RUSSIAN CIRCLES / THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES BASSIST BRIAN COOK: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Instru-metallers Russian Circles’ new album Geneva is out now. Even Axl, who usually doesn’t get into all of the same instrumental / trippy / wank stuff that I do, is enjoying the album and described it as “really cinematic.” If you’ve yet to experience this amazing band, be sure to listen to a few tracks on their MySpace page and catch them on their current tour with Young Widows and Coliseum.
Current These Arms Are Snakes / ex-Botch bassist Brian Cook recently became a full-time member of Russian Circles after having recorded and toured with them on their last record Station. I recently emailed Brian a batch of questions about joining the band, recording the new album, balancing the workload between all of his projects, and what the future holds for Russian Circles, to which he was more than happy to respond in detail. My questions, his answers… after the jump.
I understand that you’re now an official member of the band. Can you tell us how that came to be?
Well, Dave [drums] and Mike [guitar] already had the recording session for “Station” lined up in Seattle with my friend Matt (Bayles). These Arms Are Snakes had played some shows with Russian Circles, so I knew the guys. They parted ways with their old bass player and wanted someone to handle the bass for recording. Since I was already in Seattle and knew the band and knew Matt, it just made sense to fill in. We did a few rehearsals and recorded the album. It was supposedly a temporary role, but they never managed to find a full-time replacement they were 100% satisfied with. I guess I convinced them to stick with me.
How do you find the time to balance Russian Circles with your other projects?
I’m not sure, I’ve always juggled multiple bands. I like to stay busy, I suppose. Fortunately, Mike and Dave work well as a duo, so they’re pretty good at getting a lot of the basic foundations to the new material fleshed out while I’m out in Seattle, then I can come in and throw my two cents in. I’ve come to believe that song-writing is a lot easier when it’s done in gradated steps. There is nothing more annoying than being in a room full of musicians all jamming together and vying to lead the creative process.
Russian Circles is a bit more patient and nuanced. These Arms Are Snakes are a bit more reckless and rowdy. Russian Circles is very focused on tone and precision. These Arms aim to create an aura that things might completely unravel and fall apart at any moment. So yeah, they’re pretty different. There’s no reason to be in multiple bands that aim to tap into the same aura.
How much of a roll did you play in writing the new record?
Mike and Dave lay the groundwork and I try to take the stuff they’ve written and highlight or reinforce certain parts. So I definitely don’t come to the table with a bunch of material for us to work on. I just try to fill in the gaps and round things out. I’m just the bass player, you know? I’m no Geddy Lee or Les Claypool. I have no problem accepting my role in the hierarchy of sonic frequencies.
What was it like working with Brandon Curtis? How does he compare to some of the other producers with whom you’ve worked?
Brandon is great. His approach is very different to producers I’ve worked with in the past. He’s less concerned with accuracy and more fixated on creating interesting sounds and making the recording breathe and have ambiance. He was really intuitive and always had a read on what we were going for before we had to articulate it. I can’t say nice enough things about him.
How is Geneva a step forward from Station?
Station is pretty faithful to how the songs are performed live. There’s not a lot of elaboration or studio trickery. With Geneva, we wanted to take advantage of the infinite possibilities of the studio. Of course, now we have to figure out how to recreate all that stuff live, so the next record will probably be a reaction against what we’ve done this time around. It’ll probably be a minimalist drone folk record or something. Or maybe we’ll ditch instruments altogether and just do Tuvan throat singing.
What do you feel you bring to the fold of the band? In other words, how does your experience and presence improve the band?
Good looks, a healthy beard, the gay audience, parallel parking skills, an impressive collection of Nomeansno albums on my iPod. That shit matters more than you’d know. On a more narcissistic note, I’d like to think that I’m a tasteful player. I know we have some songs that are a little on the technical end, but I think we really value economy and reserve. We’re not really into the whole ADD uber-technical stuff that’s out there. No offense to those folks with advanced fret-board awareness, but less is usually more. Hopefully I help on that end, it’s not like any of the shit I play is hard, if anything, I try to make shit more simple. I really like finding really simple patterns that I can repeat through the course of a song. It helps give the material a cohesive musical theme.
What’s the fan response been like on the current tour? Is the new material going over well?
It’s been very positive so far. We have enough material now that we have to pick and choose what we’re gonna do. We’re not one of those bands that jettisons our old material when we put out a new record, but we’re also not a band that plays for an hour or longer. So we’re still figuring a lot of it out as we go. We haven’t played the same set twice on this tour so far.
We have a really varied audience. I really take pride in it. There’s lots of older fans, but surprisingly a lot of younger kids too. Lots of really normal people too, which kinda blows my mind. I’m glad that our fans don’t have some sort of subconscious uniform that they have to wear. I mean, there’s no shortage of fat tattooed dudes with big beards at our shows, which is completely okay with me, but we seem to appeal to a pretty diverse cross section of folks. Maybe the different sounds we incorporate into our material has something to do with that.
This question is pretty open-ended on purpose… what are the longer-term goals for Russian Circles?
Keeping ourselves happy. Fortunately, that doesn’t depend on some sort of remedial capitalist model of continued exponential growth, it just requires that it stays interesting for us and doesn’t drive us into financial ruin.