With ’03’s ‘Good Mourning’, Alkaline Trio had stepped out of the Chicago underground and become one of punk rock’s greatest mainstream prospects. For the first time online, read the hectic story of its creation, told by the band themselves.
Rock Sound speaks exclusively to Circle Takes The Square about recording their new album…
Rock Sound hit the studio with Circle Takes The Square to find out about their new record and where the hell they've been for the past 7 years...
So, the last time Rock Sound communicated with you – you were apparently deep in the Amazon rainforest for some reason. What was that all about?
Says guitarist / vocalist Drew Speziale: “Ahh, lifetimes ago... I've got to say, we've worked on our new material in so many different locations over the course of three years it's somewhat dizzying to reflect on. We've been driven out of countless practice spaces while writing this album, usually owing to excessive volume or for playing the same riffs over and over again for so many days on end, which apparently became bothersome to certain nearby residents and neighbouring businesses. There was even one heart attack potentially associated with the riffs from a forthcoming song called ‘The Serpent Chord’. It’s a pretty brutal jam and unfortunately that whole thing ended tragically; so at that point we willingly turned our amps down a bit and began to seek out even more remote (and wilder) locations to craft what was turning out to be a pretty, well... "ambitious" collection of songs...”
Big question, where have you been hiding since 2004?
“I suppose we didn't officially go off the map until 2008, as we continued touring and playing shows as much as possible until the end of 2007. At that point, we had finally established our current line-up, consisting of Kathleen and I (founding members) as well as our new drummer Caleb Collins (from Mare) and David Rabitor on guitar. CTTS has been through a handful of line-up changes since the release of ‘As The Roots Undo’, and in the chaos of getting new members up to speed to play shows, and touring as much as possible, we hadn't had the down time, or the solid line-up we needed to complete material for our follow-up release until Caleb and David joined in 2007. At that point, we were finally in a position to get down to work, and we basically decided that touring and playing shows was off the table until the new material was done. So we went into song-writing hermitage. We spent a lot of time in 2008 writing, while our personal lives were also evolving, and we were all living in different states and countries by 2009. Three weddings, one engagement, and countless, intensive, writing sessions later, and we were finally ready to book studio time and start recording our upcoming album.”
Why has it taken so long to record the follow-up to ‘As The Roots Undo’?
“Aside from the logistical hurdles that arose from line-up changes, location changes, the demands of our personal lives, etc, we spent A LOT of time engrossed in the writing process for these new tunes. Though Kathy and I had been accumulating handfuls of ideas for the ‘ATRU’ follow-up before our newest line-up fell into place. When the four of us started rehearsing together, it was clear that a much more powerful beast was rearing its head through our collaboration than we had anticipated. We basically ended up starting from scratch, generating all fresh material that played to our specific strengths as a whole, and decided to really focus on developing our approach to song structure and how it relates to the concepts we were working with. This meant spending lots of time exploring fundamental aspects of our music like variation, repetition, space / dynamics, point / counterpoint, flow, tempo, etc. Thoroughly and meticulously digging into these elements was a new approach for us, and so it became a pretty long-term commitment. We ended up with a whole lot of material, all of which we're extremely proud of, though we hadn't expected it would take as long as it did...”
Tell us about line-up changes? Who are the current members?
“Our current line-up consists of Kathleen Stubelek (formely Coppola) on bass, Drew Speziale on guitar, David Rabitor on Guitar, and Caleb Collins on Drums. All of us contribute vocals... As for why we've had line up changes in the past- sometimes people "just go their separate ways", to use the cliche. I don't think there were ever any really definitive or press-worthy reasons, so i'll leave it at that. I'm just extremely grateful to be collaborating with devoted and innovative musicians at this point, who share a common vision and are as excited about challenging themselves within the context of our music as I am.”
So tell us about the record, what’s it called and when can we expect it?
“The name of our forthcoming album (to be released in the fall of 2011) is ‘DECOMPOSITIONS, Volume 1’. It contains the first batch of songs in what we consider to be a collection of self-contained musical narratives. These songs are complete unto themselves, but they also relate to an over-arching storyline that will unfold throughout ‘Decompositions’ as a whole. ‘Ritual Of Names’ is the title of a track that will be on ‘Volume 2’ (which will be released at some point down the line). We decided to divide ‘Decompositions’ into multiple volumes because of the length of the songs and the amount of material we will be releasing. ‘Volume 1’ weighs in at over 50 minutes, and contains the dynamic and arcing quality of any proper full-length album, as will each of the forthcoming installments of this project, so it seems appropriate to release them sequentially. As far as who's putting it out, members of CTTS are launching a label called Gatepost Recordings in conjunction with the upcoming release. Putting the record out ourselves seems a logical extension to the DIY approach we've applied to our band since its inception, and we're enthused about taking it to the next level.”
What are the themes of the record?
“‘Decompositions Volume I’ examines the dissolution of boundaries, and the primal states of changing phase. These collected compositions are celebrations of the transitional - that indefinable space between extremes, in which our perceptions so often take refuge. Our newest musical offerings are explorations in decay - mapping the "window areas" of existence, where the predictable becomes defiant, and all that we "know" begins to break down. Circle Takes The Square draws inspiration from dissident mythologies, handed down in slurred whispers from one dying counter-culture to the next. We garner influence from the soft-spoken rumors of age-old esoteric traditions, of informal rituals associated with confronting the shadow, abandoning the persona, and an eventual re-interpretation of that which we have come to regard as "Truth". Simply put, we are a punk rock band with reverence for the Mystery. We craft songs about rust-tinged skylines and hammer out soundscapes to hum along with when the end of time finally comes to pass. We cast our spells in the musical language of dreams; however, we are not Witch. We are you.”
How as your sound changed / developed? What can people expect from the new material?
“As I mentioned earlier, to create our new material we spent a lot more time obsessing over song structure, and we experimented with using specific concepts to guide the development of the tracks much more than we have in the past. From the outset we wanted to attempt to fully explore each individual idea, the building blocks within each song, as opposed to moving through one motif after the next with blinding speed, as we have done in previous songs. The result is still extremely collage-like and will probably be perceived as somewhat "chaotic" in nature, but the many ideas that comprise each song are definitely given more room to breathe and evolve in an organic way, which accounts for the longer song lengths of some of the new material. That said, at this point my objectivity is completely out the door, being as enmeshed as we are in the recording process right now. So describing the final product is definitely a challenge. I think its safe to say, the new material features some of the heaviest and most punishing moments in CTTS history, but it also takes some potentially unexpected swerves here and there. Overall, we left the doors wide open to writing whatever was genuinely interesting to us at any particular moment throughout the process, which has always been our approach, but, I think there's a somewhat more refined, and definitely a very eclectic quality in what we've created this time around. But still with that underlying, primal ferocity that has always attached itself to our music.”
Any plans to tour the record? What about the UK?
“We're finishing up tracking for ‘Volume 1’ at the moment, so we've got a little more work to do before finalising a tour schedule of any kind. We do currently have plans for a short tour in October, as we are confirmed to perform at The FEST in Gainesville, Florida that month. As for the UK, it's been a long while. We'd love to return and play these new songs for our extremely patient fans...”
Are CTTS back for good?
“Thanks for waiting patiently... Yes, we're back.”
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