Hi everyone. I’m thrilled to announce one of the newest crop of Progressive Rock bands has released their second album ‘Counterpoint.’Not only that but they’ve also been well deservedly nominated as one of the Rising Prog Stars in the new band Limelight Award over the past 12 months in the prestious PROG Magazine. How cool is that!And so pleased for you and your fans.
GOOD LUCK, CIRCULINE!
If you had read my previous article and interview in PROGARCHY on Circuline’s first album then you know who the members are.
Since then there has been a small lineup change, and as you will find out they have bought on board not only one guitarist but for the album they featured SEVEN guitarists! But more on that below. I’m also pleased to announce that Andrew allowed us to share on here their TRACK BY TRACK notes on their recordings of the new album. This gives us a unique look in to the mindset of these musicians and where they were on any given day while creating these tracks and recording them.
I was also lucky enough to get to interview the band and presented them with these questions around the new album and other matters.
Ladies and gentlemen… I present to you (once again)… Circuline!
Where did the title of your new album, Counterpoint come from and what does it refer to?
Andrew: Actually, Circuline founding member and guitarist Bill Shannon inspired the title. When we started working on the second album, he wanted to call it “Point”. We liked the idea of a one-word title. When Bill left the band, it felt weird to use “Point”. Natalie suggested “Counterpoint”.
The thing I like most about Circuline and in particular the albums is the great balance you have between the vocals and also the instrumental parts. With so many artists in the band it that a challenge as a songwriter to ensure everyone is happy with what they get to do in their performances? I would imagine it would get to be a very challenging juggling act before everything gets sorted out? But the end product appears seamless? What goes into planning your songwriting with so many artists in the band?
Darin: We have from the very beginning of this project decided that when there are vocals present then the music underneath is to take a secondary position. What’s great about the various members of this band is that we all have varying degrees of “progginess”. Some more than others. Which ends up giving the overall sound an interesting blend of memorable melodies and vocal harmonies along with sometimes adventurous musical interludes and sections. As far as musical ideas and contributions go, at least for this latest record, Andrew and I did all the writing ourselves. Since we were moving forward with the writing and recording of this record without a guitar player, it was really up to us to do the writing. There is no room in the writing and arranging for hurt egos; it’s always about what’s best for the song and the band.
What goes into crafting the vocal parts between Andrew, Billy and Natalie? Given the complexity and sometimes odd note structures in any given piece what sort of challenges are before them with their voices? Do their voices shape the music or more so the music shaping theirs? I would imagine there would be a fair bit of practising as you are writing?
Natalie: Billy, Andrew, and I are equal fans of both pretty melody contrasted with dissonance. We strive to do something different without hopefully appearing too clever. We all know how to “pick notes out of the sky and make a chord”, but it’s uncanny how we know not only what we ourselves can do, but also what the others can do. 80% of what we start out with gets tried and trashed. We hope the end result is the best of the experiment.
Our voices obviously inform certain choices. And, the process is facilitated because of our familiarity. Billy absolutely HATES anything in unison; we HAVE to always have harmonic choices. Billy is also constantly challenging me in my “riff” sections, that I can “go higher”. Andrew challenges me by taking the harmony notes that I naturally hear. It makes for some “feisty” work sessions!
Our voices shape the melody and harmony lines, but the music is the genesis of the process, vocally. Yes, there is a fair bit of practicing during the vocal arranging sessions. The downside of picking really cool harmony lines, is that we can’t remember them when it comes time to record! And then we have to try to remember what they were when we perform live! We constantly have to go back and re-learn what was on the record. 🙂
‘New Day’, the first track kind of sets the tone for the rest of the album. There are a few space if not Science Fiction inferences in this track not to mention other tracks titled ‘Forbidden Planet.’ Is this where you were intentionally coming from? Is there an underlining theme running through out the whole album?
Andrew: We are all a bunch of science fiction geeks. I grew up watching the original “Star Trek” series, and had the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica soundtracks on vinyl. When a new Star Trek or big science fiction movie is premiering, we actually put it on the band calendar! So it’s not necessarily intentional for the music, it’s just something that we all love. 🙂
I guess this is more a question of dynamics. With your first album you had a fairly distinctive sound but with Bill no longer in the band, what sort of challenges did it present to move your music forward?
Darin: Since we did not have a guitar player in the room during the writing process, Andrew and I both had to write and arrange with that in mind. So if we were working out a bit and we felt that “this bit would sound better on guitar”, and “there needs to be a guitar solo here”, all that had to be in our heads at that time. We knew from the start that we were going to get some very talented guest guitarists involved, so we really relied on their expertise and it paid off extremely well.
Did that influence where you wanted the second album to go? I noticed in your track notes that you had picked up on the Progarchives page where they had slotted you into the Crossover subgenre which kind of not so much narrows you down but leaves it open ended as far as defining your sound. Is that something you consciously decided you need to look at coming into this next album where your audience could relate with some of the other subgenres?
Darin: Yes. I think so. We’re very happy with that “Crossover” label, because we want to reach as many people as we can with our music. One of our biggest influences is Steven Wilson. We all like the way his writing can go from intense instrumental musical sections to softer more melodic vocal sections.
You’ve also bought on board not one, not two, but seven guitarists contributing to the new album. Doug Ott (Enchant), Ryche Chlanda (Renaissance, Fireballet), Alek Darson (Fright Pig), Randy McStine (The Fringe, Lo-Fi Resistance), Stanley Whitaker (Happy The Man, Oblivion Sun), Alan Shikon (Glass Hammer), and Matt Dorsey (Sound Of Contact, Dave Kerzner). What was the reasoning behind that and how did you go about deciding who was right for what song?
Andrew: Most people don’t know this, but Circuline was the official “backup” band for the 12th international Rites of Spring festival (RoSfest) in 2015. Festivals have to have bands on standby, in case there is a problem with any of the other bands at the last minute. Because we were the backup band for 2015, we felt pretty strongly that we would get booked for 2016. Even though we had just released our first album (April 2015), we knew that we had to get a second album out in Spring 2016, in time for RoSfest. So after we finished our 2015 Spring Tour in April and May (which included gigs with Glass Hammer, and co-founding the Sonic Voyage Fest), we went right back in the studio in June, starting to write the second album. Our hunch was right, because fortunately George Roldan called and booked us for the 13th international Rites of Spring festival (RoSfest), in early July 2015.
When Bill Shannon left at the end of July 2015, Darin and I knew that we might not find another guitarist for the band in time to finish an album and get ready for RoSfest 2016. We decided to focus on three things: we would work as hard and as fast as we could writing the album; we would get guest guitarists to perform on the record; and we would conduct guitar auditions until we found the right guy.
I just sat down and made a list of all the guitarists and bands I personally knew, and as we wrote the songs for the album, Darin and I talked about who would be a good fit for which song, according to that particular player’s strengths, based on the sound palette or style that we wanted that song to have. Then we just picked up the phone and started calling people. Fortunately everyone said yes, and they all did a great job!
Will you be taking taking any of these guest guitarists with you when you play live shows?
Andrew: You never know! Matt Dorsey performed with us for our debut gigs back in November 2014. Alan Shikoh was around when we toured with Glass Hammer in April 2015. I shot a video with Ryche Chlanda’s Flying Dreams in June 2015, and they’ve done some gigs with us. We’ve been talking to Doug Ott about doing some shows with Enchant. Randy McStine has moved from the boondocks to New York City, so he’s definitely closer. To be quite honest, we’re so happy with our new guitarist Beledo, that we can’t imagine anyone taking his place. He’s kind of like a combination of Steve Hackett and Alan Holdsworth, which is perfect for our band. So while we have no plans to “take anyone with us” from the guest list, you might see someone pop up for a guest appearance at a live gig!
Okay… the seventh track is titled ‘Stay (Peter Frankenstan).’ What was the inspiration for this track?
Andrew: Darin is a huge Happy the Man (HTM) fan, from the 70’s. One of founding HTM members’ Frank Wyatt (piano, keyboards, saxophone) and Stanley Whitaker (guitar) recent projects is Oblivion Sun, and they’ve asked me to play with them as a second keyboardist in the future. I saw Frank demonstrate how he comes up with his “cluster” voicings for chords. As soon as I saw it, I started working on my own versions of those voicings, and the entire song poured into my head in about five minutes. I could actually hear Stanley Whitaker playing guitar in my head. I knew I wanted a Peter Gabriel groove, so I went to my Jerry Marotta loop library for the initial demo. I knew that Darin would love it, and do a great job, which he did. So the initial working title was Peter (Gabriel), Frank (Wyatt) and Stan (Whitaker). Peter Frankenstan!
I can also pick up certain parts of songs on this track and ‘Hollow’, namely in part what I mentioned in my first review of the first album a touch of dissonant chords played like on ‘One Wish.’ Even a similar beginning in part with deep bass drumming rhythms for both songs, well, to these ears anyway. Was this maybe intentional, linking these two albums together in this way?
