The absense of a vocalist puts the focus completely on the push and pull of the music, even when it isn't a conscious decision. Chicago's Russian Circles formed in late-2004, following the break-up of Dakota/Dakota, the math-rock band guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Colin DeKuiper played in.
Two years later Flameshovel Records released the instrumental trio's first full-length, Enter -- a linear, dynamic post-metal album capable of appealing to fans of Mogwai and Mastodon alike. With six tracks and a run-time just shy of 45 minutes, it never sounds forced or pretentious.
After the band's explosive set on the first night of The Fest V in Gainesville, I stood outside a local pub and spoke with Colin about live shows and touring.
First of all, why did you guys decide to be an instrumental band?
It wasn't really like we set out to be an instrumental band. When we started the band, there wasn't a lot laid out for us. We hadn't set the groundwork for what we wanted to achieve. But the three of us really wanted to play together, so we just sort of came together and started writing songs.
The first song we wrote was the first song on our record, "Carpe." After we wrote it we were just sorta like, "I don't know exactly where the vocals are gonna fit." And then after that, we wrote another song that ended up being the last song on the record, "New Macabre." We were saying the same thing, just sorta standing around saying "I dunno where the vocals are gonna go." At that point, we said, "We'll test it out, play some shows, and see what the reaction is." For the most part it seemed more positive, that people felt like we should be an instrumental band versus a band with vocals.
It's not out of the question, but right now it's really, really easy to be a three-piece and not have vocals, so we'll forge ahead as planned.
What do you think makes for a good live show?
We love small rooms just because it seems the smaller the room, the more control we have over how it sounds. Also a smaller room is easier to fill. For us, a good live show is just, you know, we play well, we sound good and there's crowd there that's really into it.
Interview continued after the jump...
What are some of the most memorable or life-changing live shows you've seen?
A lot of the shows that kinda set you in stone happen when you're very, very young. I was really lucky when I was young - I got to see a lot of bands that I wouldn't have seen later. I saw the Ramones a couple of times on the Adios Amigos Tour, and they're obviously a landmark band. I remember that being really cool. My dad took me to go see Neil Young when I was eight or nine and Sonic Youth was opening. They've been a constant as far as my musical influences go. Also got to see Elliott Smith at the Empty Bottle. I saw him three times in Chicago before. It was all post-XO so I was really, really glad that I got to see those shows obviously.
There's been a lot of them. And they still happen, which is the great thing. It especially great to see people who are my peers and people I'm close to on a personal level making music that really, really excites me. We're definitely tied into the whole Chicago scene. It's cool to see a band like Pelican do what they do, and see people totally go nuts for them, just because those are the guys we've watched play music for the past five years. To see that they've gotten to the point where they are right now is super exciting for us.
Are there any bands or anything you're looking forward to at The Fest?
We're only here for the night because we have to go to Orlando tomorrow. I've quickly flipped through the book and it seems pretty solid. Tonight was great. The Abbey Road show is really, really awesome with Rescue and Thunderbirds Are Now. The package tour that we're a part of, which is Velvet Teen, P.O.S. and Minus the Bear. I think that's a great show. Tonight it seemed like there were less shows than Saturday and Sunday.
How do you think your show went tonight?
It was great. Far better than I expected it to be. I wasn't exactly sure how it was gonna go. We had a blast.
What inspires you?
I think for all of us it's that we've grown up listening to music, we've grown up playing music and going to see music. To be doing what we're doing - we're by no means totally making a living off of it - but it's taking up pretty much our lives, which is mostly inspiring. It's what we want to do. We want to be playing shows every night and we want to be making records and we want to be writing songs.
What are your plans after this?
We've been on this tour since October 5. On the package with Minus the Bear, P.O.S. and Velvet Teen - the last show is in San Francisco I think November 12th. And then we will route our way up to Seattle where we'll play one more show with Minus the Bear. Then we'll tour back home to Chicago with P.O.S. We'll get home the 21st of November, right before Thanksgiving. This one's a long one, but we did a seven-week tour over the summer. So we're getting kinda used to it, which is nice.
We're gonna take the winter off to write. We'll probably hit the road again late Februrary or early March. Definitely have plans to do SXSW in March. It's really to get as much writing as we can done over the winter. We'll do some touring and hopefully come home and write more. Then get into the studio sometime next year to have a record out in 2008.
Have you had any memorable tour experiences?
Oh, there's many, many, many memorable tour experiences. This tour is pretty landmark for us in the sense that we're playing much bigger places than I think any of us ever thought that we would have played. We played the Trocadero in Philadelphia. We played Irving Plaza in New York. A lot of really, really great bands have played those stages, and I don't think any of us would have thought a year ago that we would have been - granted, we're first out of four - but that Minus the Bear would be kind enough to take us out and give us that opportunity to play these places. That's pretty landmark.