BY PAUL WATSON April 24th sees the debut album ‘RETURN’ by a relatively new US band CIRCULINE. To be honest I was going to write a short bio and other interesting facets about things you may not know about this band to include in this article but their keyboardist ANDREW COLYER has actually provided a lot more information than I expected in a very enjoyable and candid interview with him below. Bradley also added a bit more about the album promo on March 19 below so check that out as well.
Not sure if you know this but there’s this three-worded Latin expression that goes like this. “Ordo ab chao” … which translated into English, if you haven’t already worked it out, sagely suggests, “… out of chaos comes order…” I’d seen it used years ago with the name of a Metal band and thought to myself, “how cool is that?” So now you’re wondering what has that got to do with Circuline and their new album? Simple. On the one hand I’m listening to these eight tracks and thinking, “Okay, I’m really liking this. I get it, although I have to say it’s hard to paint them into a corner using my trusty Prog group compass, because, let’s face it – it’s open season when hearing new bands and their albums and trying to tie them down to either Yes or Genesis or whoever…. label”, but on the other, I’m also trying to focus on the many varied layers on some of these songs. And boy, there are many layers here on first listen. I’m not just talking about how many multi-tracks have come into play but rather the delicately placed strips of all manner of sounds interwoven and joined without a hint of the seam as these songs move forward. It’s that good, and only gets better upon each playing. Just as well ears can’t blink because listening to, you might find yourself missing something poignant throughout the many subtle changes within these tracks. I just love the way so many ideas have come from various angles, in a kind of a living juxtaposition of possibilities realized, which in itself doesn’t go anywhere near describing this music but hopefully tells you the kind of frame of mind it leaves you in when listening to this.
Trust me – You’ll know what I mean when you listen to ‘Return’ yourselves. Expect a lot of great guitar and keyboard riffs. Okay, so where does “ordo ab chao” come into it? Track one ‘ the title track, ‘Return’ doesn’t give you much of a clue as it’s a straightforward melody with some great hooks in it, and one I think a number of radio stations will add this one to their playlists for high rotation. It’s a good song to start off with and imagine it works well performed on stage. Track two ‘Nebulae’ is where “ordo ab chao” seriously starts earning its money with an interesting dissonant beginning by Andrew on keys which we soon find out in this relatively short instrumental, out of random chaos we get order. In fact, most of the following tracks have a similar disjointed beginning that turns inside itself into something melodic throughout the rest of each piece. As you’ll see below, I asked Andrew about their writing and how they came about balancing the consonant and dissonant elements within most of these tracks.
So in a nutshell – this is a very tight and solid debut album which you’ll soon discover has so much going on within it. Not a second wasted and yet, not rushed or too busy. I think it’s too early to pigeon-hole them just yet. Certainly there are jazz fusion elements in some of these pieces but not enough to point them in that direction for certain. Vocals are very strong as is the bass playing, and you’re in for a treat right at the end with a high-energy violin solo, shades of Kansas to these ears. I like that they’ve evenly spread the vocal tracks with the instrumental pieces showcasing what a fine bunch of musicians each of them are. If you get the chance, go see their show which includes not only original numbers but also classic progressive rock tunes from the likes of Yes, Rush, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Sound of Contact.
The band opens for Glass Hammer for three shows in the Northeastern U.S. starting from April 24th through to April 26th, 2015. Last year, Circuline opened for recent RoSfest act, Elephants of Scotland.
Andrew kindly answered all of my questions relating to the band and their pending new album. Reading from the band bio that you’ve put out there’s certainly a wide mix of talent and artistry there. Just how did you all meet and Circuline come about?
