Make-Believe Rock Star: An Interview with Anthony Green

[25 January 2012]

By Kiel Hauck

PopMatters Events Editor

Anthony Green has made a name for himself over the course of the better part of the last decade as the wild and unpredictable front-man of some of post-punk’s more buzz worthy acts, most notably with his current band Circa Survive.  His entertaining and often-untamed stage presence and quirky personality coupled with one of the most distinct voices in rock today have lent a hand in elevating him to lofty heights in the eyes of his many fans.

Lined up outside the venue of the band’s latest stop on their fall tour, everyone seems to be buzzing about Green, sharing their craziest stories from past shows and congratulating those who are about to witness him in the flesh for the first time.  Inside, Green is oddly quiet and somber, picking apart a rotisserie chicken and staring off as he reflects on the odd and almost obsessive nature of his following.

“I think it’s sort of better not to process stuff like that mentally, but to see it for what it is, which is just bullshit.  It fucks with your ego and it fucks with your art and that was never the point of this.  That was never my objective.”

Green is quick to point out, repeatedly, that it’s not him personally that his fans are really captivated by, but the music.  While this assessment may appear as a modest attempt to push away the spotlight, it’s not far from the truth.  Green and his Circa Survive band mates, guitarists Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom, bassist Nick Beard, and drummer Steve Clifford, have been steadily growing their progressive and experimental sound, one that reached a crescendo in the form of last year’s acclaimed major label debut Blue Sky Noise.

During the creation of this album, as with each of their past two releases, the band has been very open about the internal tensions that arise, particularly between Green and his good friend Frangicetto.  It’s the very nature of this tension and the acceptance of it that Green says plays a large role in keeping the band fresh and on their toes.

“It’s all about honest communication.  That’s the number one thing in any relationship, really.  Being honest with each other, not hiding things from each other, and just supporting each other through that.”

Through conflict came resolve in the form of Circa’s most mature songwriting of their career with an added pop accessibility that hadn’t been as present on their previous two releases.  The more developed sound of Blue Sky Noise saw the band reaching an even wider audience and pulling in many new listeners.  While still riding the success of their latest release, the band has already embarked on the process of creating their next album, a venture Green says has been aided by being on the road. 

“We have the majority of the album written and we’re going to go into the studio hopefully in early November.  There’s a couple things on deck that are really special that I know having been on tour is going to make that much better when we come home and finish with everything.  Your muscles get exercised and it’s a way better place to come from, like writing and producing a piece of music rather than being stagnant and being off tour for such a long time, writing an album, and then going out and playing it.”

Given the band’s career track thus far, it would seem to make sense that their latest efforts would continue to push towards a more accessible sound.  However, any detractors claiming “sell out” should look no further than this year’s Appendage ep, whose opening track “Sleep Underground” features some of the most haunting sounds in the band’s catalogue as Green sings over a two and a half minute organ number.  According to Green, the band has been going back to some of their earlier writing tactics used during the creation of Juturna while piecing together their newest album.

“I feel like we went back to sort of the old method of writing a little bit, where the band kind of just wrote a bunch of weird music and I went and sang over it, which is something we didn’t do for Blue Sky Noise, which I think sort of gave it that element of accessibility or a little bit more of a structurally solid feeling.  But I definitely think this album has heavier aspects to it than we’ve ever written.”

Incidentally, heavy is the perfect word to describe some of the lyrical content found on Blue Sky Noise, an album featuring many songs that arose from painful situations in Green’s personal life.  His wife’s miscarriage during the writing process of that album sent an already unstable Green into an emotional tailspin that ended with him checking himself into a mental health facility in order to regain his bearings.

Fortunately, more recent events in Green’s life have found him in a better place.  He and his wife Meredith welcomed the birth of their son James a little over a year ago, an event that has had the singer reflecting on the ideas of raising a son, ponderings on God, and a number of other more hopeful subjects during the writing process.  Couple that with various obstacles, life difficulties, and a renewed sense of valor in the band’s songwriting, and Green says there’ no shortage of lyrical themes on the new album.