Darin: That’s a really good observation; unfortunately I cannot confirm that link. 🙂 It was completely happenstance that both records had a similar moment in each. We can possibly attribute that to writing styles.
I know it’s something you cover in your Track notes on these songs regarding dissonant notes, but is it something you’re intentionally aware of and a recurring signature theme underlining the Circuline sound throughout both albums, especially when it seems to run contrary to the album title, ‘Counterpoint’ in musical terms?
Andrew: We are absolutely aware of the dissonance when writing. From the angst of the dissonance comes the beauty of the consonant harmony when it resolves. If you’ve ever had to figure out a Bach Prelude or Fugue (to use an example of counterpoint), there is a tremendous amount of dissonance that happens between one’s two hands independently. But when the whole thing flows along, you don’t really notice it that much. It’s so easy to only play major chords all the time; that’s what you generally hear in today’s pop music. But that’s like always eating vanilla cake with vanilla icing and vanilla ice cream. Life is about hills and valleys. You don’t appreciate being at a peak of a mountain unless you’ve experienced the lows of the canyon. When we’re crafting the songs, we’re doing our best to create tension and release in the listener. That’s what makes music interesting, and hopefully makes you want to listen to our album for years to come.
Were you surprised to see you had been nominated for the LIMELIGHT category in the prestigious PROG AWARDS?
Andrew: We were THRILLED when we found out we were nominated! We weren’t surprised as much as relieved and happy. I was actually moved to tears. We have been working very hard to move this band forward since its inception (no pun intended), and the nomination showed us that all of our hard work has been paying off. We are very grateful for that honor.
Do you hope to take your performances further outside of the USA in the near future?
Andrew: YES! We’re booking gigs now in England and Europe for April 2017. We’re looking at Japan and South America for Fall 2017. We would love to come see you in Australia and New Zealand! We ask that every prog and rock fan in the world listen to our album, just once. If you like it, please sign up for the mailing list on our website, so we can stay in touch with you. The more fans we garner around the world, the more likely we’ll be able to tour in a city near you!
Track by Track Notes May 2016
Track 1 New Day
● Guest Guitarist: Randy McStine (The Fringe, LoFi
Resistance, Pink Floyd Experience)
● Additional guitars: Beledo
Colyer notes: This song arose from a jam with Bill Shannon, Darin, and myself in the summer of 2015. When Bill left the band, Darin and I arranged and sculpted the jam into the final song you hear on the record. When I found out that NASA had space sounds on their website, I downloaded a bunch of
them, and spent hours painstakingly going through everything to craft the sound design and effects for the final version of this song. Randy McStine added five tracks of guitars to come up with some really awesome sound effects. Paul Ranieri nailed his bass part in one take. Beledo actually came up with a beautiful solo guitar part that you will hear on the live versions of this song.
Brannon notes: The keyboard and drum tracks you hear on the record was an improv of the idea that came together with Bill, Andy and myself. Andy and I just sat down at our respective instruments, hit record and went for it. There are sections that we veered from the original jam session and through some sort of symbiosis, we were able to move through the variations in the theme and wound up ending at the same time!
Track 2 Who I Am
● Guest Guitarist: Doug Ott (Enchant)
● Additional guitars: Beledo
Colyer notes: Darin and I worked hard at crafting this one. While we promote ourselves as “Modern Cinematic Progressive Rock”, the people over at http://www.ProgArchives.com have classified us under “Crossover Prog”, which we are really happy about. While we definitely are a progressive rock band, our connections to popular and classic rock, classical, jazz, and movie soundtracks is hopefully something that will help us to reach a larger audience outside of the strictly Prog community. The main riff and chorus chord sequence is something I came up with while Darin and I were going through sounds, patches, riffs, etc., and I immediately heard it being played by a guitar player, with a heavy rock sound. We chose Doug Ott to guest on this track, because we’ve seen Enchant live before, we have some of their albums, and we know that he can really bring it, when we need the song to rock out. Billy, Natalie, and I worked to craft the vocal arrangements based on the vocal guide track and lyrics that Randy McStine gave us.
Brannon notes: This song was probably the most difficult to get down as far as recording basic tracks. The feel for the song didn’t happen right away. After we recorded the demo tracks, Andy and I were debating on how to piece it together and what the approach should be for each section. When Paul joined in during the actual basic track recording session we finally got it down. The intention was to break apart the verses and bridges by introducing the rhythmic section between those sections. And it doesn’t hurt to end the song with a traditional rock, strong vocal chorus with a wailing guitar lead.
