Interview mit Circle Of Sighs

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Very few bands move with such playful ease between such fundamentally different genres as doom metal, progressive rock, synthwave and glitch pop as CIRCLE OF SIGHS do on their second album “Narci”. Their other interests are as diverse as their musical repertoire: Video games, comics, dance choreographies – there’s hardly anything that the anonymous members of the group have not yet integrated into their art or at least planned for the band’s future. In the following interview, the band explains why a humorous appearance can be a double-edged sword for musicians, what the metal fan community is getting in its own way with, and why the word “meme” doesn’t necessarily have to make you think of funny Internet pictures first.

How have you been coping with the corona pandemic so far?
Here in the States we’re finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Of course life isn’t completely “back to normal” and probably won’t be for some time. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are some aspects of “normal life” we don’t ever want to see again.

According to your label, the crisis has kept you from playing live shows after the release of your debut “Salo”. Is that why you were able to follow up so soon with a second album, “Narci”?
Partially, yes. The second album was already half-written when “Salo” came out last June. But not being able to tour made finishing it a higher priority. There is still more music coming. We’re finishing production on the third album (technically a long EP) and have already started writing material for the fourth. But we want to get some live shows under our belts before we start pummeling people with more records.

So you do plan to play concerts as soon as it will be possible again?
We are dying to play live and already have a few shows that will be announced soon. We’ve always had lofty aspirations for our live show so we’re happy that we can finally get back to work on that. I don’t want to give too much away, but we want the live experience to be every bit as much of a “mind-fuck” as listening to our records. But the gradual transition out of pandemic mode will hopefully afford us some time to work out the kinks before we actually have to tour. You know, making sure our space-pods open properly and that our Stonehenge trilithons aren’t dwarf-sized, stuff like that.

You guys seem very humorous on your social media channels. Do you think that musicians – especially in the metal community – often take themselves too seriously?
Oh, musicians definitely take themselves too seriously. But more out of insecurity than anything else. We do take our music very seriously but who we are as people should not be conflated with that. The “anonymous” aspect of this project isn’t just to be spooky or mysterious but to keep the focus on the art first and foremost. Because truthfully, we’re just regular, boring humans. Though we do have pretty dark senses of humor.
That said, mixing humor with complex music can be a double-edged sword. Frank Zappa was arguably one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. So why isn’t he held in the same regard as Stravinsky or Shostakovich? Well, probably because he was singing about dental floss. Granted, at the time, absurdity was countercultural. You had the yippies, you had ZAP Comix, you had Principia Discordia – using humor and absurdity as a weapon against the elites. But we’ve lost a bit of that. People are becoming increasingly literal-minded. So some of that stuff hasn’t aged very well.

In your posts, artwork and videos, you also show an interest in video games, comics and pop culture. What excites you in this regard aside from music at the moment?
Three of our contributors have day-jobs related to the video game industry. I worked in the entertainment industry for years but now most of my work relates to video games. And we’re all pretty big “nerds” in the classic sense. So those elements will always be there. But I wouldn’t expect a lot of chiptune music or concept albums about Final Fantasy out of us. Okay, maybe SOME chiptune music. But more as social commentary than fanboyism. We actually have a rather dark view of pop culture. Not that we think think it’s inherently bad. But it can be toxic and even cancerous. For instance I have a theory that the TV show „Friends“ was the reason 9/11 happened. It’s a long theory and usually requires several adult beverages to get it all out, so I’ll spare the details for now.

Your cover songs as well as your whole sound show that you have a very eclectic taste in music. How did your enthusiasm for music in general and for this variety of genres develop?
I personally come from a long line of musicians. So as long as I can remember, music has been a central part of my life. My father played jazz so I followed in his footsteps for a while – until I heard “Ride The Lightning” and then it was game over. But a few of us are “classically trained” and/or went to university for music, myself included. One of us has an orchestral background. And we all have other projects that are very different from this one.

Are there any styles of music that don’t interest you at all?
I love it all. I really don’t even think in terms of genre, to be honest. Music is already a fairly specific art form. Especially compared to film, or theater, which both involve a great many artistic disciplines. So focusing on a particular style or genre within an already limited art form just seems kind of odd to me. It’s like a painter only using red paint. Which, granted, can yield interesting results. But for me that would become boring very quickly.

Diverse and experimental music can sometimes seem chaotic or aimless. With that in mind, what makes a coherent piece of music or album from your point of view?
We’ve heard such adjectives with regard to our music. Which I find ironic given how “composed” all this stuff is. I mean we spent over a year working on some of these arrangements. So everything is very intentional. And there are themes, through-lines and motifs that recur throughout, even bridging the albums. But at the time same, some of it is stochastic. And we feel that element is important too. Stochastic music, granular synthesis, micromontage – we use them all and these are exciting compositional techniques – but they are hardly new. Perhaps new to heavy metal? Or at least doom metal? Not really sure. It’s certainly not new to electronic music, hip hop, or post-classical.

On the other hand, what do you think of bands that simply imitate an already established style?
American blues is some of the most emotionally impactful music ever created and yet most of it uses the exact same structure and three chords. At the end of the day, I think honesty is what matters most. I’d rather listen to someone singing their heart out over a one-chord drone than some glossy-but-contrived musical “product,” regardless of style or genre.

I can imagine that people who want to learn an instrument or start a band feel overwhelmed by all the options available in music today. What advice would you give to beginners?
Be honest. About what you want to play and why. Your instrument is just a tool to express things that you can’t quite put into words. So what is it that you want to express? Figuring that out is the hardest part of learning any instrument. Some musicians never figure it out. But once you do, the rest is easy.