ANDREW: Bill Shannon was a founding member of the progressive rock tribute band Downing Grey back in 2009. Downing Grey found Darin Brannon through a series of Prog drumming YouTube videos (nirad2007) he had posted. Natalie Brown, Billy Spillane, and I met in early 2013, and realized that we could sing like Crosby, Stills and Nash. At the time, I was in two other original bands that were floundering, and feeling really frustrated. I went on the inaugural YES Cruise to the Edge, and played “Tarkus” (ELP) and the intro to “Awaken” (YES) in front of Geoff Downes at the late night Prog jam. Geoff told me, “very good, you’ve got those Prog Rock chops”. I came home from the CTTE, determined to find a group of people who were ready, willing, and able to be serious about being in a professional band. I found Downing Grey, and joined immediately. Natalie joined within weeks, singing backup. Billy Spillane had been fronting a Led Zeppelin tribute band (No Quarter) for at least five years, but was a lifetime Prog fan. Towards the end of 2013, Billy joined Downing Grey as the lead singer. In January of 2014, Downing Grey fell apart. There were personality issues that made it impossible to work together anymore. Circuline was born on February 8th, 2014.
Having seen in the past where in another band you were advertising for a new bass player due to “anger management” issues, I guess it’s about finding the right chemistry either by accident or by design. Do you recall the time you all got together and realised that this was a good fit and you had the sound you wanted to make and take this somewhere?
ANDREW: When I joined Downing Grey in the spring of 2013, I was very clear to the band that long term, I wanted to write original material. In fact, the very first day I was with Downing Grey, Darin, Bill, and I started jamming on some original material, while the bass player was in the bathroom. I still have those demo recordings from that day. Who knows, maybe they’ll turn up on the next record! The other thing that I was very clear to the band about when I joined Downing Grey, was that I was serious about making this a profitable venture. It’s so much work to learn all of those classic prog songs. I did not want to go to all the work of learning the songs, programming the sounds, rehearsing, schlepping gear, etc., to not have any people in the audience or make any money. What we learned from Downing Grey is that, being a Prog tribute band, covering nine bands in one night (YES, Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, UK, Jethro Tull, Rush, and Pink Floyd) is a very tough sell to venues, even if it “sounds just like the record”. In addition, it’s very difficult to have merchandise to sell long term, because you don’t own the rights to anything. The logos and images, the songs, everything belongs to someone else. The only way we were going to be able to build something long-term that was truly ours, was to start an original band, writing original material. 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!
Is this a one off project or are all of you in it for the long haul?
ANDREW: Bill, Darin, and I started this band with a vision of being a successful modern ProgRock band. Natalie and Billy are also in it for the long haul. We’ve already starting writing material for the second album, and Randy McStine (Lo-Fi Resistance, Sound of Contact, Pink Floyd Experience) has already agreed to continue in a songwriting capacity. Speaking of Randy, 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 album was invaluable, and we are happy to be working with him again in the future.
The title you’ve given to your debut album is ‘Return.’ What does that refer to? Is it a play on your band name, ‘Circuline’ – making a full circle, or to be found in the lyrics of the first track on the album?
ANDREW: I’m glad you asked! Actually, for all 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 the Zeppelin tribute band.) Natalie Brown had a 20-plus-year career as a theater actor, singer, and dancer, who had stopped. 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.
I’ve had a hard time trying to pinpoint what influences play a large or minor part in your music, but other than having initial thoughts of thinking of Thieves’ Kitchen on some tracks on the album, I come up with nada. You yourself and Bill Shannon and Darin Brannon come from the tribute band (Downing Grey) as well as one of your lead vocalists, Billy Spillane who sang in the Led Zeppelin tribute band, No Quarter that encapsulates all the best and finest songs from Prog Rock bands and not in most cases devoted to just one band say like Yes or Genesis and other notable Prog and Classic formations. Did that play a large part in deciding where you were going to take the band in coming up with an interesting blending of styles and sounds?
ANDREW: Darin Brannon 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 Shannon is a self-taught 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, modern dance music, 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 think of. I’m classically trained, and grew up listening to movie soundtracks. 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 (All-State 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. Darin, Bill, and I are very conscious of wanting our music to have diversity. We’ve all heard bands, both new and old, come out with albums that sound very similar from track to track, and we don’t want to be one of those bands. Sonically we intend to have a broad palette. We think it will be more interesting for the end listener, and hopefully that’s come across in our first effort.
