The Farewell Circuit: We captured some serious magic

Matt O'Brien, Alex Young, Danny O'Brien, DJ House
Matt O'Brien, Alex Young, Danny O'Brien, DJ House
Photo by Jess Ekstrand

On one of the last snowy days in the spring of 2013, Minneapolis band the Farewell Circuit is gathered in their practice space for rehearsal and some beers. The camaraderie in the room is palpable as they open drinks and get settled in; it's hard to get a word in between the four members as they toss around jokes and share their weekend happenings. Lead singer Danny O'Brien passes his phone to his bandmates, sharing photos from a friend's wedding in Milwaukee where he was doing duties as a photographer. "Did you take all of their photos on your phone, Danny?" someone asks him. He quips, "Yeah, when people ask me where my gear is, I pull out my phone and say, 'Here it is.'"

Since the release of In Our Bones in late 2011, the band has gone through a lineup change with the addition of drummer Alex Young and bassist Matt O'Brien -- no relation to Danny -- to the already established members, guitarist DJ House and Danny. It was an easy transition, for they all ran in the same circles already, but the dynamic is noticeable on the new record, We Were Wolves. Recorded live, the album feels more raw, yet still draws from the delicate vulnerability that Danny exposed on In Our Bones.

Gimme Noise sat down and spoke with the four members before their release show at Icehouse on Friday to get their views on the new album and their favorite producer.

In his deep, booming voice, Alex Young -- who also plays in many other bands outside of the Farewell Circuit such as And the Professors, Bella Ruse, and others -- shares his thoughts on the collaborative feel of this band, something he hadn't really encountered until now. "The thing I thought was interesting about how this band writes is that there's definite sections that are completely detached from anything else," he says. "Danny writes the initial pieces, then we come in and we try to figure out how to bridge the gap between all of these sections. That's the communal writing, and two weeks later, it's a completely different thing."

The band had three days in the studio with producer Brett Bullion, more so because, "That's all we could afford," jokes DJ. Due to the time restriction, the band wasn't able to build tracks, so they recorded all five songs live -- even writing the arrangement for their last track, "Admission," the night before it was to be recorded. DJ continues, "We captured some serious magic doing it live; some things crept their way into the final takes that we couldn't have planned. It was clear that we wrote the arrangement for 'Admission' the night before. When we were in the studio, Brett was doing things that we didn't know he was doing. It was so quick, and we didn't have a feel for the song. It just kind of was. That was a universal moment where we all knew it felt right."

The Farewell Circuit: We captured some serious magic
Photo by Jess Ekstrand

Bullion also had producing credits on the last album, and when asked why the band liked working with him so much, they laughingly joke, "He's a dick; he's the worst, and we couldn't afford Steve Lillywhite." Danny explains, "At this point, I consider him a friend. I want to play music with my friends; I want to create with my friends. That's why this is great. Whenever I work with him or we get together, we always have great conversations, and that carries over into whatever we're doing creatively. He's also ridiculously reaffirming. Like every musician, we all have moments where we think we're not good enough. Brett's constantly like, 'You guys are monsters. You can play this!' He creates this really great environment for us."

The producer helped shape We Were Wolves, an album that Danny shares is a clean break from In Our Bones. "It's not that the whole story changes, but it definitely moves to a different setting. I don't think we broke any genre boundaries, but I do feel it's a new chapter; it has a different vibe. Even though I enjoyed playing with the guys in the band on the last album, I love where it's at right now." DJ concedes to being scared shitless going into the studio with this album, because of lack of preparedness. But as soon as they were done, he got into music mode again and wanted to write, because he was so proud of the songs.

Explaining the meaning behind the name of the new album, Danny becomes serious and shares his background growing up in a Christian home with a limited view on the world. He says, "It was this moment of recognizing -- we go on living our lives thinking we're doing the right thing and we're good people. Especially when I was a teenager, I thought I was literally saving people, and then having this realization the whole time I thought I was a good guy when in hindsight it wasn't so. I would view what I was doing as a wolf in sheep's clothing. It seems so deceptive. I use some pretty harsh imagery -- eating children, preying on the weakest ones. I feel those lyrics drive home the point of what happens in Christian circles -- people feel they need something, and then I felt I had to answer to that. I still believe in something, but I consider myself an agnostic humanist." 

Another part of what Danny was experiencing during the writing of the album had to do with his younger sister, Anna. When she was 16, Anna was a promising young student with college recruits scouting her for basketball, but all of that changed when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder, causing her to see hallucinations and withdraw within herself. In the two years since the diagnosis, she has been on medications to control the disease, but Danny parallels how a lot of his youth was stolen because of his years steeped in Christianity are similar to Anna's teenage years. "Looking at my sister, the years of her youth were also stolen from her by something she didn't deserve. No one deserves that."

As does any artist, the band had fears about trying to live up to their prior album. Danny says, "I loved the last album, but I love We Were Wolves just as much, if not more. You attach memories to specific times. I just really have good memories associated with making We Were Wolves." Alex compares this transition between albums by bringing up John Mayer, with the rest of the band scoffing and groaning at the mention of Mayer's name.

"A lot of people loved John Mayer's Continuum, so when he came out with Battle Studies, his fans and critics were like, 'Boo. Two thumbs down.' Everyone wanted a second Continuum, but to put out two records that are totally the same is totally BS. It's not honest at all -- musically and personally. A true artist is going to grow from year to year. There was three to four years between those two albums of Mayer's. I would be really let down if We Were Wolves sounded like a second In Our Bones. There's a lot of change and growth, so if you don't grow, you're shutting yourself off from the rest of humanity. There's so much out there to be inspired by and to write about."

The Farewell Circuit will have their release show for We Were Wolves at Icehouse on Friday, June 7, 2013 with the Dear Data.
21+, $7, 10 pm

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