With their self titled debut, Magic Circle from Massachusetts in the US, managed to gain a lot of interest in doom and traditional heavy metal-circles almost three years ago. It didnt make things less interesting when three of the same musicans released the brilliant Stone Dagger-demotape later the same year. Metal Squadron hooked up with with Magic Circle’s Chris Corry to discuss the band’s mighty fine new opus “Journey Blind.
Coming mainly from the hardcore scene, when and how did the interest in performing doom and traditional metal arise?
– We get asked this very frequently, but we have all been fans of hard rock, heavy metal and all this stuff for a long time. I’ve always just been a fan of music, and playing punk and hardcore was just sort of my entry to being able to play in bands. I’ve had a longstanding love and reverence for bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest… so I felt comfortable trying something in that tradition, if a bit more humble than maybe any of those.
The first single seemed to go under most people’s radar. What were your intentions with this recording? To create interest for a full length release or to test the waters?
– The idea was both! We only pressed 200 copies, and it was really just to tease the finished recording and find a label at the time. We were already playing shows and had a finished album, but no music to sell.
The single was repressed last year, was that simply due to demand? The song “Lighting Her Fire”, is that a left over for the writing sessions for the debut, or a song written to feature on this release?
-It was due to demand in part, but also because we all felt “Lighting Her Fire” is a strong song that we still wanted the fans to be familiar with, and have available to them. The recording session for the first LP was seven songs, and “Lighting Her Fire” just felt like it had a different tone than the rest of the music, and it actually would have been a tight squeeze time-wise on a record, so pretty early on we’d decided it would be a B-side to a single in advance of the album. That was one of the first songs we did. I want to say maybe the second song we ever put together, but if not the second, the third.
When I first heard the band name, and looked around for some info, I was pretty sure you were “just another occult rock band”. Playing this kind of music, wasn’t it tempting to write lyrics in that direction and throw yourself on this wave, where a few bands have done very well lately?
– I don’t write the lyrics in Magic Circle, but I’m pretty certain I can say whatever is trendy and however people are doing “good business” isn’t really any concern of ours. I think the best thing you can do playing music is find your own voice and not be concerned with whatever is popular.
The opener “Winter Light” from your debut, was mentioned in pretty much every review of the album. Did you also feel it was stronger than the rest of the material?
– “Winter Light” was mentioned in a lot of reviews yes, but I didn’t find it to be especially stronger than the other tunes. I think it was just a good opener that gave people a good summation of everything else in store on the record. The thing with the first album is “Winter Light” was the first song we tried in rehearsal, and it was the first riff I came up with, but I wrote four of the songs that ended up on the album on the first day. They were rough on that first day but all kind of came to be at the same time. It was “Winter Light”, “Lighting Her Fire”, “The Greatest Escape”, and “Conquering Nocturnity” that all kind of came out of my brain that first day – albeit in very simplified rough forms. So after that it was just building on the new foundation I had.
You seem to be the main songwriter in Magic Circle and the one that put the band together. To which degree does Magic Circle reflect your own creativity and musical influences?
– I guess I planted the seeds for the band, and I’ve written most of the music, it certainly reflects my vision and creativity very strongly, but I really don’t want to undermine everyone’s contributions to the songwriting and aesthetic. Everyone brings their own personality and ideas to the table, and I can’t imagine making the same records with different people.
How and when in the process does their input come? During rehearsals mainly, or do you show em ideas or rough sketches at an earlier point?
– It depends. Justin (DeTore, bass) hears a lot of things before the other three guys. We’ve been artistic collaborators in a number of bands for… going on 13 or 14 years now, and I’m really comfortable sharing rough ideas with him, if I tape myself just playing a guitar riff, even if I play it like shit, he usually understands what I’m getting at and can give me feedback, and vice versa. Justin plays drums for a number of other bands, and so a lot of times if I have the riffs, I will have him lay down a skeleton of drums and then we can present Dan (Ducas, guitar) and Q (drums) with music that’s more digestible, and then we can adjust lengths of different parts, Q can take apart the drum stuff, and rearrange it to his own style and taste, and Dan, Justin and I can figure out where one of us is going to go high or ring out or anything else like that. Then once the song is pretty worked out Brendan (Radigan, vocals) takes a run at it and adds his vocals and melodies, which then sometimes maybe will make me want to add a guitar line to compliment what he’s doing. Gradually I guess everything just sort of congeals between rehearsal and making a rough demo of the song.
Do you feel that the different projects you have going have all helped each other along? I, for instance, became aware of Stone Dagger due to the Magic Circle-album… It would be interesting to hear if you have “fans” as in fans of music in general, not specific genres, that enjoy your all your bands/projects across the different genres?
– Yes in some cases more than others. Stone Dagger obviously was able to piggyback on the interest in Magic Circle and connect with a lot of the same people. I know there’s some folks who probably wouldn’t have checked Magic Circle out had they not been aware of some of our previous work, but it can be a detriment too. People can approach with preconceived notions and be put off by what they already know about your past work.
You have said that you want to keep a rather low profile when it comes to promotion, because you don’t want to force your music on people. Do you really think good music is able to promote itself these days?
– Good music promotes itself as much as it ever has, so yes.
When you work on one of your bands or project, how much of readjusting do you have to do, to be able to move on to the next? Are you able to work on more than one simultaneously?
– I am usually working on more than one thing, but it helps to have separation between different stuff whenever I can. Sometimes it can be nice to work on more than one thing simultaneously if they’re vastly different, that way you can get a break and come back to each thing feeling fresh. Kind of like mixing salty and savory foods.
