CIRCULINE: Return to Music

Circuline to release "Return" on April 24th, 2015

Circuline is a new name on the progressive rock scene, and they are about to release their debut album “Return” on April 24th. Prog Sphere conducted an in-depth interview with keyboardist and composer Andrew Colyer about the band’s beginnings, the creative process that informed the album, influences, gear, and more. 

How did you go about forming Circuline? Define the band’s mission.

Andrew Colyer: Circuline was formed in February 2014, and was a transmutation from the progressive rock tribute band, Downing Grey. For five years, Downing Grey would perform nine bands in one night: YES, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, UK, Jethro Tull, Rush, and Pink Floyd. Bill Shannon, Darin Brannon, and I loved playing progressive rock music, but we were getting weary of playing someone else’s music (even from those great bands). The three of us really wanted to start writing original material, having done so in other bands we had all been involved with in the past. We already knew that we could all play. We just had to start writing. AND, what we’ve realized, is that in the time it takes to learn all of that classic prog material, we could just write our own stuff!

Our mission is to be a modern ProgRock band, creating music that we love. Hopefully, others will love it too, and over time our fan base will grow worldwide.

You will release your debut album titled “Return” on April 24th. Tell me about the creative process that informed the record.

Darin, Bill, and I are the main writers. We’re committed to writing together, as a collaborative process. We’re all open to someone bringing a song, or a “bit” in to use, but they better be prepared to have it altered! We have a very interesting process ­ it’s almost like there’s a three­way “telepathy” that happens when we all get in a room together. Darin is very good with altering the rhythms, Bill is very good with licks and riffs, and my strength is chord structures and sonic textures. So once we start creating, the ideas fly around the room, we battle it out to keep our own ideas, and one rule is that we always try a new idea, to see if it might work. If it works better than what we were previously doing, we keep it.

For this first album, we recruited Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact) to play bass on five tracks, and he did an awesome job! We had so much fun working with Matt making the record, that we flew him out from Los Angeles to play some gigs with us here on the U.S. east coast last fall.

Randy McStine (Lo­-Fi Resistance, Sound of Contact, Pink Floyd Experience) worked with us in a songwriting capacity. We are so grateful to have him as part our writing team. His beautiful melodies, harmonies, and lyrics were an absolute perfect fit for our music. Randy’s contribution to this first album was invaluable, and he’s already agreed to continue working with us as a songwriter for the second album.

Circuline - ReturnDescribe the approach to recording “Return.”

Our approach to recording this first album was a very interesting learning experience for us, being the first time we’ve all done this together in this band. It was literally all over the map! We wrote, arranged, and recorded all of the original demo tracks at our rehearsal space (The Cave), Enigma Dance Hall, a remote location (The Toolshed) and my home studio. We then recorded some of the final album tracks at jazz great Vinnie Martucci’s studio over in Woodstock. Even more tracks, overdubs, and vocals were recorded at studio veteran Julie Last’s Coldbrook Productions, also in Woodstock. A few of the final vocal tracks were done at my home studio, and we actually used some of the tracks from The Cave on the final album cuts. Matt Dorsey and Randy McStine recorded their parts in their home studios. Joe Deninzon recorded a killer electric violin solo at his studio on Long Island. Matt Dorsey mixed the entire album for us in L.A., and did a great job.

How did you document the music while being formulated?

As a collective, we write very quickly, so Bill and I are constantly taking notes with pen and paper, and we try to record everything all the time. We use room recorders, if we’re at Enigma or someone else’s studio. If we’re at my home studio, we record everything straight into Cakewalk Sonar or Pro Tools. Darin records everything on his laptop when we’re at The Cave. When you’re in the “flow state”, it’s so easy to play something during a jam session, and someone else will say, “Wow, what was that? That was so cool!” And you have no idea what you just played, because you weren’t thinking about it. I also tend to write things out “old school” on staff paper with a pencil. It utilizes a different part of your brain, when you’re composing.

How long “Return” was in the making? Tell me about the themes this release captures.

We started writing in February 2014, and finished recording in December 2014. We spent January and February mixing, and mastered the album in March 2015. So basically one year. We hope to complete our second album sooner, now that we have the experience of the first album under our belt.

