Traveling Circle Comes Around :: Interview presents:

Sunrise Ocean BenderTraveling Circle Comes Around :: Interview

At the tail end of '10 Traveling Circle flew in on the mystery wind and left Handmade House {Nasoni} on the doorstep. A big record with a big sound that is both thoroughly classicist and modern, it sounds, in the their words, like they're "marching through a forest." With sonics that move from power-trio punch to tinges of pastoral pop and prog to the thinner air, Handmade House follows one of the golden rules of construction: you must have a strong foundation to build on. And that they do by encompassing the fertile and opulent history that came before them and projecting it into the now and future. Traveling Circle keep the doors wide open, intent on improvement and movement over extreme makeover.

Traveling Circle took some time off from their sojourn to check in on Handmade House, the follow-up in the works, Bee Gees in their closet, pop charts on Alpha Centauri and freeze-dried fish. All the things that make a house a home …

Traveling Circle is Dylan Maiden (lead vocals, guitar), Josh Schultz (drums, percussion), Charlie Freeman (bass guitar, backing vocals). Photos courtesy of Alexandra Zorbas-Maiden.

Congratulations on Handmade House…a fantastic record. You guys just dropped out of the sky, at least to me…Can you do the obligatory background bit?

Dylan : Thanks. We’re pretty happy with this piece as a debut. After we fell from space as separate terrestrial bodies, we suddenly found ourselves at a party in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and naturally united through mutual friends. There was a positive vibe in the air and a general sentiment that we should bring our musical backgrounds together and try to see where our minds were here on earth in relationship to the place where we fell from in space.

Charlie : That night, I remember Dylan asking me if I was interested in making music that “sounds like we are marching through a forest.” That sounded great to me. I said “Yes, definitely!” I also ate freeze-dried fish for the first time.

Marching through a forest is a perfect fit. I'm stealing that … you can keep the fish, though. Unless you need your own Stacia: maybe I can do the Monty Python fish slapping dance on stage…Who brings what to the table, other than fish?

DM: I play guitar and sing lead vocals. Josh plays drums and percussive elements. Charlie plays bass, sings backing vocals, and also does piano on the song Eve FallsHandmade House also includes cello arrangements by Yoed Nir and piano arrangements by Matt Abeysekera.

Josh : We actually managed to overlook crediting Charlie’s electric piano part for Eve Falls on the record which isn’t fair because I love the part! Charlie has a knack for coming up with the perfect parts.

CF: That part was played on a sweet Farfisa piano that Josh gave me. Thanks Josh!

There's obviously a huge well of inspiration out of the past for Traveling Circle. The music is ripe with history. Do you feel an obligation to showcase that, to give credit to the 'big picture?’ Maybe tradition is the right word.

DM: The word nostalgia does come to mind. I grew up listening to obscure old vinyl records so that’s a definite source that fueled the fire. But they were by no means mainstream. For me it’s always been about the homegrown, grassroots style of music, the kind you can make yourself…the kind of music that really makes you feel something. Not like those records that sound like they’ve been sent on a conveyor belt through the corporate mainstream meat grinder, so cold and spineless. Traveling Circle is about the heart and soul, and surrounding cosmos, inspired by the human touch. But sadly, what with technology, that way of thinking has become antiquated and buried further underground. People would rather touch their computer screen than hold a vinyl record in their hands. For many that human element is gone and it’s the end of the world. But everything comes in cycles and Traveling Circle looks forward to a time and place where we can again use our minds and each other, rather than a computer screen, to expand the possibilities. Music is one of the few great things we have left and there definitely should be a higher level of fanaticism and support behind it. I would love it if Traveling Circle could help inspire a resurgence in people who buy vinyl. This tradition definitely needs to make a complete come back and stay.

CF: That way of thinking is why we felt it was so important to be on a label like Nasoni, which specializes in vinyl and keeps like-minded company.

