Post-rock instrumental bands have been emerging from every crack and crevice of the map the past few years. You can usually tell them by their simmering introductions that build to explosive crescendos and their airy adverb-clause or sentence-length names.
Russian Circles’ heavy brand of meandering rock leaves lesser bands choking on their smoke. Where amateurs follow the slowly-build-then-explode archetype, Mike Sullivan (guitar), Brian Cook (bass), and Dave Turncrantz (drums) avert cliché, smash expectations, and drive it home clean. It’s a difference difficult to describe but easy to hear, leaving many writers — myself included — sounding stupid.
Russian Circles are currently in the studio with Brandon Curtis (of Secret Machines) behind the boards, working on a follow-up to last year’s massive and majestic Station (Suicide Squeeze). Brian Cook (also of These Arms Are Snakes and formerly of Botch) took a break from laying down bass tracks to answer a few questions about the band, the record, and the state of music in general.
Roy Christopher: What did you guys do differently this time around?
Brian Cook: There were more practices, more demos, more rewrites, and more studio time. There were also all the lessons we’d learned from the past to contend with. We were less concerned with perfect takes and more concerned with perfect tones. We switched up a lot of ideas as we were recording and we were less concerned with making sure we could replicate the material live as we were with making a compelling album. Both Enter (Flameshovel, 2006) and Station were pretty faithful to how we play live, so we felt we could get away with doing an album where we elaborate on the material a bit more. So the new album has strings, brass, and a howling dog, none of which will be appearing live.
RC: A lot of instrumental so-called “post-rock” bands have emerged in the past few years. Do you feel that this has changed the way you approach your music?
BC: I suppose it means there are quite a few more reference points, both for us as artists and for our audience. It means that we’re somewhat self-aware of what we do, and for the audience it may be tempting to weigh the merits of what we do against other bands and artists instead of judging it on its own terms. It would be nice to pretend that we exist in some sort of cultural bubble, but we don’t. Fortunately, I think post-rock is a pretty nebulous term. There is about as much crossover between “post-rock” bands like Trans Am and Stars of the Lid as there is between, say, Devo and Tangerine Dream. In other words, the tag doesn’t really mean shit. Or rather, it means that I have to sit through the same obnoxious conversations about “post-rock” that I had to sit through 15 years ago, except back then the topic was “punk” or “hardcore.” On a side note, I am starting a ballot initiative that would require people to apply for a license before they can buy a delay pedal. That should help stymie the popularity of this brand of music.
RC: Speaking of, has the slow demise of the compact disc changed the way you approach your music or the way you approach recording?
BC: Not really. We don’t want to overstay our welcome, so we feel that six or seven songs is about the extent of material people can put up with in one sitting. So our live sets and albums inevitably wind up around the same length. Actually, the album is a bit longer than we had planned, but all the material made sense together, so we’ll take our chances that our ADD-afflicted culture can put up with our self-indulgence. Aside from that, we spend more time thinking about how much time you can fit on a side of vinyl record and where we need to put the album breaks than thinking about CDs.
RC: What do you guys do for fun outside of playing music?
BC: My hobbies include fighting “the system”, drinking, shooting guns, and watching TV. Sometimes I do all four at once. I also like eating and fucking, but I’ve been told that it’s scientifically impossible to do both at the same time because you only have enough blood in your body to sustain an erection or digest food, but not both. I suppose I could be on the receiving end and still eat a sandwich, though… Might have to try that sometime.
[Russian Circles photo by Ryan Russell]
Here’s a live clip of Russian Circles performing “Death Ride a Horse” from Enter [runtime: 6:01]: