photo: courtesy of Solid PR
As 2007 hit its midpoint, melodic instrumental trio Russian Circles were a year removed from releasing Enter, its six-song, full-length debut, on Chicago's Flameshovel Records. The group, led by guitarist Mike Sullivan and drummer Dave Turncrantz, had spent the previous few years building a local following with its dynamic mixture of layered clean-channel guitars, distorted hammer-ons and pull-offs, dissonant riffs and eruptive beats. Buzz grew around the band when it joined high-profile alt-prog act Tool on a set of UK dates last August, and it continued when Russian Circles signed to Seattle indie label Suicide Squeeze in the fall.
Now the group, having parted with original bassist Colin DeKuiper, unveils its sophomore effort, Station, on May 6. The album scales back the trio's sonic onslaught and technical prowess to focus more on distortion-free harmonies. Turncrantz's assailing fills are still present and palm-muted alt-metal riffs are scattered throughout, but Station often presents a serene sonic voyage.
Centerstage caught up with Turncrantz in advance of the group's record-release performance, set for May 10 at Subterranean.
Was there a conscious decision to make Station less technical and less heavy than Enter?
When we started writing Station, we kind of grew up a little bit. When we wrote Enter, it was pretty much a cluster-fuck of parts that we tried to put into one particular song. "Oh, this is in the same tuning? We have to make it work." It was kind of assembling this Frankenstein of songs. When we started writing Station, we really tried to concentrate on not flaunting our musical skills. We wanted to write something more song-oriented. There are only so many metal riffs you can write.
How was working with [producer] Matt Bayles?
It was probably one of the best things for us, musically. He's so crazy with timing and parts; he's so anal about that stuff. We take that stuff for granted sometimes, and we'll go back to it six months later and say, "Why didn't I think about that when I was in the studio?"
Do you envision becoming a full-time band and supporting yourselves from Russian Circles?
I feel like we're getting there. We're doing our first real US headlining tour this June with a [hardcore] band called Daughters. We're seeing that the guarantees are going up, and people are interested in putting us in these venues with a 500-600 capacity.
How do you envision your sound evolving from here?
We're starting to write again; we wrote a song in two practices and it's super heavy. It's hilarious. It's like, "Where the fuck did this come from?" [Writing naturally] is exciting in a weird way. We don't have to listen to a part and say, "I don't know, man. That's not Russian Circles."
If I were to come to your neighborhood [Avondale], where would you insist that I visit?
Kuma's, for sure. It’s the metal burger place. It's delicious and the best place in the world.
Are they going to name a menu item after you guys?
Hopefully! I don't know if we're metal enough for them anymore. Hopefully, we won't turn into Sigur Ros or Mogwai and be totally off the radar.
What are your favorite hidden gems in Chicago?
I know a really good bar called Small Bar. There's one in [Logan Square] between Sacramento and Kedzie. There's this little neighborhood there. It's not like Rainbo, where it's the hip spot. The best Thai place ever is this place called Yes at Foster and Damen. I've been eating there for about six years—two years before I moved to Chicago.