JS: As far as history goes, I feel like we all buy more and more older music so that is a natural influence on what we are doing as a group. We try to do our own thing more than strictly work within a previous genre, but it’s pretty organic that a lot of older music gets in. There are also a lot of great psych bands right now. It’s a living genre. Commercial music, on the other hand, can be so boring these days…so if you’re looking for something creative I think it’s natural to look back as well. We’re also kind of weird about our gear. We’re not uptight about making sure everything has a 1960’s serial number, but if some old amp sounds rad, we want it. If you have bad tone the UFO’s won’t land. They’ll just go on to the next planet, then somebody else gets a number one hit in the Alpha Centauri system.

I got my own guesses as to what 'old' bands you cut your teeth on…Please, prove me wrong…

DM: I just picked up a really killer Persian psych-pop compilation. I think my favorite tracks on there at the moment are by a female vocalist from Iran called Googoosh. It’s sort of spoken word poetics drawing from flamenco, but with a totally spaced-out atmosphere of analog buzz that wraps the whole thing up in a sexy and provocative way. She’s also considered to be a trendsetter in fashion and continues to influence women of modern-day Iran, where violation of dress code is one of the few forms of expression and rebellion they have.

CF: That sounds cool. I need to check it out. Bunalim is a great band from that region of the world too. They mixed really fuzzed out heaviness with more traditional Turkish elements. I'm pretty obsessed with the early Roxy Music. Gandalf was a big inspiration for some of the sounds and vocal effects on Handmade House.

DM: Speaking of Turkish psych, Ersen is just killer. I think I've played that one for you guys. But yeah, Bunalim is amazing. Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music has a solo album called Diamond Head, which is really great too. I've been listening to a lot of Mandrake Memorial lately. Totally obsessed with them. Too right, Gandalf has a haunting dark quality that's influenced us quite a bit.

JS: Gandalf is great. Dylan picked up Gandalf 2 but I haven’t heard it yet. The first LP is great though. Your guesses are probably correct. You’re probably thinking along the lines of Amon Düül II and Can and things like that. Hawkwind. Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I’ve always liked the Bee Gees’ LP Bee Gee’s 1st. People who just know their disco hits would be surprised by it. They have songs about castles and time machines. Heavy power trios like Blue Cheer. English folk rock, particularly Pentangle. As a drummer I’ve always liked what a strong sense of rhythm their music has even though Terry Cox can be so subtle. I’ve always listened to a lot of Ride, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and stuff like that, so not just super ancient stuff. As for a bit more recent stuff, I like Yume Bitsu. I really like the breadth of music your program covers because I know you’ll play some far out stuff but at the same time you cover a lot of ground in terms of both geography and time period. I was excited to hear The Psychedelic Aliens on you last program. My friend Sean was telling me about their reissue recently. Thanks very much for including us too!

Thanks. A big appeal to me was that you covered a big chunk of territory and didn't fixate on one point. And in the here and now? Traveling Circle is far from a history test. Who gets the heavy rotation in the modern age?

DM: I’ve been listening to Sam and the Plants which is pretty interesting stuff. I like Tame Impala from down under. I’m eager to get my paws on the debut album from It Sound, which is the brainchild of my friend Jesse Damm. I’ve already had a sneak peek of the tracks. It’s a very interesting new confluence of art and music, a clear departure from all musical aesthetics of the past. Then there’s my uncle Rob’s band from Seattle called Nice Smile, which is simply legendary deconstructionism. Oh, and there’s also this record I got by a band called Spiteri. It’s Venezuelan psych-soul and ridiculously wild prog. They get pretty carried away. Oh sorry, that one’s actually from 1973. But that’s ok because it’s new to me. It’s all relative and time is irrelevant…just a construct. Calendars are not going to save us.

CF: There are some great local bands like Weird Owl, Heavy Hands, Sorceress and La Otracina who we’ve had the fortune of playing with. I don't know if they would be considered modern age anymore, but Spacemen 3 gets a lot of play time in my apartment.

