Although they’ve apparently been trying to slow their touring, shortly after the August release of their seventh studio LP, Blood Year, Chicago post-metal instrumental trio Russian Circles quickly returned to the road. The band spent the second half of September touring with support from their local peers in FACS, and they’re currently on a run of dates with support from doom metal outfit Windhand, which will have them at Union Transfer this Sunday, October 27th. Blood Year, which was released on Sargent House, has the band attempting to replicate the energy of their live show – which has made its mark on the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection a number of times over the years – and has been largely regarded as their most aggressive record yet. Yesterday I got a chance to chat with Russian Circles bassist Brian Cook about their latest sounds… among other things.
Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I’m curious about your thoughts on the city. You’ve played here a bunch of times.
Brian Cook: I’ve always found Philly to be interesting in that when I first started touring with hardcore bands back in the mid-‘90s it was one of the few cities where people actually lived in the city center, and one of the few cities where we’d actually play downtown. We’d never play LA; we’d play Orange County. We’d never play in Manhattan; we’d play in New Jersey or out on Long Island. And now as we’ve seen people re-populating city centers over the last two decades, we’ve watched all these major cities go through these dramatic makeovers, but Philly keeps its gritty character. I like that aspect of city… it seems immune to the whitewash of commercialism.
Izzy: Your latest LP, Blood Year, has been out for a little while now. Have you had any favorite responses to it, whether from fans, critics, or just friends?
Brian: I avoid reading our own press or online comments. And I imagine our friends are polite enough to keep any negative criticisms to themselves. So, I don’t really have any feedback highlights. I’m not naïve enough to boast that we make our music in some sort of vacuum of outside influence, but as someone that’s done music writing and journalism for a number of outlets over the last 12 years and seen how that side of things works, I’ve come to be a bit skeptical towards critics, so I prefer to ignore writers’ assessments of our work. The press is under so much pressure to provide content that I don’t think there’s a lot of genuine attentive listening to new music. I think it’s a lot of cursory listens and snap judgments. I’m much more prone to reading personal blogs or trustworthy sources’ private social media feeds for music suggestions as I think the enthusiasm in those formats is more insightful.
Izzy: How do you feel like the album compares to previous releases? Were you trying anything new on this one, or did it feel like more-or-less a natural evolution? It seems as though a lot of critics are implying that they think it’s your heaviest release yet.
Brian: There was a conscious effort to streamline things and make a more aggressive record this time around. We did so much touring on our last album and we always tend to gravitate towards the heavier stuff when we play live, so we wanted to make an album that was more suited to live performances. It’s fun to make records that are full of ear candy and studio textures, but I also feel that we live in an age where the capabilities and possibilities presented by recording software makes it really cheap and easy to make these interesting and texturally rich albums. The problem is that this modern emphasis on capturing new sounds has taken precedence over songwriting, musician interplay, and chemistry. So, rather than making a record that’s super lush and pristine, we opted to make something that felt a bit more grimy and human.
Izzy: What would you consider to be Blood Year’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise? Was there anything you were listening to, watching, or just thinking about a lot when the album was being composed?
Brian: I can’t speak for the other guys, but I was on a heavy Darkthrone kick during the writing and recording process of this record. I just love how those records are so raw and no-frills, but the riffs and songwriting are still awesome. It served as a constant reminder not to get lost in the details. Just write good songs and bash them out as hard as you can. That kind of energy is far more appealing to me than any synthetic over-edited mechanical-sounding rock music. That said, I don’t imagine any of our riffs sound much like Darkthrone.
Izzy: You’ve been on Sargent House for a while now, which is definitely one of my favorite labels. How is it working with them? Any favorite label peers? I’m super into King Woman, Emma Ruth Rundle, and Lingua Ignota.
Brian: We’ve worked with Sargent House for over a decade at this point and it’s been exciting to watch them go from being a modest little protective umbrella for idiosyncratic artists to this significant cultural force in the underground. It’s been especially inspiring to see how they’ve elevated so many female artists in these genres that have been typically male-dominated. It’s a very close-knit roster. Cathy has been great at fostering this family vibe where all the artists are big advocates for each other. I’m not gonna pick any favorites just because so many of the other Sargent House artists are such good friends that I don’t wanna bum anyone out.
Izzy: I know you’re about halfway through this tour. How has it been going so far? Any particular highlights?
Brian: Tour has been great. We’re currently out with Windhand, who are excellent people and an excellent band. We only have four shows under our belts at this point, so there’s nothing too wild to share in terms of stories.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you return to Union Transfer?
Brian: Oh man… “what can we expect of the live show” has become the most commonly asked question for us—to the point where we’ve had multiple conversations amongst ourselves about how to approach it in interviews. Honestly, I have zero clue how to answer this question. Do I hype it up and sound like an egocentric asshole? Or do I speak bluntly about it and completely demystify our performances? Do I say “prepare for a transcendental experience where we take you on a journey through a myriad of emotions” or do I say “prepare to watch three guys play their songs in a dark room while a bunch of people stand around drinking beer and nodding their heads?” Is there a way to answer this without either sounding horribly pompous or flatly cynical? Maybe we should just leave this one blank.
Izzy: Finally, what are you hoping and planning for after these dates wrap, in the last part of 2019 and the first bit of 2020?
Brian: We’re taking it one step at a time. Our goal with our last album was to tour smarter, not harder, and yet we still wound up doing six North American tours, five European runs, and an Australian run. We’re committed to the idea of touring less and writing more, but we’ve also been afforded some opportunities that are too good to pass up, and I don’t imagine that changing. Long story short… I have no idea what the future holds. We’re all hovering around 40 but we still operate like a bunch of twenty-somethings when it comes to operating our band. There’s no big strategy. We just do things when we feel compelled to do them.