Rank Your Records: Anthony Green Gets Personal About Circa Survive's Six Albums
Time to unpack the Philadelphia band's turbulent journey through 13 years of prog-emo.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Circa Survive’s journey has been turbulent, to say the least. The Philadelphia-based band has been shrouded in tension from the outset after lead singer Anthony Green left Saosin, every scene kid’s favourite early 00s post-hardcore outfit, in 2004 – a disappointment that led some fans to treat Circa Survive with initial reservation. Fabricated rivalries aside, though, Circa Survive was a band apart from others – they always seemed like outsiders in their own circles. Their music was not only genre-bending – dancing somewhere between psychedelia, post-hardcore and emo – but Anthony Green’s high-pitched, almost-feminine vocals captured the vulnerability of what it feels like to have a war going on in your head, without much of the toxic, macho-ridden inhibitions that plagued the Warped Tour scene.
Thirteen years and six studio albums later – after enduring personal tragedy, a menacing drug addiction, mental health problems, fatherhood, death, and the band nearly splitting up – Anthony Green tells me that Circa Survive are currently in the best, most balanced place they’ve ever been as a band. Their latest record, The Amulet, acts as a sonic embodiment of the equilibrium they’ve been enjoying in their lives; the songs are less hesitant, with arguably the most vague lyrics about everyday existentialism that they’ve ever produced – something that Green tells me was intentional. “We wrote and recorded The Amulet this time last year, and back then, everything was so up in the air in comparison to now. I feel like this record still speaks to what’s true in my life right now – I’ve got past my addiction, I’ve got my family, I’ve got love, and everything else is just specks of dust on God’s shoulder. I’ve accepted life now,” he tells me over the phone. Cliche as it may sound, they have a new lease of life. Despite all of the fog and all of the turmoil, Anthony Green is looking forward – which is a perfect time to reflect on the records that document not only his musical journey, but his personal one, too.
6. Violent Waves (2012)
Noisey: Hi Anthony. So, why no love for Violent Waves?
Anthony Green: That was the record where I was doing the most heroin – the record where I didn’t wanna be around the band while I was writing, didn’t wanna be around the band while I was doing it, I didn’t wanna be around anybody. I was isolating myself. There’s a weird alchemy to taking this time in your life that sucks and turning it into something that you can almost be proud of, but when I think about that time in my life, it was just the worst.
Did that cause a lot of tension in the band?
For sure. Habits started within the band where we were OK not communicating – it’s kind of like in a relationship where people start to detach from one another, and little bits of disrespect would creep in. There was a subversiveness going on, where people didn’t like being around each other, and it was kind of like, ‘Maybe this is what the band is turning into’. Nobody really knew what to do, either. I had children at that time, it was fucked up. There was this hope that I was gonna be able to pull everything together and be a good father and I felt like that was slipping from me.
There’s a pretty long pause between Violent Waves and Descensus.
Basically, the band sort of broke up in an unspoken way. I wasn’t talking to anybody, lots of personal shit was going on, we had to change our management, which was ugly – we had no internal guide. When I went to rehab, I got some fucking energy back, and it was like, ‘I don’t know what to do, I feel depressed as shit, I need to work through this time, the only thing that really makes me really feel good is playing music – please don’t leave me’. I switched from being obsessed with trying to get away from the toxic, isolating shit to this other thing about harmony and communicating; about not hiding or repressing anything. I was in a celebratory mode, and I remind myself of it everyday.
That’s interesting, because while this might be your ‘least favourite album’ borne from a negative experience, what came out of it at the end pretty much saved the band.
When we were writing the record we had this vigour, everybody was really happy, but there was still so much uncertainty about whether we could pull it off. Could I handle touring? Could I handle having more children? We had this faith in each other because we knew we could do it – we knew we’d gotten to the point where whenever something comes to fuck up this harmony we have, we could get through it.
5. Blue Sky Noise (2010)
What did you set out to do with Blue Sky Noise ?
Specifically, we were thinking, ‘OK, we’re gonna be a full-time band, and we’re on this major label, whose job it is to sell records and make bands big so they can keep making money off of them,. So let’s try and make the coolest psychedelic punk record that they’ll let us put out’. That was our goal.
Do you think you achieved it?
Totally. I love that record, but my wife had two miscarriages during the writing and recording process, and I also was briefly institutionalised after having a mental health crisis. I was abusing drugs and alcohol and I knew that was a problem, but I wasn’t addicted to heroin yet – I was a party boy, y’know? I was just unstable and I felt like I wanted to make a good record for the band, but also didn’t give a fuck if anybody liked it. My natural feelings were to just do what I like, so it was weird for me and I didn’t know how to handle it.
It seems understandable that music wasn’t what took up the majority of your mind’s focus at that time.
I felt insecure about everything. I would write and need everyone’s approval, y’know? I wasn’t yet empowered by the feeling that the band was gonna be successful by making a great record that you love, and I ended up processing all of those emotions by being destructive. Sometimes I wonder if I have to go crazy and wanna kill myself to make a record that people really like. But now I know that’s not the case.
4. On Letting Go (2007)
To me this seemed like a pretty solid continuation from Juturna . Stylistically and lyrically, they were quite similar.