JS: The new bands I have become most familiar with are those we play with so Charlie’s list is a good one. Weird Owl has a record coming out that I can’t wait to hear. Speaking of Sorceress, I played drums on their track for the last Puta Records cassette comp. They also have a single coming out that I am not playing on but which is really great. I heard the test pressing recently. Our friends Hidden Ratio just finished a new batch of recordings that sound excellent. I like deVries too, though they’re a bit more poppy than we are. I really liked the last Sounds of Kaleidoscope show I saw.  Not too long ago I caught the Entrance Band come through with Dungen. Dungen is a great band to namedrop because they’re so googleable. I hope a lot of people Google them and read our interview. If they do they should buy our record from! The bass player of The Entrance Band was the star of the whole show. She was playing on her knees and rolling around on the floor. It reminded me a bit of Dylan. Danava has also really blown me away when I have caught them.

Handmade House has a dose of prog shot into its arm … or at least a prog approach in some spots. Is that fair to say? Do you see prog and psych as two sides of the same coin?

CF: Handmade House definitely has some prog leanings. We try to build on things we like and take them into new directions. Sometimes we just like to be really far out. Space is the place.

JS: I think of prog as just going a little further down the same path you’re already on with psych. Like Steve Howe went from Tomorrow to Yes or Kaleidoscope changed to Fairfield Parlour. The line between them is not all that clear and a lot of bands can easily be called either. I have never been clear which label fits us better or maybe we’re something still a little different. We certainly have a progressive bent though.

Can I stop apologizing for Yes then?

JS: I was listening to that first Yes album pretty regularly for a while!

DM: Traveling Circle is all about the journey from one place to the next. The only constant thing about our sound is that each time you hear it the experience changes, whether you’re listening to a song fromHandmade House for the second time, or you’re comparing the evolution between our first album and second album, which will soon be complete. Humans could do with a lot more expansion, both physically and mentally. There’s still too much fear about what will happen if one steps outside of what’s familiar and comfortable, like the mainstream. There’s so much more to the story of the universe that people don’t care to find out. Collectively we have a very progressive state of mind which demands expedition and this results in the witnessing of some pretty far out visuals too. So yes, our sound is very yin- and yang-like. Without land, the sailor can never know what the sea is not. Without progressive thinking there can be no psychedelic experience.

I read Traveling Circle described as 'surrealist pop.' There's not much of that going around, so you must be the leading light: What do you think of pop now? You dropped the Bee Gees to Blue Cheer to T. Rex: did pop used to carry more weight, or am I just a relentless curmudgeon?

JS: We occupy sort of a weird area. Everyone should go ask their local record store clerk where the surrealist pop section is. I agree there’s a lot of bad pop music these days. I like a lot of old stuff that was certainly pop like Bee Gees’ 1st, but even in ’67 there were also crappy records being made. A lot of people probably thought Bee Gees’ 1st was bad too, but I like it (castles and time machines!). I guess every era since the dawn of records has produced a large amount of bad pop. It does appear as though things are particularly bad now though. I think music itself is nearly done for anyway. Soon we’ll just be worried about the war for water.

DM: I recently went to see Ariel Pink and it blew me away. This stuff felt like someone with a serious sugar buzz was randomly shifting stations on an AM radio. I purchased their new one Before Today on vinyl. It's truly original art and totally contagious psych pop with these spasmodic interruptions. The real thing. Not like some of the other new bands I've heard recently (I won't say any names). There seems to be this influx of groups that need to have a wall of effects surrounding them so they can call themselves psychedelic, but underneath it all it's really just a mainstream indie rock band. Again it's the complacency, this sticky attitude that prevents music from evolving. And I agree, Josh, it's that same unwillingness to shift the mindset away from what's comfortable and familiar is what will exacerbate food and water wars. Ariel Pink is undaunted by the idea of shifting the paradigm and doing things differently, even if it feels kind of weird or awkward. I'd prefer a world that's real and clumsy to one that's phony and polished. Sure, people may not be ready for this shift now…but pretty soon everyone will need to make a decision.

Can you tell us about making Handmade House? How did you hook up/work with Nasoni? That's some heady company.

JS: Dylan got the ball rolling with Nasoni. We worked with Carola  in getting everything sorted out for the record. She was really great to deal with. They are true psych fans and have done a lot to keep it going for years.