Almost as a recurring theme on first impressions here, what I really like as well as respect, especially in wondering how you conceived and composed a good number of these tracks is the amount of consonant and dissonant notes that truly work seamlessly here. It’s not pretentious or gratuitous, and I think you’ve got the balance just right. Given the angular approach to a number of intros to these songs as far as opening themes go, especially ‘One Wish’ would you consciously define this as your own band signature sound to where you want to take your music for new listeners?
ANDREW: First of all, we don’t like to be bored. We’ve all heard music that was great, but went on for just a little bit too long. We don’t want to be that band. We also know that we’re not in the “Information Age” anymore, we’re in the “Attention Age”. The hardest thing we have to do is capture someone’s attention, and retain it. Right now, it is possible for almost anyone to have the entire history of recorded music on their mobile phone, tablet, or computer. And if they don’t own it, they can stream it. We have to write music that will be interesting to the listener, and will make them want to listen to it again. Too many consonant notes? Too boring, like too much white wedding cake with vanilla icing. Too many dissonant notes? Then it’s too abstract, will grate on your nerves, and you won’t want to listen again. Our intention is to write music that has a balance of consonance and dissonance. Then hopefully it’s interesting.
That’s the thing I really like about this album. Once you hear it for the first and then go back and listen a bit more closely you start picking up various sounds within the mix which blend in very well. I’m just so impressed with the natural chiaroscuro you’ve managed to add to how these sounds blend in.
ANDREW: “Chiaroscuro” – the use the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. Thank you for the compliment. Actually, this would be a good time to mention Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact), who played bass on five tracks, and mixed the entire record. Bill and I both write a lot of intricate, layered parts, and of course we each want to hear our own parts the loudest! Matt actually flew out to do a couple of gigs with us in November 2014. I think after writing and recording his bass lines, and rehearsing and performing live with us for a week, Matt really knew exactly what we were going for when mixing the record. He did a great job of making sure everyone’s parts were heard. ‘Soleil Noir’ is the shortest track on this album at 2:51. Have to say it’s one of those instrumental pieces where you all get to shine one way or another. It’s also one of those tracks you wished it would go on a lot longer. You feel it’s just getting going and then it peters off. Is there in fact an extended version to this track that you play?
ANDREW: On a recording, it’s always better to leave people wanting more. But live, yes, for our upcoming shows, we’re looking at doing an extended version of “Soleil Noir”. It’s a nice moment for the audience to clap along – something that’s kind of rare in Prog! We’re constantly looking for ways to make our live “show” better. Having Natalie and Billy in the band is a blessing, since they are seasoned theater performers. We hope that you and the rest of the audience have a really good experience when you see us live.
I see on one of your pages your influences include; “Classical, jazz, pop, rock, funk, R&B, Progressive Rock, movie soundtracks….” That covers quite an extensive range although all these genres have been found in Prog Rock in one way or another over the years. How did you get involved in Progressive Rock and who were your influences?
ANDREW: I’m a relative newcomer to the Prog world. In 2004, a new musician friend said to me, “you’re classically trained? You should be playing Prog.” And I said, “What’s Prog?” “Progressive Rock. You know, like YES.” “Oh, I know, ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’.” “NOOOO, you know, like Genesis.” “Oh, I know, ‘Invisible Touch’.” “NOOOO, you know, like Peter Gabriel.” “Peter Gabriel was never in Genesis….” Seriously, that was the conversation. So he came back, handed me the YES Symphonic Live DVD, which I went home and watched, and I totally freaked out. So after a lifetime of listening to ELO, Journey, Styx, Kansas, Pat Metheny, Rachmaninoff, Miles Davis, Beethoven, Sting, Bruce Hornsby, Brahms, Keith Jarrett, Seal, Little River Band, Eagles, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Herbie Hancock, The Tubes, movie soundtracks, Chick Corea, Earth Wind & Fire, and anything by David Foster and Quincy Jones, I’ve spent the last 10 years playing catchup in the Prog world! From a band perspective, you know all the classics I’ve been cramming in trying to learn. Here’s my favorite newer prog bands, who I listen to repeatedly: Oblivion Sun (former members of Happy the Man), Sound of Contact, and Steven Wilson. As a keyboard player, my top Prog influences would include the usual suspects: Rick Wakeman, Tony Banks, and Keith Emerson. Jan Hammer for expressiveness and style. Jordan Rudess is one of the top keyboard players in the world – he can do it all. But if I had to pick one, and only one? Eddie Jobson.