Track 3 Forbidden Planet
● Guest Guitarist: Alek Darson (Fright Pig, Meridian Voice Project)
Colyer notes: The intro to this song is played on a ROLI Seaboard. I was one of the first people in the world to put a down payment on one of these instruments, at the 2014 NAMM show. It finally shipped to me in November 2015, and I was very excited to use it on this album. Writing the vocal sections of this song, the intention was to write a “power rock ballad”, and will be the first Official Video we release, with a “radio edit” version available. The ending is a cinematic orchestral rock epic in seven. Alek Darson did a great job as our guest guitarist. Billy, Natalie, and I worked to craft the vocal arrangements based on the vocal guide track and lyrics that Randy McStine gave us.
Brannon notes: We recorded this song without having the vocal section written. My approach on the drums were to treat it like a Genesis song from the album …And Then There Were Three (at least my interpretation of that record). At least that was what was running through my mind at the time. I really wanted to take the approach of “over” playing the drums a bit on a power ballad. And in true Prog Rock fashion we nestled the ballad in between a very cool ROLI intro and then a thunderous section in ⅞ at the end.
Forbidden Planet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rAQO4i-ipo
Track 4 Hollow
● Guest Guitarist: Alek Darson (Fright Pig, Meridian Voice Project)
Colyer notes: The middle section of Hollow is something Darin and I worked very hard on. I had improvised and recorded a new bit in seven, with the weird syncopated lines and the double octaves concerto like run at the end. Darin had actually had a dream about doing something in a complicated meter (which he will explain below). When I started playing the new thing I was working on, Darin started suggesting how to change the pattern to match what he had dreamt about. For the vocal sections, we worked together to write something that sounded cohesive. The instrumental section at the end was Darin’s concept. I used the ROLI Seaboard, layered with the guitar tracks. We kept crafting the “bits” until everything came together. Alek Darson turned in another awesome performance. Billy, Natalie, and I worked to craft the vocal arrangements based on the vocal guide track and lyrics that Randy McStine gave us.
Brannon notes: The vocal sections of this song fell together musically very quickly. I like the anticipation feel these have. During the bridges we start anticipating every beat in the measure, and then that leads to a more straightforward rhythmic chorus. The first instrumental break is something that Andy and I devised through me dreaming about the timing and Andy have an idea for the actual notes. We worked on this part a great deal. The intention was to keep playing the riff over and over but changing the instrumental arrangement to make it sound a bit different in each section. And then interrupting that
with piano breaks and accents in 7 and then bringing it back to the vocals. The ending instrumental bit came to me while I was noodling around on the keyboards during a writing session. I liked the ¾ waltzy groove. But I also wanted to space the accents out differently to keep you off guard. So the first time you hear the part it’s kind of abstract and then when we reintroduce again it settles into the ¾ groove rather nicely.
Track 5 Erosion
Colyer notes: Most people don’t know this, but Darin is a pretty good keyboard player. This track is Darin and me being creative and having fun in the studio, both exploring sounds and playing keyboards. What you hear is a captured “performance” while we’re both playing at the same time, improvising and watching each other. No editing was done to this track.
Brannon notes: What can I say….studio magic of sorts….completely off the cuff and live…
Track 6 Nautilus
● Guest Guitarist: Ryche Chlanda (Fireballet, Renaissance, Flying Dreams)
Colyer notes: This song started with a bit that Bill Shannon brought in, in the summer of 2015. When Bill left the band, we liked and kept some of the parts, and rewrote the rest of the song. The synth solo came out of a jam that Darin and I were doing with bassist Paul Ranieri. The song was originally supposed to be a bit more “straight”, but when we realized that the vibe from the jam session would work with this song, we morphed everything into one piece. Ryche Chlanda did a great job with his guitar parts to bring everything together. Billy, Natalie, and I worked to craft the vocal arrangements based on the vocal guide track and lyrics that Randy McStine gave us.
Brannon notes: The original idea was brought into the band by the former guitarist. We worked on it a bit before he left the band. We ended up keeping portions of the original bit and then started changing things around. The bridges were a bit predictable at first so we changed the timing from 4/4 to ¾ to get more movement in that section. The guitar/keyboard riffy breaks are good pieces to make the song edge over to the Prog Rock genre. Since we hardly ever do any double time sections, during the last chorus I did change the timing to a double time to get the section moving for the ending guitar solo.
