Circuline was founded in 2014 by Andrew Colyer (keyboards, vocals), Bill Shannon (guitars, vocals), and Darin Brannon (drums, percussion). Each had played with groups that covered progressive and classic rock masters along with original material. For this new band the desire was to make a concerted go of it – to write and record new original material to bring to the stage. Lead vocalists Billy Spillane and Natalie Brown joined the group, having performed countless times as singers, actors, dancers, and rock musicians. Paul Ranieri plays bass along with Matt Dorsey on a handful of tracks as well. The band are about to release their debut album, and are booked for a series of concerts this spring.
Circuline’s debut album is filled with modern progressive rock gems. Its sound is dramatic and technically advanced, yet accessible and melodic. The balance of dramatic dark and light tones that can be so difficult to achieve seems to come easy for this outfit. Tracks like the opener, “Return” shine with tight vocal harmonies, well-tuned toms, and bass, grand piano, and clean synth leads. Follow up “Nebulae” draws the listener in with it’s ambient intro building to a tight fusion style guitar lead, all ending in the sound of crashing thunder and the sound of rain fading away. “Imperfect” shines with beautiful melody followed by “Fallout Shelter” which sports a monster sized dissonant jam on guitar, atop crashing drums, sounding as frightening as the title implies. Instant favorite “Silence Revealed” (click here for YouTube audio) closes the album with a compelling summary of all that comes before, ending a journey that is challenging and appealing.
I talked to Andrew Colyer one of the founders of the band and it’s keyboard player and backing vocalist. Andrew came to the world of progressive music a bit later in life than some, which affords him a balance of pop and prog influences. I started by asking him about these influential bands, and wanted him to elaborate just a bit about artists as disparate as Happy The Man, and Ambrosia:
Andrew: My favorite keyboard players include the greats: Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Tony Banks, Jan Hammer, Jordan Rudess, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays, Herbie Hancock, Bruce Hornsby, Keith Jarrett but Eddie Jobson is my favorite. I’ve seen Eddie live several times –when they played on CTTE in 2013, everyone was stunned into silence. At the end of the show, when people are usually chit chatting, nobody was saying a word – they were so awesome you couldn’t speak. As far as I’m concerned, Eddie is the man to beat.
Jan Hammer was the first guy to use the pitch bend wheel to really make the keyboard sound expressive, like a guitar player. I think it was Jeff Beck who said his favorite guitar player is Jan Hammer.
Kit Watkins was a phenomenal synth player, who worked with Frank Wyatt and Stanley Whitaker in Happy The Man. Frank and Stan went on to form Oblivion Sun. What I really like best in this music are Frank’s chord changes – it all starts with the chords and song for Frank, and he and Stan come up with these odd rhythms. I know Frank, am in contact with the band and may record and play with them live in the future.
I liked Ambrosia in the 70s and they were on the first Cruise To The Edge. Before that show, I didn’t know they had those progressive origins. I grew up listening to Kasey Casem’s top 40 and movie soundtracks and so in the late 70s “Biggest Part of Me” and those soft rock hits caught my ear with their 5 part vocal harmonies, interesting chord changes – today they still sound terrific – just like on the record.
Doug: You mentioned the focus Circuline also takes with vocals and harmonies, making space within the compositions for vocals to shine.
Andrew: That was one of Darin’s rules. Billy Natalie and I met before this band was formed and both of them are great singers – the three of us together have a really nice sound. And Bill (guitar) also sings so we can do 4 part harmonies. For this band we definitely want to feature the vocals – I think it makes the music more accessible. It doesn’t matter how great the music is – if you don’t have great vocalists I don’t believe people are going to come back again to see a band. You can do enough marketing to get people to come out and see a band once, and you want that reaction where they want to come back, and bring their friends with them. For us to have the caliber of vocalists in Billy and Natalie and not feature them would be a wasted opportunity. We’ve already been labeled “crossover” prog, which is good with us, because we would like to be more accessible, more viable as an ongoing band. We know that when you see an artist like Steven Wilson or Sound of Contact you can relate to the music and come away ready for more.
