EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RUSSIAN CIRCLES’ DAVE TURNCRANTZ
A few weeks ago, the Chicago-based rising instrumental metal band Russian Circles played at New York City’s Mercury Lounge as part of a short tour to whet the appetite of the masses for the release of their new record Station, out May 6th on Suicide Squeeze Records. Russian Circles were nothing short of fantastic, their aggressive brand of stoney metal punctuated by Floydian guitar work, ethereal soundscapes and dynamic drumming. Before the show, MetalSucks had the opportunity to sit down with Russian Circles’ drummer Dave Turncrantz to ask him about the new record, working with producer Mat Bayles (Mastodon, Botch, Vendetta Red, Norma Jean) the band’s formation and musical evolution, and their plans for the future. The full chat transcript after the jump.
So how’s the tour going so far?
The tour’s going awesome. Dalek’s rad, Young Widows are fuckin’ unbelievable, all the turnouts have been unbelievable and it’s been a lot of fun.
You guys have a new album coming out, in May is it?
May 6th, Station. Brian Cook took over bass duties, from These Arms [Are Snakes] and Botch. And it’s a little different, well, it’s a lot different than Enter, actually. It’s a little bit more fluent. And the songs are a little bit more thought out. Not so much, ya know, shredding – well there’s shredding, but it’s a little bit more tasteful. It’s not like, “why the fuck did they go to that part? Why the fuck are they doing that?” It’s more… parts make sense a little bit more. When we wrote Enter it was pretty much like, “let’s try this” and we did, without thinking, “does it really work in the song?” and it just seems like Station… when Brian came in and wrote bass lines for it, everything worked so well.
Did that change the song structures around a bit, him coming in, or is it just you two guys doing the writing?
Well with Enter it was pretty much me and Mike who did the structures anyways… so I think me and him matured with the writing, and we had an easy process of me and him going down there for, ya know, two hours, three hours down there, just me and him, and coming up with a whole bunch of stuff. Some of the stuff we ended up actually throwing away. But once we got stuff that we liked we demoed it, which did change when Brian came in too. But I do think that it’s pretty much kind of the same way we wrote Enter but it actually felt fresher ‘cause we had a whole other head come in later. So he heard the demos, came in, and then we changed ‘em with his opinions and parts. So, if we were like super-stoked about a certain section, and he came in like, “well what if we try this” and we were like, “woah, we never thought about that.” So, we kind of worked him in.
So is he gonna be a permanent member or is he just gonna be the touring bass player for now?
Umm… well, he’s not on this tour with us. He’s not here today. A friend of ours Ray, who plays in Sweet Cobra from Chicago, is playing bass on this short leg. I think it’s only 12 dates. And then Brian is playing the West Coast tour with us. He’s doing South By [Southwest] with us. He’s the greatest human being ever. We love These Arms Are Snakes. If we could steal him for tours here and there we’d try to, but at the same time we don’t wanna interfere with These Arms, so… we’re gonna try to lock him down for a Summer tour, throughout the whole U.S. When he can do it we’d love to have him, but if not, we’ll probably eventually find a permanent touring bass player, and then maybe kind of hopefully some day down the road Brian can do more tours, or if These Arms aren’t doing anything and he’s free, we can steal him here and there.
Matt Bayles produced Station. What was that like working with him?
(laughs) Awesome… and scary. (laughs) Well, let me rephrase that: scary then awesome. He’s not actually difficult, he’s just super-compulsive and so anal about so many things. We went in there thinking we were pretty set and ready to go, but then we realized that we were not prepared at all when it comes to Matt Bayles. But if we do our next record with him we’ll know what to expect to come in, what we need to do. But he was amazing. He’s got a great ear. It was stressful at first because we were used to a different, more lax recording session, more along the lines of where we could just fuck around and try weird different things, but he has such a timeline in his head of what we need to get done in a certain amount of days. And we didn’t realize how fuckin’ organized that guy is with parts, with… just what needs to be done today, and it needs to be done today. At first it was like, we were like, “I don’t know if I like the guitar sound” yadda yadda, but by the end, at the end of 3 days we were like, “damn, he knows what he’s doing, and it sounds awesome.” So yeah, if anybody goes to Matt you are pretty much guaranteed to have an awesome sounding record. And him mixing too – he mixed it, and produced and engineered – him mixing was so relaxed, cause… I remember with Enter, when we mixed it, we were physically in the mixing room the whole time. And we got so stressed… not stressed out but just like, tired. The last 3 songs pretty much a monkey could’ve mixed ‘em. Because we were like, “you like this? Yeah, whatever, let’s just get the fuck out of here.” But he [Bayles] took full control of it, went in there, mixed it, we would come in and listen to it, if we didn’t like something we’d tell him. But, yeah… he’s great. I really, really liked working with him.