Regarding your “themes” question, on more than one occasion I would have a dream about something, wake up and hear a melody, harmony, or rhythm going through my head. I would have to jump and write it down on staff paper before I forgot it. Bill is very good with coming up with cool riffs, which we would sometimes use exactly as they poured out of him; other times Darin and I would help craft the melody. Many people don’t know this, but Darin’s first instrument was the piano, and being a drummer, he’s a very good rhythmic keyboard player. So he comes up with good ideas as well, and Bill and I will build on that or tweak it. The vocal themes came from Randy McStine, and either Randy provided the vocal harmonies himself, or Billy, Natalie and I came up with additional harmonies.

Why “Return” as the album title? 

For most of us, we are returning to what we love most ­- music. Every one of us started out as a young person dreaming of a career in music. Every one of us attained some level of success. But for one reason or another, had kind of dropped out. (Except for Billy, who was fronting a Led Zeppelin tribute band, No Quarter.) Natalie Brown had a 20-plus-­year career as a theater actor, singer, and dancer, who had suffered some burnout. Darin Brannon had been in numerous bands in California and the midwest (Cleveland), and had dropped out. Bill Shannon had moderate success in Cincinatti, before moving to New York and starting Downing Grey, but was working as a graphic artist and art director for a magazine. I was classically trained, and wanted to go to Berklee to be a modern musician, but my parents pushed me into being a doctor. So I was pursuing music as best I could, part-­time, for over 20 years.

When we founded Circuline, we all looked each other in the eye, and said, “This is it! We’re all doing it. Are you up for it?” And everyone said yes. So for all of us, we are returning to our first love.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when working on the album?

Working with other creative headstrong people! Band dynamics. Financial and time pressures were felt by everyone. Trying to write and record an album while preparing for, promoting, and performing live gigs. We will hopefully never do that again. Writing and recording versus rehearsing and performing live are two completely different animals. It’s really hard to mix the two at the same time. I can see why seasoned professionals break up their year into different seasons: writing, recording and touring.

Circuline

Speaking of challenges, is there a creative challenge to deal with in that the band members occupy similar sonic spectrums?

Yes, without a doubt. I’m usually the problem! Being a keyboard player, my middle and upper frequencies occupy the same sonic range as the guitar. My lower frequencies occupy the same range as the bass. We are all careful to write and play parts that will hopefully not be too conflicting, frequency­wise. A lot of work is put into crafting our parts, and everyone wants to be heard. Some of those issues can also be addressed by using different sounds and textures, and sometimes with panning those parts more to the left or right, for more separation. Those details can be heard on a good stereo system or with headphones.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?

I think that we are discovering how to best work with each other. We are learning each other’s idiosyncrasies, communication styles, and strengths. As a group, we’ve discovered that the best music happens when all three of us are equally involved in the writing process. I’ve discovered that coffee is really important to some people!

Our most drastic move wound up being a fortunate one, and that was going outside the band for songwriting help. Billy and Natalie are theater veterans, and their two lifetimes of experience performing all over the world enable them to interpret and perform other artist’s work. Bill, Darin, and I have collectively over 100 years of experience as musicians and composers. But none of us have a great deal of experience writing lyrics and melodies, especially for this kind of music. We all tried writing as individuals and as a group, but nothing was really gelling. When we asked Randy to co­write with us, things really fell into place.

Provide some insight into the group’s chemistry that allows this music to emerge.

Darin grew up in a musical family, and seriously has Prog and Fusion in his DNA. He’s an encyclopedia of Genesis, Jean-­Luc Ponty, Happy the Man, Peter Gabriel, Brand X, etc. He’s always telling me and Bill to “add in an extra beat, or take out a beat”. Darin actually came up with one of the important writing rules that we have ­ “If someone is singing, it’s in four. If someone is not singing, we’re going to experiment with playing odd time signatures.” We’re really lucky to have Darin’s sense of rhythm in the band, because neither Bill nor I would have ever thought of that.