I have the impression that bands that work within metal genres are pinned down to that, even if they have more to offer stylistically. What’s your opinion on that?
I’ll be honest, I’m kind of flummoxed by the metal world’s current obsession with genre. And I suspect a lot of it, frankly, is fan-driven. Most people consume music via streaming platforms these days and those platforms run on algorithms. So people think algorithmically. And yet – the bands that don’t attach themselves to a particular genre are often the ones that do the best work and have the longest careers. You’ll lose some fans along the way, yes. But pleasing fans shouldn’t be the goal.

If you were to introduce someone to CIRCLE OF SIGHS with one of your songs, which one would you choose and why?
Probably “Hold Me, Lucifer” from “Salo.” That was actually the song kicked this project off, and it has many elements that recur throughout our work.

Practically none of your songs sound alike. Do you still have a certain modus operandi in songwriting or do you approach each track in a different way?
We’re really more of an “album” band. Our medium is the album format. So each song only exists in service to the larger work. Of course music is delivered in “tracks” – on CD, vinyl, streaming services – so we subdivide our work based on those traditions/expectations. But these “tracks” are just snapshots. There’s always a through-line over the course of an entire album and even, in a larger sense, over our entire canon. “Narci” expands on the themes of “Salo” and the fourth album will take those themes even further still. The third album is more of a “side-quest” but still fits into the overall body of work.

Did you play all the instruments on “Narci” yourselves or were guest musicians also involved?
There are several different musicians, producers, sound designers and artists involved, some from different continents. Five different singers over the course of the two albums. Some of these collaborations are one-offs, some are longterm. The “live” band however, by necessity, is located in Los Angeles. If we could afford to fly everyone in for every show we would, but that’s just not practical for an esoteric little band like ours.

How hard is it to come up with such new twists and turns again and again and to acquire the necessary skills on the instruments for it?
It’s not hard at all, actually. It’s a very natural and organic part of our process. But of course the skills to pull it off were developed over many years.

You already had a few interludes on your first album “Salo”, and now there is another one on “Narci” with “Segue 04”. What are this piece and its eerie samples about?
On the CD version of “Narci” there’s even a fifth („Segue 05“) and there’s a sixth that for now is only being used live. The segues are meant to transition between songs and mostly consist of sound design and samples. But truthfully, the “segue” concept is something we, um “borrowed” from Failure, a band we utterly love. Intended as a tribute perhaps?

Your new album also contains a cover of “Roses Blue” by Joni Mitchell. In contrast to the restless, mysterious original, your version sounds very dreamy and spacey. Why did you choose to interpret the song in this way?
I’ll break the anonymity rule with this one and tell you that the singer for that song is JJ Koczan, who used to sing for the sludge band Maegashira but also runs a website called “The Obelisk.” We had talked about having him on a track and I suggested doing a cover and that’s the one he picked. I thought it was a marvelous idea. Because first of all, Joni is one of the greatest songwriters off all time. But also because it felt like there was a “metal” song in there just dying to get out. JJ told me what he wanted his vocal approach to be – which was outside of his comfort zone with the clean singing – so we tailored the arrangement to suit that.

What else do you plan to do with CIRCLE OF SIGHS? How do you imagine your future as a band?
We’ve always had lofty goals for this project. But as the pandemic showed us, sometimes life throws curveballs so we need to be adaptive and adjust expectations. However we never wanted this to be just a club band that puts out records and prints t-shirts and tours ad infinitum. Our goal from the outset was to create an immersive multimedia experience that pulls together a lot of different disciplines. We already do a lot with video and have collaborated with digital artists. Next we’d like to collaborate with choreographers and dancers. It’s something we’re already working on, talking to different artists in different media about what we can do together to create something new. Big picture we’d like this to be more like a theatrical production than a road band. Along the lines of what Amon Tobin did with ISAM only bigger and wilder. Think „Cirque du Soleil“ gone dark metal; a demonic invocation with costumes, stage settings and performances on par with any Broadway production or Las Vegas stage show. There’d be film, dance, 3D projection, fire (lots of fire), acrobats, contortionists… even mime. I mean we can dream, right?

Finally, a short brainstorming session. What comes to mind concerning the following keywords?
Memes: Memes in the common sense are just a visual tool to convey meaning and shared experiences. But the original Dawkins definition of the word is the one that intrigues me and often keeps me up at night.
Occultism: Our view is closest to Robert Anton Wilson’s, who was essentially an atheist but used occult practices to “self-brain-hack.” Religions should be used like tools and discarded once they are no longer useful. And they should do no harm to others. Much like drugs and liquor, if your religious practice is affecting anyone else in any way, you need to quit.
Avant-garde: This is a phrase that is overused, often incorrectly, much like “surreal” or “ironic.” Avant-gardism really isn’t in favor anymore and hasn’t been since the 1980s, thanks to postmodernism, but I do wish it would come back. Avant-garde is about innovation. And innovation can be uncomfortable, even ugly, thus it’s usually met with a lot of resistance or worse, dismissed out of hand as “elitist.” But it’s necessary for growth. Also, avant-garde applies as much to social change as it does to artistic change and always has. Frankly, people need to start writing manifestos again. One thing I love about Liturgy is that HHH kicked that project off with a manifesto. That’s how you do it, bands; less EPs, more manifestos.
Vaporwave: A soothing aesthetic hiding behind post-ironic pop culture pastiche.
NFT: Like cryptocurrency, a brilliant innovation that will probably drown in its own hype.
Marvel movies: Enjoyable garbage.

Thanks again for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
Stay hungry, stay horny, be kind, and be honest in everything you do.

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