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Russian Circles


American three-piece instrumental rock band Russian Circles forge the type of music that is typically described as brutal. CHRIS HAVERCROFT speaks to guitarist and founding member, Mike Sullivan, as the band prepares for their latest soiree down under, taking them to the Rosemount Hotel this Friday, May 2, supported by Tangled Thoughts of Leaving and Drowning Horse. 

Russian Circles play sprawling tunes that veer from heavy discordant metal to the soft, delicate passages with guitarist, Mike Sullivan, building sounds through layered loops of guitar and Brian Cook’s visceral bass sound. 

They are one of the many bands that now push the envelope of genres without calling on a vocalist to tell their stories. This did change slightly on their most recent album, Memorial, which featured a guest vocal by Chelsea Wolfe on the title track.

“Our songs don’t have arrangements to them that are your traditional arrangements, but there is a tone to her vocals and an ethereal quality to her voice especially in that song,” offers Sullivan of the product of the band’s union with Wolfe. “We knew what she could do vocally and we trusted her. It was like here is the song, do what you do. We sent her the demo and within a couple of hours she came back with recorded vocals and lyrics and all that already. The final album track wasn’t that different to the original vocal line. She had some ideas right away and just went with that. I was impressed. We will usually sit there and talk about each part of the song and obsess over it and over-think and over-edit and change stuff. She just laid down the vocals and that was that.”

With the experiment of vocals through the collaboration with Wolfe breaking new ground for the band after five albums, one wonders if there is a desire by the band to push the limits of what they could do with a full-time vocalist on board. It is not something that Sullivan thinks would be a consideration any time soon.

“I don’t see us ruling out doing it again if we thought the track would work with vocals, but I wouldn’t say that we are definitely doing it on the next album, either.

“Who knows what is around the corner? We never rule out anything. We are big fans of Chelsea and really enjoyed working with her.”

The trio have found themselves on the fringes of many genres over the years but never firmly in the one camp. The sound certainly crosses over to a crowd that enjoy heavy metal without Russian Circles being a full blown metal act. There is the constant discussion around post rock, but the band won’t entertain that conversation for any length of time.

“I think that we have never fit with a community of bands in any way. Each tour will be different. One tour it will be one type of band and the next tour it will be with another. We have the freedom to play to different audiences. We can move in different directions and it won’t be too off base for us.  Each record is different and it wouldn’t be crazy if we did three folk songs in a row, or a few brutally heavy songs in a row. Each record we find a little more room to play with new ideas and it is never a shock to anybody in a bad way. I don’t know where we fit in exactly, but it is a good thing for us.”

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