Q&A: Guitarist Brendan Ekstrom of Circa Survive
After building anticipation for two years, Circa Survive has finally taken the lid off the pressure cooker. In its third studio album, “Blue Sky Noise,” the band has delivered 12 tracks that run the spectrum — from trademark introspection to dirty rock ‘n’ roll. But that’s just the start.
Currently, the band is on tour alongside rock heavyweights Coheed and Cambria, where it is delivering yet another slew of emotionally unpredictable live performances.
The State Press recently got the chance to talk with Circa’s guitarist, Brendan Ekstrom, before the band’s show at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
State Press: You guys recently released a new album. Can tell us a little about that?
Brendan Ekstrom: I know it sounds a little cliché, but we’ve never been more proud of anything we’ve done. I mean, that’s how you’re supposed to feel after every record, but I think there really was some moments on the last record (“On Letting Go”) where we didn’t feel totally connected, musically. This time it just felt a lot healthier overall —communication felt better.
SP: After the release of three albums, you guys still seem to be pretty tight. How have you guys managed the band environment so civil after all these years? BE: I think there are a couple of contributing factors to that. When the band first started out, we really wanted to make sure that we had people we could be around with for a long period of time. I feel like that was just as important as musicianship. We all really wanted to know that we were on the same page as everyone and that we had the similar ideals. But, really, I think we just got really lucky. I mean, we do occasionally run into problems — just as any band would if they were around each other every day for six years. I think the most important thing we do is just talk to each other when a problem arises. We honestly try our bests to not let sh-t build up, you know? It happens every once in a while, but if somebody does something that upsets us, we confront them about it and make it better.
SP: What new goals did you guys have this time around for the record?
BE: A really big one was making sure that everyone was really involved with the writing process. We really made sure that some of the songs Anthony [Green] wrote made it on the record. Actually, during “On Letting Go,” there were songs that he had written that we had all worked out with the full band, but they just didn’t make it on record. So this time, we really wanted to make sure that it happened.
SP: Was the song “Spirit of The Stairwell” one of those songs? BE: Yeah, that one was Anthony and Steve [Clifford]. They both wrote all the vocals for that.
SP: So how do you come into play with the writing process? Is there any real specific place? BE: I mean, I really think it’s different for a lot of the songs. But a lot of the times we would get a lot of ideas by just jamming. A lot of times, I would take pieces from that and slowly put them together. That’s one way. Other times, I would bring in basic chord structures that I had figured out acoustically and Anthony [Green] would just sing over the top of that. With Colin [Frangicetto], he’s lucky in the way that he can play drums as well, so a lot of times he’ll map out an entire structured song with drum beats and show it to us. We like that because it’s easier to get the whole picture. It’s easier to have an image of where the song might go. Sometimes I wish I had that talent, but it’s just different. Usually when I bring in a song idea, it’s way more open for changes. I definitely do have a vision, but that usually changes after we jam over it.
SP: You guys seem to take a very psychedelic approach to a lot of your songs. Have you guys ever been influenced by metaphysical practices or chemicals?
BE: Well, when I was 16, I went to a Grateful Dead show, where I had the final experience that I needed in that aspect — I lost my f--king mind. I had to drop out of school and couldn’t function for a long time. It took a lot of therapy and time just for me to get back to school. But still, I was really influenced by the music that was influenced by the drugs — things like Pink Floyd. So I guess it’s more like a secondhand thing for me. But I know that with Colin, he is very much into shamanism and learning about all of their metaphysical practices. I think we all find that whole thing fascinating — we’ve actually joked about taking mushrooms and doing a show, billing it as “Circa Survive on Mushrooms.” But literally, after the experiences I’ve had, I haven’t even had a drink since I was 16. The sh-t just opened up a world too intense for me to handle at the time. I think that those kind of things need to be treated with a certain amount of respect — you have to be in the right kind of mindset.
SP: In your second album, you guys alluded to various religious themes and elements, but how do you actually feel about religion? Can you talk a little about that? BE: (Laughs.) You know, it’s kind of funny. No one has asked me that in a long time, but I have kind of taken an approach after the last six years. It’s strange because it’s almost the complete opposite of what Colin was doing the last five years. He would read all these intense books on spirituality and shamanistic practices. Really, Colin and a couple of other friends of mine were kind of in this place where they were digging for all these answers and I saw them get into this thing where every time you find a little bit of one answer, it just opens up all these other questions. I feel like, in a sense, that’s sort of what happened to my father, who slipped deeper and deeper into schizophrenia and kind of lost his mind. So for me, I’m trying to take the simple path — more of like a Buddhist approach — and accept that these answers and questions are beyond the realm of understanding.
SP: You guys are fortunate enough to be involved with an art form that can change lives. Ultimately, how do you want to give back through Circa Survive?
BE: I definitely feel that it’s very important to me. Every once in a while I just look at myself and I’m like, “Man, what the f--k am I doing in life?” There are so many people out there playing guitar, but very few willing to find a cause. Over the last couple of years I’ve found a way to be really involved with all these organizations like Shirts For a Cure. I really do feel like it’s important to use this music platform to raise money and build awareness for all these other causes. It’s surreal to know that we have the stage; that we have these microphones — I definitely feel like there’s a huge responsibility that comes with that. I know I have always been upset when I see bands come out and only preach about doing getting f--ked up and partying. There’s more out there, you know? I love how I’m in a band where our singer empowers the audience to find their passion.
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