Does he get in and work on arrangements with you guys or is he more of just a tones and performance type of guy?
A lot more tones and performance. There’s part where he might say, “this sounds funky,” here and there, but he wasn’t like… I think with us it’s a lot different than some other bands. We’re not like a band with pop structure. Like, I know he was doing Priestess, from Canada… is it Montreal? He was doing that as a major label release, so he was there producing, telling them what to do here and there. But with us it was mainly tones. He was super anal about tone. Timing – huge, huge with Matt. And that actually made us better musicians in the end, because, I mean, I’m guilty of it too; I’ll count off like “1, 2, 3, 4” and then just… why did I count off “1, 2, 3, 4” cause that was not the tempo I played the song in! But he was very stern about what the tempo should be. We would do a take and of course you’d hear the tempo, and you’re doing this wrong, and this wrong. And I think he kind of tried to get into our heads a little bit and it made us play better, and I’m super thankful. I mean look at Mastodon, they went back to him three times in a row, and they did it for a reason. People complain, but sometimes I just think that you need someone like that in order to become a better musician. And he’s not someone to sit down and be stroking your balls the whole time, like, “you were so good, you were awesome!” That’s not gonna make you a better musician, it’s gonna make you cocky. Like, he got into it with Brent [Hinds, Mastodon] who’s a fuckin’ amazing guitar player, and it made him a better guitar player. You know?
Before Russian Circles you were in Riddles of Steel, which was a more conventional songwriting structure. Was it intentional to move away from that, to do something more progressive and heady, or did it just sort of happen that way?
Well, I’m a huge metal fan. Like early Slayer, anything loud and fast when I was younger.I loved early punk rock stuff and whatnot. I’m a huge Police fan too and that’s kind of what drew me to Riddles of Steel. They needed a drummer and I played with them, and they had kind of a Police kind of feel to ‘em. And I kind of liked that. But, over time… I remember one day I went to the rehearsal space with Andrew, me and him would go down there — Same thing with Russian circles, guitar player and drummer just works really well like that – we’d go down there and I was like, “listen to this riff,” like a Botch riff. Which is actually kind of ironic, or just kind of hilarious. But I was like, “dude, we should write something like this,” and I would play the song, and he was just, “yeah, it’s great and all, but we’re not a heavy band.” And I just always wanted to be… and I mean I liked the stuff I played with them and it was fun at the time, but St. Louis… I mean I’m from St. Louis and I don’t wanna talk shit on St. Louis, but the music scene there is pretty dismal. And no matter what if you’re a band from St. Louis it’s really tough to get anyone to recognize you. Unless you’re Nelly and you have a dance hit about taking your clothes off. So the Riddles of the Steel thing was good, it was good for me because that was the first band I really toured with. So I got kind of an idea, and I met people that really helped Russian Circles out over a certain period when we started. So it was good for me. It wasn’t necessarily something I really… I liked it, but it wasn’t something I really… was fuckin’ stoked about.
And I was busier when I played with Riddles of Steel. I was a lot younger and I wanted to just try really weird time signatures and dumb stuff that I feel like I’ve grown out of today. When I listen to records now and I hear an awesome 4/4 beat where the guy’s just like playing smooth, I think I like that more than a Hella beat now. I’m more drawn to that because it’s more memorable than someone totally feeling like a drum clinic over a song. That’s totally forgetful for me now, especially with Station… that’s one thing that we noticed, me and Mike, we dumbed down the songs because we just kind of concentrated more on the songs rather than us being musicians and how awesome we can do things. I think we kind of established ourselves to where I could do a fucked up time signature and that’s great and all, but people out here don’t wanna listen to that over and over. It’s just like, I love Hella, to death, don’t get me wrong, but that first record of theirs, I probably could tell you what the first two songs sound like and then everything else, I can’t get past it. I listen to those two songs and I’m like, “ok! That’s awesome, but I’m gonna move on to something I can listen to all the way through.” So when we went to Station we just wanted to make something that was all about the songs, what’s gonna get people’s attention.
So you guys are doing South by Southwest and you’re doing a west coast tour, anything else you wanna tell the fans, or potential fans?
Yeah, I hope you like the new record. Me and Mike are pretty proud of it. And it comes out May 6th. And, yeah, again, we hope people like it!
[Station comes out May 6th on Suicide Squeeze Records.]