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INTERVIEW: Circus of the West

Can you talk to us more about your song “Birdhand”? – AND – Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

[Joel Leviton]:  Birdhand was initially inspired by the migrant crisis created by the conflict in Syria. It takes the perspective of someone separated from his family who draws a bird on his hand to remind him of the good things in life. It’s like clutching a photo on a long journey. The chorus is a call to all of us to be bold, put aside differences and phony categorizations, and rise up to help each other out. More generally it’s a reminder to appreciate the good things in life. 

Any plans to release a video for the track?

[Joel Leviton]: We are not planning a video for Birdhand, but are working on one for the song Resurrection, which is a tribute to survivors of clergy sexual abuse. We feel really strongly about those issues as a group because a couple of members of the band – Ed and Ben – work as attorneys for survivors of clergy abuse and have come to know them personally.

The single comes off your new album We’ll See Ourselves Out – what’s the story behind the title?

[Ed Caldie]:  The title actually started as a joke (something like – “we’ve been kicked out of better places than this…” or “we know we suck – we’ll go now”) but we found more substance in it as the songs came together. The theme is really about shedding false skin; as in – getting rid of lies about who we are. It’s been said that people are often more afraid of their strength than their weakness. I think there’s truth in that.

How was the recording and writing process?

[Joel Leviton]: Ed and I are the primary writers. Over the last year or so we have each brought songs to the band. Some have stuck, some haven’t. For the album, we selected those that we thought were most consistent with the theme of shedding false skin and being authentic.

[Ed Caldie]: The recording process was an adventure. We worked with Adam Levy of the Honeydogs – he produced the record for us – Adam is a mentor and a rare, rare talent.  Adam told us at the very beginning that we would leave the studio a completely different band and we did. I hate every one of these bastards even worse now.  (Kidding).  We’ve grown a lot. I can’t wait to do it again.  And better. 

What was it like to work with Adam Levy and how did that relationship develop?

[Ed Caldie]: I met Adam once or twice years ago, but didn’t know him very well. When we decided to go into the studio, Joel and I talked about what we wanted to get out of it. What kept coming up was this idea of having our songs evolve and become more impactful musically. We couldn’t think of anyone better to assist in that process than Adam. Our first meeting was at a bar in northeast Minneapolis. Joel and I were wearing the most uptight, wreaking-of-yuppie, cheap suits you can imagine (we had come from work) and Adam walked in wearing clothes that would’ve made Prince feel uncool. Seriously. I almost snuck out the back door. Adam loved us anyway, though.  (He’s not a terrific judge of character). 

How much did he influence the album?

[Ed Caldie]: Adam has an interesting artistic process. It’s intermittent and seems really focused on what he hears in his head. If he hears a different part, he’s all over it. If he doesn’t, he’s silent. So Adam would vacillate between intense involvement with certain songs and almost no involvement at all with others.  The track “Asma” was totally transformed by Adam’s influence, for example, but he did very little to alter “Boxes.” He had more across-the-board kinds of influences too – we never would have used as much B3 organ on the record, for example, without his prompting and my vocal performances would have been far less interesting without Adam’s (sometimes intense) coaching.

What aspect of truth and authenticity did you get to explore on this record?

[Ed Caldie]:  Whoa. Meaty question… I think people live through narratives and those narratives are like threads that combine and become a great big tapestry of who we think we are – the little stories we tell ourselves about ourselves form our identity. Examples of little narratives would be “I’m successful,” or “I’m excellent at line dancing” (that’s one of Joel’s narratives). It gets dangerous when the narratives undermine us or what we’re about and we rarely re-examine them. Too often I think we find relationships, or jobs, or institutions, that give us easy, ready-made identities and then use those things as shields to hide from the pressure and reality of who we really are and what we actually want. The problem is that the shields have two sides – sooner or later the “precious little boxes” that give us all that safety become our cages. Anyway, going back to the “threads” and narratives thing – sometimes when you pull on a few loose threads (when you re-examine a bullshit narrative or two), bigger things start to come clear and, in the end, a whole tapestry can unravel.  To me, “We’ll See Ourselves Out” is about letting the tapestry fall apart, letting the bullshit fall where bullshit belongs, and letting the truth about yourself and your relationships come to light. Even if it’s scary. 

[Joel Leviton]: Ed’s been waiting to unleash that for months. He thanks you deeply for asking.

What made you want to explore these themes in particular?

[Ed Caldie]: It wasn’t intentional. At least from my perspective it wasn’t. The theme and the songs kind of came to the surface together.  

[Joel Leviton]: Ed forced the theme on us. I prefer party songs.

Any plans to hit the road?

[Joel Leviton]: We’re available. Let us know where to be and we’ll play.

What else is happening next in Circus of the West’s world?

[Joel Leviton]: We are a song-driven band, which means the songwriting process really never ends. We hope to keep playing to support this album and then get back into the studio and continue to grow as artists. As working professionals who put the musical parts of our lives on the sidelines for years, we are having a blast making music. And it’s even better that it’s resonating with some people. So more to come is what we hope. 

[Ed Caldie]: I agree with all of that. I’m also hoping we can get good and drunk together soon.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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