Track 7 Stay (Peter Frankenstan)
● Guest Guitarist: Stanley Whitaker (Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun)
● Additional guitars: Beledo
Colyer notes: I got some tips from keyboardist extraordinaire Frank Wyatt (Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun) as to how he crafts the voicings for his chords. As soon as I started to play them myself, I said, “there’s the sound!” The chord structure for the song just kind of poured into my head in about five minutes. I found a Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel) drum loop that I knew Darin would like and would be able to kill it on for the groove, and laid down the demo. Many people don’t know this, but Stanley Whitaker was recruited twice to be the guitarist for Peter Gabriel. Considering that the chord voicings were similar to Frank’s, and the groove was similar to Pe er’s, it only made sense that we ask Stanley to be the guest guitarist for this song. Beledo did a great job playing during the vocal sections, and Stanley turned in a beautiful solo. Billy, Natalie, and I worked to craft the vocal arrangements based on the vocal guide track and lyrics that Randy McStine gave us.
Brannon notes: I believe this was one of the first songs from the new record that was written and then recorded. It’s a fairly straight forward piece that Andy brought in. He did have it in his head that the rhythmic parts be similar to a Peter Gabriel vibe. Being a huge fan of Peter and Jerry Marotta, it fell into place very quickly. The choruses were a bit of a departure from the rest of the song. Giving it a more modern prog rock simple chords over a 7/4 time signature.
Track 8 S.O.A.
Colyer notes: Another “Colyer/Brannon improvising keyboards” performance moment in the studio, captured for posterity. No editing was done to this track.
Brannon notes: Cool samples over awesome chords…again a live and unedited studio performance.
Track 9 Inception
● Guest Guitarist: Alan Shikoh (Glass Hammer, Samurai of Prog)
● Additional guitars and solo: Beledo
Colyer notes: This is definitely the weirdest song on the album. The intro is a three minute bit that I came up with, inspired by Steven Wilson. Darin and I crafted the vocal sections together. The “ambient” section was Darin’s concept. After the big chorus at the end, the sound effects you hear are the ROLI Seaboard, and Beledo put in some Ring Mod tracks. Alan Shikoh did a nice job on the rhythm tracks for the verse and bridge sections, and Beledo did the guitar work for the “funky break”, the “ambient” section, and turned in a smoking solo at the end. Billy, Natalie, and I worked to craft the vocal arrangements based on the vocal guide track and lyrics that Randy McStine gave us.
Brannon notes: I was sitting at home in front of my keyboard and started playing with weird rhythmic sounds. I came upon the, what I call “Rubber Band Sound”. Using a drum machine keeping the ⅞ groove, I started playing this sound over the groove. There was no pattern I just like the sound and playing it in a more abstract fashion gives it a non-patterned feel. Then, I thought, why stop there, with all of that going on underneath why not layer a real nice piano part on top. Just basic simple chords on top of the rubber band sound. We inserted that piece into the rest of this song. What’s unique about this song is that it goes from a long intro to the verse to a short break and then a bridge and then the rubber band section and then the chorus. So it’s not your typical verse bridge chorus (repeat) song.
Track 10 Summit
● Guest Guitarist: Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Beth Hart, Dave Kerzner band)
Colyer notes: Kudos to Darin for the super cool grooves on this song, and for the original concept for the entire ending section. For the vocal sections, the groove was so great that I kept the chord changes simple. Billy, Natalie, and I worked to craft the vocal arrangements based on the vocal guide track and lyrics that Randy McStine gave us. I wound up singing lead on this song, because the cool groove that Darin gave us, combined with what Randy wrote, was a bit tricky to sing, and Natalie and Billy were having a hard time getting it. I went to record a vocal guide track to help them, and that’s what you hear on the album. Darin started playing the melodic/rhythmic idea for the ending instrumental section, and I helped to finish it. The “duet” that you hear between tympani and piano is another captured “performance” with Darin and me. No editing there. One shot. Matt Dorsey did a great job with his tasty guitar parts. I added the synth solo at the end to bring the song to a climax. We’re proud of this one, and it’s really fun to perform live.
Brannon notes: The vocal grooves on this song was something that just happened during a jam session. The verse groove in particular is a rhythm pattern that I usually play in ⅞. So by adding an extra ⅛ note to the groove kind of threw me a bit. The bridges are in 7 and represent more of how I would play the groove “normally”. We ended up playing the choruses in ⅝ because it was a more powerful section that needed the punch that 5’s can deliver. The whole middle section was derived from a bit that I was playing during a writing session with Andy. It’s true to my usual type of bits that can come out of me. I owe a lot of that style of playing to one of my favorite bands, Pierre Moerlins’ Gong. This is the later version of Gong when the drummer Pierre kind of took the band in a more fusion style. It’s a true gem of a band, especially for drummers. Lots and lots of excellent kit drumming along with vibes, marimbas, timpani…any tunable percussion…they use it!
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