Your label describes “Journey Blind, the new album “Doomed Heavy metal band”. With pretty much all of you involved in countless projects performing different stuff, how do you view the need to put music into categories?
– I don’t always think categories are a great thing, but I think lots of people like to know what they’re getting, and listeners often like the categorization.
Are you concerned with what is “allowed” or not in doom and heavy metal when you compose music for Magic Circle, or do you feel complete freedom?
– I mean I can’t be really concerned. I love bands that are identified as doom, but it’s not important to me as a label. I just like rock music. I don’t care if what we play jives with the accepted template for one sub-genre. Justin treated Dan and I to a night on the town last night seeing Whitford/St. Holmes in downtown Boston. I got a lot more out of seeing those guys play on stage for an hour and a half than plenty of the faceless doom bands I’ve seen, but I’m sure a song like “Sharpshooter” breaks all kinds of codified rules that the doom lords have set forth. I’m not saying that to be a jerk, it’s just never been my intention to be the straight-up, meat-and-potatoes, text-book doom.
Did the debut and the extremely positive feedback it got, challenge the idea of the album you wanted to make this time, or did you pursue the idea you had, regardless of the success and feedback you got on “Magic Circle”?
– Personally – I think we took the same approach as the first LP. Do what feels good. Jam it out in rehearsal, and if it still feels good, we keep it.
Did the success of the debut and the way you view it in retrospect build you confidence in using the same formula?
– I was nervous at times, but I think I write better when I just follow my instincts and do what I’m into at that moment. I guess one thing, we’ve been playing these songs out a bit for the last two years. People who came to see us in that time probably heard some of them, and we kept getting really good reactions to the new material so if there was a confidence builder – that was probably it.
Was there something about the first album you felt the need to improve when you started working on “Journey Blind”?
– I really just wanted to make sure the album had its’ own feel and progression from the first. I thought we could make some improvements on the recording quality of the last one.
When I listened to “Journey Blind” for the first time, Trouble, and especially “Manic Frustration”, minus all the psychedelic stuff sprang to mind. What is your relationship to this album and the band in general?
– Everyone in this band is a Trouble fan, and I think we all have a special place in our hearts for the Def American era in particular. I really like the way they weren’t afraid to break away from what they were known for and let their love of The Beatles come through. Justin was the first person I met who ever told me to check out Trouble. That was quite a while ago, probably 12 or 13 years at this point…
A lot of people are referring to the atmosphere when they speak about both your first album as well as the new one. Is “atmosphere” something that springs out from the songwriting itself, or more of something that is created while you are in the studio?
– Atmosphere for me comes from everything. Aesthetic choices of the recording and how you present the song, as well as the actual riffs and the songwriting. Usually I have kind of a blurry picture in my mind of how I want the song to feel, but often times the way I interpret the feeling is a lot different than the way other folks do.
You have described the new album as a bit more “sunny” compared to the first one. While I can understand what you mean, since I have listened to it, how would you explain it for people yet to hear the album? Do the difference in the way these two albums sound, reflect your own mood and inner feelings at the time you wrote the material?
– I guess what I meant by that is that some parts of the songs on it don’t sound quite as down-trodden and suffocated. I still think even those portions have an air melancholy and wistfulness in the vocals and melodies, but they’re not as sad sounding maybe. It really just reflects our own imaginations. Maybe if you picture the first one as being in a forest at night, and this new one sounding like a cemetery an hour or two before sunset. It’s still very mournful, but also bathed in that beautiful golden light that comes near sunset. It’s just an expansion of our pallet really.
You have said in a recent interview, that there were some different bands, and different records done by bands that already influenced you on the first album, that played it’s part this time around. How important is listening to music created by others when you are in a creative process yourself?
– For me it’s of huge importance what I’m listening to and what I’m not listening to. I tend to really not listen to new records in the style of what I’m writing – when I’m writing it for instance. Like there were a lot of new traditional rock and metal releases that came out last year, that I didn’t hear til much later because I didn’t want to be influenced by whatever those bands are doing. I’ll make mixes for myself of different songs by different artists and focus in on a certain sound or feeling when I’m in writing mode and then try and sort of digest that and then by some alchemical process transform that into something new. It’s almost like planting a seed and watering it and taking care of it while you wait for it to grow.
“Journey Blind” is both the opener of the album as well as the title song. Also the first one you wrote. How did the way this song came together set the tone for the rest of the album?
– Well it really opened the door for us to try stuff we hadn’t done before because it was a bit of a departure from anything we had done previously. I think it was exciting because it was great to start with something so different, and then from there we were really free to open up and go to any number of different places. I spent a little time working on just that song. Like I was home at my family’s house for the holidays and was just composing it over a couple nights while watching movies in my old bedroom. When the dust sort of settled, it was way less of a feeling of “how can I add to this” and more of “what other things can we do, that we haven’t done before” because it was a bit of a departure from anything up to that point.
If the album title, as I read in an interview refer to”following a cause blindly”, its definitely one of those album titles that will always be relevant. Is that a criteria for you when it comes to choosing titles? “Magic Circle” was probably an easy choice, was this one harder?
-It really just seemed like a good song to represent the album. We didn’t spend much time measuring the relevance. I think at some point I just realized it would work for an album title and declared “that’s what we’re calling it – no need to overthink”.
How much of a priority is Magic Circle for the guys involved? I guess it’s natural to focus on this band now that the new album is coming, but will it be “pushed to the background” when you release something new with one of the other acts?
– I think it’s a huge priority for all involved – no question. It can be tough juggling it with so many other responsibilities but most of the time we make it work. I don’t intend to push the band to the background ever and I don’t think the other members do either.