Bill is a self­taught guitar playing savant, who spent countless thousands of hours locked in his room listening to every prog and rock band you can think of from the 70’s, figuring out all of the guitar parts, bass parts, and keyboard parts. How to actually play them on his guitar. In addition, Bill listens to Brian Eno, David Bowie, Can, Radiohead, and anything else that might be considered weird or abstract. So Bill is kind of like an encyclopedia in his own way. He is really good at coming up with licks and riffs, and abstract ideas that neither Darin nor I would ever think of.

I’m classically trained, and grew up listening to movie soundtracks. In my youth, I actually wanted to be a film composer. At the same time, every week I was listening to “Casey Kasem’s American Top 40”. So that was going into my brain. I have sung (All­State choir in high school), played the trumpet, organ, and piano for choirs, weddings and churches since I was nine years old. I was a D.J. and played in original and cover bands during the four years I was in chiropractic school. I had a jazz quartet for several years. So I have a very diverse background as well.

So we’re fortunate that we all have such diverse backgrounds, because hopefully we’re creating music that will be interesting for the fans.

Circuline bandWhere do you draw the inspiration from and how do you go about channeling it into writing?

The inspiration comes from the same place that every artist in history has used. We’re not really sure! It is somewhere outside one’s self, yet deep within at the same time.

Pat Metheny writes about “having a conversation” with the music. IT is talking to us, and we’re talking to IT. All of us “hear” things, once we get going. Sometimes the whole thing just pours in. Almost every composer throughout history has written about it. It’s a subtle level of consciousness that is hard to describe in words.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

We all have such a huge taste palette, that it’s kind of crazy! I’ll list the artists who I can remember band members talking about in the past year: 10th Planet, Ambrosia, Jon Anderson, Bach, Tony Banks, Beethoven, Robert Berry, David Bowie, Brand X, Brahms, Tom Brislin, Bill Bruford, Can, Caravan, Billy Cobham, Phil Collins, Chick Corea, Roger Daltrey, December People, Elephants of Scotland, ELO, ELP, Keith Emerson, Earth Wind & Fire, Enchant, Brian Eno, Flying Colors, David Foster, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Glass Hammer, Herbie Hancock, Happy the Man, Steve Hackett, Jan Hammer, Bruce Hornsby, IO Earth, Keith Jarrett, Jethro Tull, Eddie Jobson, Journey, Kansas, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Tony Levin, Lifesigns, Lighthouse, Little River Band, Lo­Fi Resistance, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Marillion, Max Flyer, Pat Metheny, Marco Minneman, Joni Mitchell, Patrick Moraz, Neal Morse, PFM, Nektar, Porcupine Tree, Oblivion Sun, Out of the Beardspace, Carl Palmer, Pink Floyd, Jean­Luc Ponty, Prog Rock Orchestra, Steve Reich, Renaissance, Return to Forever, Jordan Rudess, Rush, Saga, Shadow Eden, Sound of Contact, Spock’s Beard, Starcastle, Starship, Stick Men, Stratospheerius, The Strawbs, Styx, James Taylor, Thank You Scientist, Toto, Transatlantic, The Tubes, UK, Rick Wakeman, The Who, Steven Wilson, YES, Frank Zappa, Zebra, Hans Zimmer, and The Zombies! (Of course there could be more……)

What non­-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

As the music comes through us, all of our past and current life experiences impact our music. Each brings his own history to the table, and all that entails. Bill is the most abstract of the bunch, and with his artistic background, often has ideas that we have no idea where it’s coming from. Darin owned an art gallery in Cleveland and did events with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I tend to be drawn towards things that are of a spiritual nature, health and healing, and am generally more literal than the other two.

What kind of gear did you use for recording songs from “Return”?

I’m a sponsored artist with Yamaha and Muse Receptor. I also endorse Arturia, Korg, Moog, Novation, Roland, and Studiologic keyboards; Kryptonite cases; Mark of the Unicorn audio and MIDI products; Atlas, On Stage, and Standtastic stands; Arturia, Big Fish, Cakewalk, EastWest, GForce, IK Multimedia, Mark of the Unicorn, Native Instruments, Quantum Leap, Spectrasonics, Synthogy, and Ultimate Sound Bank software.

Bill Shannon plays Ibanez, Yamaha, and Martin electric and acoustic guitars; uses Mesa/Boogie amplifiers; Hercules and On Stage stands; Dunlop, Eventide, Rockett, T­Rex, Visual Sound, and VOX pedals; Planet Waves cables; and D’Addario NYXL strings.

