Circa Survive: It's not easy being Green

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Circa Survive’s Anthony Green has never shied away from talking about his experience with drugs, but new album ‘Descensus’ marks a new chapter in the frontman’s life. Written and recorded when he was fresh out of rehab, Green – who has also rejoined his original band, Saosin – presents a very vulnerable and honest side of himself on the record, and also in conversation. There’s a noticeable point, brought on by the presence of his eldest son, when the interview becomes incredibly revealing and personal. Now a father of three, his priorities have shifted completely. As he explains, though, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, he had to get worse to get better, and the journey back up wasn’t – and still isn’t – entirely easy.

**It’s been about six months since ‘Descensus’ came out. How do you feel about it now? **“You know, there’s always a weird feeling right when a record first comes out and you’re sharing it with everybody. There’s a vulnerability there. But it’s truly the most fun I’ve had recording music ever, and I’m so proud of it. It kind of made that transition period from having it be something that we have to sharing with everybody really easy. I love playing the songs live. They feel very natural for us and I love the album. It’s my favourite record we’ve ever done.”

It’s interesting that you say it was the most fun, because it came out of quite a dark period. “It did. I think that’s why it was so much fun – it was almost therapeutic to record it. There wasn’t any pressure and we didn’t know how we were going to release the record. We didn’t know even if it was going to be a full record. We just went in to deal with some of our emotions in a way that was productive and creative. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey! Let’s go in and record a record for Sumerian.’ It was ‘Hey! Let’s go in and see if we can still write songs together and make ourselves feel better about what’s happening in our lives.’ The reason we started playing music was to just hang out with our friends and have fun. But as a younger kid it helped me deal with a lot of anger problems, and feelings that I had of being alienated. I think that’s where a lot of punk music comes from – just feeling angry and alienated and having a place where you can get that out. I think as you get older, and certainly when you start doing it as a profession, that sense can get lost. It’s more like, ‘Oh, it’s time to put out another record and go tour.’”

**Do you think not having a label for ‘Violent Waves’ helped realign that thought process and your creative urge? **“It definitely helped me and the guys figure out how we were going to work together in a way where there were no holds barred. We let the evolution of the creative process take shape from song to song. We didn’t have the label when we recorded Descensus, either. We were completely on our own – the record was finished and mastered before we signed to Sumerian, so it was sort of a continuation of that, where we could do whatever we wanted and just make something that we really loved. I think that when you’re younger, after you find a tiny bit of even marginal success, you start thinking, ‘Oh, maybe we could be a band that could make psychedelic punk music for the masses! Maybe we could write a song that’s both weird and has appeal, and you start thinking about that and that can sometimes ruin the natural creative evolution of a band. Luckily, we didn’t really experiment with that too much. I think there’s a sense of that on our earlier records, where we’re like ‘Could this song get played on the radio?’ and I think that sentiment for our band is kind of a mistake. I think we’re better off just making weird shit that we love – and if we love it, then our community of devoted listeners will love it and will keep spreading the word organically and we’ll never have to think ‘Maybe it’d be good for the band for this song to be on the radio.’ I think there’s a sense about trying to grow a band that way that’s always like a dream for somebody as their band starts to get bigger. I think the last two records were good practise for us being like, ‘Yeah, fuck it. Let’s just write what we know is going to be good for us and not give a shit about people finding it catchy enough to make it for mass appeal.’”

**The artwork for the 2012 album ‘Violent Waves’, and right, Green during Circa Survive’s set at Coachella in 2015 **Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty

**Do you think that’s something that comes with age? You’re in your early 30s now, as opposed to your early 20s when you started the band. **“I feel like as a lot of bands get older, the more and more they think about how they can make the band commercially viable. Whereas we started out as a really weird band. People were always telling us that we were great but we were a little weird, and I think that we just lost our sense of wanting to make the band commercially viable as we got older. Like old age pushed us into more of a ‘Fuck it’ mentality, and I feel like the more we ignore that shit, the more successful we become. But you really can’t worry about making money. You can’t really worry about anything but making music that best represents what you want to be creatively. It’s kind of up to the luck of the draw, but if you can make music that makes you really happy, that’s the greatest payoff. And if you can make money doing it – holy shit! That’s a fucking miracle. But I would gladly work a 9-5 job pushing papers or flipping burgers and be able to say that I was making music that creatively fulfils me. And I think a lot of the time, bands get stuck in that zone where it’s like ‘We’re making shit we don’t like, but we’re making money and that’d great.’ We’d much rather be where we are and doing stuff that creatively fulfils us than worrying about trying to be on the radio or trying to make a viral video or any of that stupid bullshit.”