I see On Letting Go and Juturna almost as brother and sister. After we did Juturna, we wanted to experiment with different things, and we went into that record wanting it to be a musical progression. The thing that I love the most about On Letting Go is that there was really painful stuff happening in my family – the family I was born into – that I didn’t know how to deal with it. Writing about it was making me feel good and connected. I began to feel OK with everything that was happening in my family and my role in it – which was one of very little control – and it was one of the first times in my life where I started taking this relationship that I had with the surrender of the music seriously. I was still getting heavily intoxicated to do it, but that was working for me at the time.
How much would you say the album was an accurate representation of the place you were in at the time, considering everything you had going on?
Looking back, it totally was an accurate representation, despite me not thinking that at the time. I was talking lots of psychedelics and Xanax and when I was writing I got lost because of it. There’s a song I wrote – I won’t say which one – but it’s about an episode of Lost, and you wouldn’t know that to listen to it, but it had me in this spiral. At that time I was getting fucked up, but it wasn’t peak destructive yet. It was still enjoyable – we were still able to make music, without the pressure of being on a label. That didn’t happen until way later.
I’m sure I was stressed out about everything then, but I was taking so many pills – I thought I was Jack Kerouac or some shit, writing all this poetry. I was loving it. Two days ago I was looking at poetry that I’d written while I was in Baltimore during that time, and I couldn’t even figure out some of the words because I was so Xan’d out. There was coherence and incoherence, and then like a food spill. I’m actually pretty sure I once fell asleep in the concert hall on Xanax, with soda and food all over myself.
That’s tragic but also… quite a funny image.
It’s important to laugh about things.
3. Juturna (2005)
Anthony, mate, why is arguably the most pivotal record of your career placed smack in the middle? That’s a bit controversial, from a fan perspective.
I don’t know about fan’s perspectives. I mean, I’m a fan! I guess it makes me feel young. I don’t think it’s the best of our songwriting, but I think you can hear our growth on it – in that way, I do love it. You can hear us getting to know each other on the record; you can hear us cutting our teeth.
What was going on with you at the time?
I was such a dumb kid, just driving around, up all night, on lots of weed and Adderall. I’d gone to rehab a bunch and my parents had thought that I was keeping my shit together, when really I was just hiding it from everyone. A lot of the lyrics were written in a state of complete and total chaos. I wasn’t present. I often wonder, had I just stopped drinking, stopped doing anything other than maybe psychedelics, what would have happened to the band? I’d probably be dead, actually.
Well, I’m glad you’re not. You were also getting a lot of attention after leaving Saosin, and I wondered if that left a bad taste in your mouth about Juturna .
I suppose now that you bring it to my attention, I put this tremendous amount of pressure on myself to continue to have a music career after Saosin. They were having this great success, they put this record out, and I was in this band that was opening for bands. I had kinda started all over from square one, so I eventually accepted that I wouldn’t have a career like theirs, but I’m gonna make it something meaningful in my life.
2. Descensus (2014)
Descensus started a new cycle in your life, most interestingly. How hard was it to turn that page of being sober and actually getting to know yourself?
It was actually incredible to come from a place of having broken down. Having the experience of admitting that I was doing drugs, I was out of control, I didn’t like who I was, I didn’t like how I looked, I didn't like the darkness that I had inside of me – that broke down everything in me. And realising that I was just an empty vessel with the power to make a positive step in my life was exhilarating – there was almost a high from that. On this record more than anything, me and the band were looking at each other and giving each other what we thought wasn’t possible anymore. Like, ‘Woah, you’re really good, this shit you’re writing not on drugs and in the room with us is great, and we love it’.
That reaffirmation, especially after coming out of such a hard time, is probably exactly what you needed.
I really did. I needed somebody to tell me that it was okay for me to like what I was doing, and not worry. I needed somebody who didn’t have anything to gain from it to be like, ‘Hey dude, you can do anything, just go and get that feeling, and don’t worry about it, because remember you did it back in the day on your first records, so don’t worry about what anybody else thinks’.
1. The Amulet (2017)
So, The Amulet is your favourite.
These songs are so incredibly powerful for me to perform. You could argue that’s been the case for every one of my records, but I’m in a state in my life where I’m so excited to play live again, because the feeling it creates is better than any drug I’ve ever experienced. I feel connected to these songs and love the way they make me feel. I feel more connected to this record than I’ve ever felt to anything – and maybe it’s on the tip of my tongue, but I honestly believe it’s because these songs echo a connectivity that I’ve never felt before within myself, so I’m really excited about celebrating that.
It seems to me that the message of this record is about acceptance – in any capacity – is that what you’ve accepted through this record, being connected to things and being in tune with your true self?
It’s sort of about being OK about things not being the way you want them… Acceptance sounds so clinical, so 12-step-y, but there’s this beautiful notion to the idea that we’re gonna die – we’re gonna get sick and die, and we’re gonna decide the meaning that we have between now and then, and nothing else. Accepting that nothing matters is the most freeing thing that’s ever happened to me in my life – so in that way, the record is about acceptance, because it looks at life and death and it says that we’re fucking nothing, and nothing matters, in the most beautiful way.
I took from it that the only constant in life is that nothing is stable ever, shit’s gonna be fine and then it’s not gonna be fine, and then it’ll be fine again, and then that just repeats until you die.
The trick is not getting super worked up about all of it. It’s remembering, ‘Shit’s gonna happen, speak your truth, be courageous, and be willing to admit when you’re wrong’. There’s a lots of stuff that’s really up and down in my life right now, and I’m thrilled about it all and I'm terrified of it all, too. I have nothing to expect but balance, and I’ll be good as long as I keep remembering that.
Well, I’m glad I caught you at this time. Thanks, Anthony.
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