Having been in a popular Prog tribute band and given your very impressive list of hardware and keyboard instruments you use, you must have had somewhere in their various Mellotron sounds but I haven’t picked up any of that on this new album. Would that have been too cliché to throw in familiar washes like that into your repertoire? In other words how did you as a keyboard approach this album with the full weight of Prog standards as a historical backdrop as well as an impressive arsenal of keyboards and software?
ANDREW: Forget about cowbell, we need more Mellotron! There actually IS Mellotron on the record, on four tracks. But it’s mixed and layered in with all the other sounds, to provide a “soundscape”. When I studied orchestral conducting at Juilliard, we had to study the scores of Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, Holst, etc. Seeing how they layered instruments together to come up with different types of timbres was fascinating to me. In the same way as those classical composers did, I like to layer things, to come up with a new hybrid sound that nobody else would. I think that writing music is like cooking. You can’t use all of the spices all the time. It’s often an experiment as to which sounds to use. I have so many sounds and instruments that it’s virtually unlimited. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have over 100,000 sounds in all of my libraries. How many are usable or appropriate? That’s another question. Often I will come up with two or three different examples of what I could use for a certain section, and then let the band vote on which one they like the best, for that part of the song. Once the album is released in April what are Circuline’s plans for the year?
ANDREW: 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 (https://twitter.com/CirculineMusic), Like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/circulinemusic), and sign up to get free stuff on our website (http://circulinemusic.com/). 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 (CirculineProgRock), 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 (https://www.patreon.com/circulinemusic), where you can support us creating more music videos, and a soon-to-be-released 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 six-camera 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, and Sunday, May 24th, in Newmarket New Hampshire. You can find out more details at www.SonicVoyageFest.com. (which is now live). 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!
Keyboards, Vocals and has played piano, keyboards, trumpet, and sung across the United States, Canada, and Japan, including three times at Carnegie Hall. His classical classical training includes the Juilliard School, and his teaching lineage places him five steps down from Beethoven.Rock/pop experience includes performing and collaborating with Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), Jon Anderson (YES), The Tubes, Max Flyer (CBS Records), 10th Planet, the Prog Rock Orchestra, and the Progressive Rock Tribute Band, Downing Grey. Andrew performed on keyboards/vocals with the Prog Rock Orchestra on the Moody Blues Cruise and the Yes-headlining Cruise To The Edge in April 2014.
Drums, percussion. Darin grew up playing piano,Drums, percussion, and saxophone in elementary school.Darin’s first rock band in junior high school was playing the music of Cream and Pink Floyd, but hearing Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick ignited his passion for the genre of Progressive Rock music. Darin has worked with Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Micky Dolenz; and Jerry Garcia. When progressive rock tribute band Downing Grey needed a new drummer, that’s how Darin was found – on YouTube.
Acoustic and electric guitars, vocals. A former founding member of Progressive Rock tribute band Downing Grey.
Lead Vocalists Billy Spillane and Natalie Brown
Billy Spillane has been performing on stages literally around the world for over 25 years. As an actor, dancer, and singer, with a naturally high tenor voice, has always been able to “hit the high notes” with ease. In addition to composing and performing original and classic progressive rock with Circuline, Billy has been fronting the Led Zeppelin tribute band “No Quarter” for the past six years. Natalie Brown attended Boston Conservatory of Music the first two years after high school, Natalie quickly obtained work singing, acting, and dancing, and at 22 she became a member of Actor’s Equity Associati on. From straight plays to musicals, to jazzpoprock bands, Natalie has done it all, including the lead in Evita (twice); covering Heart, Stevie Wonder, and Joni Mitchell; andfronting her own soldout shows, “Natalie Brown and Friends”.
Curculine also invited a number of special guest to appear on the album including on bass, Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact). Also songwriter and vocalist, Randy McStine (LoFi Resistance), and Joe Deninzon (Stratospheerius) on electric violin. Shadow Eden’s Paul Raneiri is their current touring bassist.