Darin Brannon uses Yamaha drums; Sabian and Zildjian cymbals; Evans drumheads, Promark sticks and DW pedals.

Billy Spillane plays Danelectro and Ovation guitars. Circuline uses Blue and Rode microphones.

What is your view on technology in music?

Technology is great! We’re so lucky to be living in the 21st century. We’re able to do things now that no other musicians have been able to do in the history of mankind. Right now, we have the ability to compose and record at home, produce our own records, and get our music out to the entire world! Musicians and composers couldn’t do that in the past. With the gear that this band owns right now, if we never purchased another single thing, we have more tracks, sound effects, and recording capability than the Beatles had. It’s up to us to create something memorable.

With help from David Rosenthal (Billy Joel’s musical director), I just upgraded my entire live rig. I will be able to do things with three keyboards, a Muse Receptor, and a Macbook Pro that previously would have taken about eighteen keyboards, a­la Rick Wakeman. That kind of quantum leap has only been possible in the last two years.

Do you see the band’s music as serving a purpose beyond music?

At the end of the day, if people get some kind of joy or emotional break from their lives by hearing our music, then that’s great. But we don’t ourselves have any other purpose than trying to write and produce music that we ourselves enjoy.

What is your viewpoint on the struggle bands are facing today as they try to monetize their output?

There has never been a better time in the history of music to be a musician. But with freedom comes responsibility. The struggle we all face is like climbing Mount Everest. It can be done, because others have done it. But just like training for the Olympics, you’ve got to really want it. There are an infinite number of books, articles, and consultants out there who can help people treat their band like a business. You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it going. Figure out a strategy that will work for your particular situation. And, like any business and marketing strategy, just know that it will change over time as your circumstances change.

What are your plans for the future?

Our number one goal is for every Prog fan in the world to listen to our album. Just once. If you like our music, please Follow us on Twitter, Like us on Facebook, and sign up to get free stuff on our website. Our intention is to connect and be interactive with you and the other fans. We will tweet you back. We will Facebook message you back. We will do our best to personally email you back.

If you really like the album, you might want to subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and please ask all of your friends and family to check out our music. If you want to be a “Doh-­Deka-­Phonic-­Super-­Sonic-­Uber-­Ultra Fan”, we invite you to check out our Patreon page, where you can support us creating more music videos, and a soon­to­be­released hopefully funny internet video series that the band is creating.

Friday, April 24th is the CD release party, and we’re opening for Glass Hammer at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock. Saturday, April 25th we’re performing with Glass Hammer and the Anton Roolaart band at the New Jersey Proghouse. Sunday, April 26th we’re opening for Glass Hammer at Orion Studios in Baltimore. The Friday night Bearsville show will have a six­camera video shoot and a 24-­track live recording. You’ll see that later this year as a live CD/DVD release.

In May, we’re launching Sonic Voyage Fest, a “traveling modern rock festival” with fellow acts Shadow Eden and Stratospheerius. Bass monster Paul Ranieri will be performing with us and Shadow Eden, and Joe Deninzon (electric violin, vocals) of Stratospheerius plays a blistering solo on “Silence Revealed” on our album. We’ll be performing on Friday, May 22nd, in Hartford, Connecticut; Saturday, May 23rd in Worcester, Massachusetts; and Sunday, May 24th, in Newmarket, New Hampshire. You can find out more details at www.SonicVoyageFest.com.

In June and beyond, we’re dedicated to writing and producing our second album, producing more music videos, mixing and producing the Bearsville CD/DVD, and we’ll be launching our own internet TV show. Circuline is an eclectic and quirky bunch of individuals, and we hope you’ll find the shows entertaining. We’ve already committed to doing more work with recent RoSfest act Elephants of Scotland. With regards to touring with other bands, we’ve been talking to Lifesigns (great prog band from England), Dave Kerzner (his new band will be touring his debut album), and a really great instrumental prog band from Italy, Accordo dei Contrari. Of course, we’re working on some other cool stuff, which I’m not at liberty to discuss at the moment. You’ll have to stay tuned.

Thank you so much for this interview!

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.
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