empros was well-received and appeared on many alternative music end of year lists. Did this surprise you?

MS: It surely was a nice surprise. In the back of our heads, we thought we’d be alienating a lot of people because the record was much more raw and uninviting than prior records. Thankfully, the response was positive nevertheless.

PB: You’ve carved out a solid niche of instrumental metal and prog rock. Is this the Russian Circles sound or are you looking to head elsewhere on the next album?

MS: I’m not sure where we’re headed, but each record seems to be a bit of a reaction to the one before. As much as I’d like to say we’re all about experimentation and challenging listeners, we’re more interested in writing songs that excite us and really resonate with each of us . Whether we’re working on a heavier song or a delicate slow one, we’ll keep refining the song until each part has a sense of purpose. Writing with an open mind presents a lot of potential song ideas too.

PB: What sort of things do you do in your downtime? Are there side projects going on or is it all non musical?

MS: I spend far too much of the day playing guitar to be as confused by the instrument as I am. Dave plays ice hockey as if he’s trying out for the pros next season. I believe Brian has more grownup hobbies than Dave and I. Brian occasionally contributes to a music project called Mamiffer.

PB: You’re touring with And So I Watch You From Afar in the US, who are also part of the Sargent House roster. What’s it been like being a part of such a diverse yet awesome group of acts, and how did you first get involved?

MS: It’s great. They are good people with good values who truly love what they’re doing. We’re happy to call it home. Every year the roster grows stronger and more diverse. Long story short, we met Cathy at Sargent House through Brian while touring with These Arms are Snakes. At the time, they were being managed by Sargent House around 2007.

PB: You play on quite different lineups, from post-rock to metal to doom to prog; where do you feel most at home with Russian Circles?

MS: We appreciate playing diverse bills but always feel most comfortable in the darker side of things, whether it be loud or more mellow.

PB: Who are you listening to at the moment?

MS: Currently I’m listening to Chelsea Wolfe’s Apokalypsis. Some others I’ve been listening to recently include Black Breath, Faith No More, PJ Harvey Portishead and King Crimson.

PB: Any Australian bands that pique your interest?

MS: We’re big fans of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ soundtrack work. Their other projects are great too, but we seem to gravitate towards their film scores. On another level, I really enjoy Scul Hazzardz from Brisbane, who are a great band that deserves plenty of recognition.

PB: What’s next for Russian Circles after this trip? Can we expect to see you back again soon?

MS: After this tour, the plan is to get back to writing and hopefully be recording a new record sometime in the spring. I’d like to say we’ll be back in another year or so.

You can see Russian Circles and Eagle Twin, along with local supports, at the following dates:

Heathen Skulls presents…Russian Circles + Eagle Twin Australia and New Zealand Tour 2012

Wed Sep 26th @ King’s Arm Tavern, Auckland NZ

Thurs Sep 27th @ San Francisco Bath House, Wellington NZ

Fri Sep 28th @ Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC w/Agonhymn + more
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Sat Sep 29th @ Fowler’s Live, Adelaide SA w/sleepmakeswaves + Hydromedusa
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Sun Sep 30th @ The Bakery, Perth WA w/Drowning Horse
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Thurs Oct 4th @ ANU Bar, Canberra ACT w/I Exist

Fri Oct 5th @ The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
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Sat Oct 6th @ The Hi Fi, Sydney NSW w/I Exist + Lo!
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Facebook event http://www.facebook.com/events/337965059606057/

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