DM: The Nasoni philosophy seemed to perfectly synergize with our own. It was just a remarkable fit for our debut album and a great way to lay the foundation for what will become of Traveling Circle.

Handmade House cuts a big swath through the now and past. How did you keep it all from becoming one big smear? Was that a concern, especially with TC's sizable sound, presence?

CF: We had limited time and budget for the recording of Handmade House, which I think was actually a blessing. We were mostly concerned with just getting everything we wanted down on tape, in the small amount of time that we had. We worked out all the songs in our rehearsal space, trying to keep things as intuitive and simple as possible. If it felt like a part was being forced into a song, we abandoned it. All decisions were made in the writing process. Our friend, Mitch Rackin, recorded the album at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn. They have a great selection of vintage gear. Mitch really knew what we were going for with the record and did an amazing job.

JS: This album draws material from two sessions that sort of show two phases of the band. For that reason it may cover a bit more ground than the sessions themselves did. We are all really happy with the selected material though and I think we have a sound that is singular enough to make it all hold together very well. For instance, Dylan’s voice is very distinctive. If anybody wants to put out an album of Handmade Houseouttakes we have the goods! But you know, in terms of old versus new, we are always trying to do our own thing so that keeps things new even though we listen to a lot of old stuff.

DM: Carola from Nasoni actually picked the songs she wanted for Handmade House. I think we sent her 20 and she chose 10. So, yeah, we have quite a few songs from those sessions that still remain unreleased.

Back up a sec to Dylan's voice: what a soulful set of pipes. Distinctive indeed. When you first met and he opened up and let that fly, was it a done deal? Dylan's voice really sets you guys apart from your peers. It's not just emotion, it's emotion and soul.

JS: Dylan is a great singer but more importantly he comes up with far out stuff! For me, I was first and foremost looking to play with people who wanted to create some interesting sounds and Dylan and Charlie certainly have that. One of the best things about playing with a strong singer like Dylan is that he can deliver live. One of our goals in recording is trying to live up to our live performances. I like Charlie’s voice too. There’s a good reason why I’m not doing any backing vocals however…

CF: I really admire Dylan's singing. He's in the moment and he just goes for it. His sound is definitely refreshingly different from a lot of what you hear these days. Despite what Josh says, he has a nice voice as well. Maybe it's time we explored 3- part harmonies.

DM: Ah shucks. Thanks guys. I like your singing too. Maybe for our next record we should do an a capella prologue and epilogue with the sound of nature in the background.

What's lined-up now that the record is out? Did you expect to be working on your follow-up so quickly?

DM: We were offered to play a psych festival in Texas that would feature live painting by Alex Grey and talks with Daniel Pinchbeck, so that’s pretty exciting. But the confirmed lineup and date has yet to be announced. We also just finished recording tracks for our second album, Escape from Black Cloud, and Gordon Raphael is handling the final stages of production. We’ve matured a bit more, mastered our craft, come into our own, however you want to put it…so this album feels a lot more organic and spontaneous, more natural. In other words, it doesn’t sound like we’re pretending things are happening. It sounds like things are really happening. And if there’s anyone who can capture that essence and bring it to the fore, it’s Gordon. I think he has something up his sleeve. That’s what wizards do, right? Put things up their sleeves?

CF: The songs on Handmade House were recorded more than a year before the album was released, so while they are new to most folks, they are aren't so new to us. In the interim we were writing and recording the songs that will be on Escape From Black Cloud. Dylan comes up with song ideas pretty quickly so we never have a shortage of new material to work on. I'm very excited about the new stuff.

JS: I think the new stuff is really good. It’s a bit more heavily pulsating but is still in the same vein. I hope we can get the tour squared away soon. Maybe we can come through Virginia.

P.S. Traveling Circle is number 1 in Alpha Centauri!

Gentlemen, thank you for the house tour. See you on Alpha Centauri …

DM: Thanks, Kevin. Your show is great and I'm a huge fan. We're proud to be in the mix and really appreciate all your support for Traveling Circle. We'll see you there, dude…

:: Handmade House review

:: Traveling Circle

mr. atavist


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    February 15th, 2011

Posted In: Music Shows