Doug: When it comes to performing these songs live, we’ve discussed the theatricality of a concert – the range between simply a powerful emotive presentation and costumes, staging and lights – how do you approach your live shows?
Andrew: Besides Billy fronting No Quarter for 6-7 years he has also performed all over the world as an actor and dancer. Natalie had a 30-year career as an actor – she had the lead in Evita twice – that was her full time job. First, our dress is different – we have a rule – no t-shirts, blue jeans, and tennis shoes. It s a personal thing – we believe that if we are going to ask somebody to leave their home, and pay money to see us we should at least try to look good. None of us care for the “rock n roll” thing where the band looks like they haven’t had a shower for a week, and are wearing ripped up t-shirts and jeans. We are going to try to look like we belong on stage. Second, some of the theatricality has to do with the way Billy and Natalie present the music, either their facial expressions or gestures while singing – they have the ability to play off each other while playing to the audience at the same time. Because they are trained they have a way of doing that and make it part of the performance. It’s just who they are.
In the 70s having the music being progressive was new enough – in todays world, people see things like Katy Perry and the Super Bowl halftime shows, Taylor Swift with her huge stage sets, Billy Joel who has a big rotating stage, lights, and show – what people can see live or on YouTube has them used to getting some kind of visuals with the music – something happening on stage. Some musicians can still come out and stand still, just playing their instruments. We are looking to include some movement, and drama to benefit us, and our audience.
Doug: By the way, what happened to your Trumpet?
Andrew: For 10 years, I played in Jr. High, High School and college in multiple bands and there is just no time to keep up with my horn, but I really miss playing. The big band stuff is really fun. People make fun of “Sussudio” by Phil Collins, but listen to those horn lines! Maybe I can incorporate it playing the horn my right hand, and keys with my left. Pat Metheny did a long composition live and the trumpet player had a mic, and a bunch of guitar effects pedals – reverb, delay – he could do a bunch of great effects. It would be great to incorporate an approach like that in the future.
Doug: The keys sound congruous throughout the record – lots of patches within a tight family of sounds. Bill stretches out on Fallout Shelter with that dissonant guitar passage. It comes just after “Imperfect.” Was there a plan to its placement on the record?
Andrew: I tried to use different keyboard patches on every song – and Bill was conscious of his tone – we tried to blend these together. We are very particular about our parts, and dial things up and back in service of the song.
Imperfect was “the pretty song” on the record. Bill and I had the idea in the studio and we recorded it and forgot about it for about 3 months. Near the end of the recording we thought, “lets go back to that ballad we were working on.” We played it back and decided to include it – no mixing, no overdubs – the performances were flawed – I have plenty glitches and notes, but we did not want to go back and redo it – we captured a moment, and we thought, let’s put it on the record and call it “Imperfect.” For Fallout Shelter the working title was “Brand X Jam” – Darin gets to do his Billy Cobham drum solo – so it was a jam we recorded at The Cave (recording studio) and we kept Bill’s original guitar track as the basis. Later I wrote the big kind of epic chords and the synth part ending. We put “Fallout Shelter,” the most demented song, after “Imperfect,” the prettiest one!
Circuline feature the new album in concert on April 24-26, on a double-bill with Glass Hammer, and are filming and recording the show for DVD at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, New York. Additional gigs with Glass Hammer include the New Jersey ProgHouse, and Orion Studios in Baltimore. They also have three nights in May for the Sonic Voyage Festival with a great lineup of bands, and are looking to start their second album this summer. Circuline will also record additional videos, which are to include short videos for Internet TV, some of which will be videos of their social time together. Next year they are planning to get into some of the summer festivals, which book at the beginning of the year. Watch for these events from this new and engaging progressive rock band!