**Does that mean you can also be more honest with the music you make? **“Yeah. I mean, there’s great songs on the radio that do that too, but it’s few and far between these days. I’m not going to even pretend like I know what type of music gets played on the radio or what that world is even like. All I know is when my friends and I get together and we’re all going through something and we check I with each other about it, we’re able to create something that really represents five different perspectives of different problems, but dealing with it in a similar way. Music’s very spiritual and therapeutic for us in that way, and it always has been. I think the idea that we had best capitalise on it commercially came from an outside place, as we got older and signed to Atlantic and as we heard people saying ‘Well, you could do this’… [to someone with a high voice]… What are you doing?! Hey! Come on. You can’t play right there because if the door opens you’re going to spill out. Come back up here and play on the couch with me till I’m done. Sorry – my four-year-old is out with us for the last couple days of the tour. His mom and brothers are at home so I’m just keeping an eye on him.”

**That must add an extra dimension to touring life… **“It’s pretty crazy. If you would have told me 10 years ago that I’d be where I’m at today, in a band that I think is the most successful thing I could ever imagine, having a stable life with kids and being drug and alcohol free and all these things, I’d be like ‘Fuck you! You’re fucking crazy!’ But being a dad totally suits me. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I love it. Aside from making music, it’s like the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I love my kids and I love hanging out with them. I love learning from them every day. Being able to balance it all is not as easy as people make it look on Instagram, but it’s really fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

**Was it that responsibility which snapped you out of the drugs situation? **“Not totally. I spent a few years of my life…after James [his four year-old] was born, I would say…it was after he and his brother [Luke] were born that I got super heavy into the drug use. And it’s weird because a lot of people expect you to straighten up when you have kids, and I think there were so many things that I didn’t know how to deal with in any other way other than to self-medicate, but once I had kids there was so much more pressure and there was so much more stuff going on that I went super-deep into the drugs and alcohol realm. Because that was the only thing I ever knew how to do to deal with the stuff that was going on. I think it happens a lot to young parents – they get really into drinking or the pot or whatever it is to help them relax. As we speak, I’m getting growled at! But it’s something that’s really common and I think what snapped me out of it was my wife and my friends, the members of the band, coming to me and saying ‘We know something’s going on. We don’t know exactly what it is, but you seem really fucked up and not like you’. I’d been hiding a lot of my drug use for so long and I was in such a dark place with it I was just ready to…I was just ready to die at that point it was so bad. So I think that having a family and having a great career and having such stuff that I knew brought me joy before I got sucked down that rabbit hole, I thought it was worth it to give it a shot. I literally remember thinking ‘Well, I’m just going to go to rehab and see if I can make this work somehow, because if I don’t, I’ll just kill myself.’ And it was fine. [laughs]”

It must have been terrifying to be at that crossroads, though. “Yeah. It was bad. It was bad. At the time, nobody could have gotten through to me. I think when you’re that deep into it, it’s very difficult to get through to somebody who’s in the midst of something like that. I was really sad all the time, I was really scared all the time. It was awful. I felt like I was evil and my whole family would be better off without me. It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life and I’m so grateful that I’ve been 15 or 16 months clean now. I’ve never had a time in my life when I wasn’t smoking pot or smoking cigarettes and I love my life like this. It’s so much more manageable. I get so much more joy out of things that I’m doing, whether it’s making music or being with my kids and my family. There’s a lot of things about myself that I’m just discovering now because I spent the last 20 years of my life just intoxicated, and it’s exciting. It’s challenging, but I never want to go back to that point, and it breaks my heart that there’s people right now as we speak who are completely, hopelessly being devoured by that disease, or whatever you want to call it.”