“My dad got really sick when we were writing the album and had to go through treatments and I know that made it’s way into a lot of the songs.  Also, the concept of the band being able to continue to be a band and not play into the corporate idea of having to make money these days and sell records made its way onto the record a lot.”

This idea that Circa Survive is about more than selling records and becoming a major label success story is one that Green is passionate about.  In his mind, Circa Survive is much more about their connection with their fan base and the band’s knack for relating personally with each listener.

“A lot of the lyrics on the album are about jumping out without a parachute and knowing that these songs are going to carry us because of the fans choosing to identify with them and our ability to be honest and connect with them, and not necessarily because of some fucking label or because of some video or some single,” says Green.  “We’re sort of coming to terms with the fact that we’re not a band that does that.”

Certainly, becoming a father has impacted Green’s outlook on the band and the importance of achieving wider acclaim.  Even just this year, being on the road for multiple Circa Survive tours and various solo shows around the country have been a learning experience for the new dad and have helped him not only gain perspective, but find a balance between being the prolific front man of a scene giant and being a humble father and family man. 

“It’s been an odd transition,” says Green.  “It’s hard to go from being full time dad to being full time band guy, and back and forth all the time.  I’m trying my best to adapt to it still.  It’s very difficult, but very rewarding at the same time.  This is such a self-indulgent job that it’s hard for me not to feel guilty sometimes, because of just how much I love doing it.  I really hope that when my son grows up, that it can inspire him to go and do something that might be difficult, but it’s what he believes in and what he loves.”

In addition to his writing and singing duties with Circa Survive, Green is also in the midst of completing his latest solo endeavor, a follow up to 2008’s Avalon which is due out early next year.  There’s no shortage of opportunities for outlet for Green, who is regularly writing his own material as well as popping up as a guest on a host of other albums.  For someone with so many different irons in the fire, one might assume it’s a challenge to find where Anthony Green ends and Circa Survive begins, but according to Green, the whole process is easier than you might think. 

“I don’t really draw that line, I think the guys in Circa draw that line.  There’s some songs that get written that just won’t make the cut for Circa.  Songs like ‘I Love You When I’m On Pills’, I never really sent that in to Circa, I just sort of wanted to play it.  I wanted it to have zero filter.  When there’s something like that, where I’m like ‘I want this to be the way it is right now,’ that’s usually the only time I’ll be like ‘maybe this won’t be a Circa jam.’”

While perhaps it’s easy to find the line between Green’s songwriting ventures, it’s much more difficult to decipher between Anthony Green the man and Anthony Green the entertainer.  A few hours after quietly and thoughtfully reflecting on life, family, and music, Green will be appearing ghost-like throughout the venue – sneaking into the background of people’s photographs and materializing alongside unbeknownst fans just long enough to make himself known to one or two people, but never long enough to cause a wider ruckus.

Later, he’ll be prancing across the stage, covered in spotlight, leading a choir of Circa Survive followers.  There’s undeniably something about Green that creates an instant connection; something found somewhere between his personality and his music, but it’s also something he takes little credit for. 

“I am honored that I can let it flow through me at times where I can relate to it and even more honored that other people can sometimes relate to it,” says Green.  “But I can’t take credit for it and I can’t pretend like it has anything to do with me as a person or who I am, my decisions or whatever.”

Instead of basking in the admiration of his fans and allowing their praise to overshadow the greater purpose of Circa Survive as a band, Green chooses to take the opportunity to turn the tables on them.  For Green, the response to he and his band mates is much less about who they are and much more about who their fans want to be – and can be.  It’s this very idea of inspiring their listeners to strive towards reaching their own potential that has become a driving force for Green and the rest of Circa Survive. 

“Everything that they think and everything that they see and everything that they say is just make believe.  It’s all just made up.  Most of it is just a projection of who they wish they could be and that’s a shame because I spend a lot of time trying to tell people that they already are amazing.  They see nothing in me but themselves.  They don’t know anything about me.  What they put there is all what they want from themselves, and they can be that.”

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