But now you can stand as testament to the fact that it’s possible to overcome. “Yeah. Having said that, I have a little over a year clean, and I don’t want to start acting like I’m some expert on it, because it’s still so new to me. I’m taking it day by day, but at some point if I can help somebody else that’d be great. I think it would be a mistake to pretend like I’m an expert. I just want to be grateful every day, learn how to be a good dad, learn how to be a more intuitive artist and a more considerate, compassionate husband. Just enjoy the good things in life. There’s so many of them, and for such a long time I got really tripped up on all this small shit, and learning how to sidestep around that stuff is challenging.”

Circa Survive in 2014 and right, the artwork for ‘Decensus’

**So how does the title of the new record fit in with all that? The dictionary definition of ‘descensus’ is the process of falling from a higher position, which suggests a descent, but you’ve obviously gone the other way. **“I felt like the record came out of a place where the band – us as individuals but me specifically – I felt out of place. I felt like I had fallen, not necessarily from a higher place, higher being, like more elevated in stature, but I just felt like I had fallen. Rather than growing up, I had fallen down, and it felt like I had fallen down. I was out of place. I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I wasn’t myself. And I think that sentiment was going through a lot of…the guys in the band were dealing with divorce, alcoholism – we were all going through some crazy shit, and the album is very much representative of how, as individuals and artists both together and individually, to manage getting back together to where we thought that we belonged.”

It sounds like a very unifying experience. “It was. Two weeks before we went in to record the album, I was just out of rehab and we weren’t even sure we were going to go into the studio. We weren’t sure we were going to continue to play music together. Some of the resentment and the nervousness about my situation was hanging in the air very thick and I think some of the guys were just like ‘Let’s just end the band so that Anthony can be clean and sober, because I don’t know how he’s doing it.’ We have sober tours now. It’s really strange – I don’t miss getting fucked up. I don’t put myself in situations where I’m like hanging out at bars or going to parties, but I don’t miss it. I have so much going on – kids, writing, my wife and I just started a little clothing company, which I never thought I wanted to do, playing music – I feel like I’m done with it. And I know that’s a dangerous thing in the recovery community – when people are like ‘I feel good!’ that’s usually when they go get fucked up – but I’ve felt like this for a really long time. I really am grateful to be out of it and I feel like I learned a lot from it and I don’t see myself ever wanting to go back into that place. Lots of people can’t use drugs recreationally, and I’m not saying it’s all bad, but I think it’s kind of a silly way to go through life and I wasted a lot of time doing it.”

It sounds like Nesting Dolls is a song that’s very much about that. To me it feels like the centre of the record, and it seems like the most emotionally fragile the band have ever been in your career. “That song was the only song that kept from when we were writing before I went into rehab. I didn’t want to write with the band anymore, when I was getting fucked up and before I went into rehab. I wanted to write remotely from a laptop and send ideas back and forth to each other so that I didn’t have to see anybody, because I was out of my mind, just really bad. I didn’t want to have to go into that house and work with anybody. And so that was an idea that someone sent to me, and I was so fucked up when I wrote and recorded the demo to that, which is identical to the track. I didn’t even want to keep the track, but the band loved it so much. I didn’t want to keep it because it made me feel so shitty. My wife was about to leave me, with our children – she was pregnant – because I was a horrible drug addict and I couldn’t get my shit together. But I wrote this vocal idea in this almost blacked out state of mind and woke up the next day and it was recorded, so I sent it out, never thinking it would become anything. I definitely think it’s one of the most powerful songs that we’ve ever done together. And it makes me happy now. I played it last night and my son was sleeping on the side of the stage, and I’m playing this song that’s about his mom and me possibly not being able to keep going, saying that I don’t ever want to feel like that again and knowing that I truly do never have to feel like that again. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”

Circa Survive tour the UK from May 18. For more information, click here.