Circle releases single Helen ahead of forthcoming album. Earnest heart-rendering indie-folk at its absolute best. Helen is a lightly orchestrated acoustic tune that feels more like a fond memory than a song. Sufjan Stevens-esque whispered vocals adorn ambient and delicately plucked guitar. The result is an expansive and shimmery spectral that is disarming in its honesty. Circle writes intimately, weaving what feels like a personal narrative into an easily relatable song, possessing enough innate beauty to soften even the hardest of critiques. Circle talks more about the single.
How has the build up been to the new single Helen?
It’s always a delight to get the creative work that you’ve channelled out into the world. Sometimes there’s an immediate uptake and sometimes it needs a little space before it resonates. For the likes of Van Gogh that space was a few decades after he’d left the world. Luckily for us a few bloggers and playlists seem to think it’s worth a share so we’re grateful.
What is the story behind the single?
Every track on the record Coco and Charlie is named after someone special in our life. Without those people there’s no learning, no teaching and no love. We found that after the initial and very personal and specific concepts and lyrics were put down we were able to explore a more archetypal approach to the song. So while the track Helen is about a very good friend, it’s also about someone we all know.
Was is it hard work using analogue equipment to get that vintage sound?
The tracks that would later become the album Coco and Charlie were written over a three week period in December 2020. Most would remember that this was a peak Sydney lockdown time and probably helped at least to the extent of giving focus to a singular task. Although Circle hadn’t put out much music in the last couple of years, there’d always been the opportunity to call friends and past members to jump in on sketches, demos and even full productions when it called for it. The prevailing circumstances made that a little different and so a little conceptual ingenuity was called for.
The idea of making an album on a four track has always had appeal although the practicality is a whole different story. Not to go into too much detail but these Tascams are a feat of engineering but they’re also getting on in age. Not every channel sounds the same and they aren’t reliable 100% of the time. What they do offer in ‘instant vibe’ however, makes up for their shortfalls in spades. The whole album was recorded at Enmore Audio, which is part of the Happy Media stable. All tracking was done to a Tascam Portastudio 414 mkII with a very shitty old tape inside. Owen Penglis who was working at Enmore Audio at the time helped live track and engineer the mechanics of how we bounce these tracks down to Pro Tools and line them up.
Let’s just say there were some very laborious sessions of lining up tape tracks! Mostly the tape machine behaved but you’d often get clicks and hiss and now that our first single Helen is out there in the world we’ve found out that not everyone is a fan of tape hiss! An AKG c414 was used on the guitar almost all of the time and Neumann M147 on the vocals. Occasionally that orientation would swap because of some practical reason and we’d just go with the flow. A UA617 was used on both the guitar and vocals and we didn’t hold back on using the very rough EQ on the Tascam. As far as hardware that was pretty much it. The mixing was done in Pro Tools and to be clear, while these are definitely multi track sessions, they were kept to an absolute minimum. We did have some delightful remote lead guitar contribution from Noah Church which did not get the Tascam treatment, but we’re okay with that. In essence it’s not a conceptual album from a recording standpoint but more of a production exercise that aimed to explore the cassette aesthetic. We’re really happy with how it came out and certain we’ll continue to dabble with tape textures until they pry the machines from our cold dead hands!
Did everything go to plan?
Nothing ever goes to plan in a creative process and that’s almost always the most important part. What the mind wants, the universe has absolutely no interest in. When you’re writing, playing or in any creative act for that matter, you’re attempting to channel something more pure than you could ever possibly bring. The art is in letting go so that those so-called mistakes do happen.
Were you hands on with making the film clip?
Does anyone really want to hear another COVID story…? Gabby Dadgostar was engaged to work on ideas for a series of clips that would support the album. Because of limited access to locations, lockdowns and other restrictions she brought up having a whole heap of iPhone footage she’d never used before. It didn’t take long for everyone to get pretty excited about the marriage of a gritty cassette album with lo-fi gritty iPhone footage (some of which was years old).
How would you compare it sonically to some of your other music?
Up until Another 69 Love Songs, Circle might have had the bad habit of over producing. It’s an honest and fair shortfall given the intent behind the act, but there’s something truly liberating about a stripped back record. The album is still full and certainly not lacking sonically. In some ways it chases more of a hip-hop aesthetic (it’s not hip-hop folks) insofar as it tries to achieve as much as possible with as little as possible and in the past we’ve often done the exact opposite. The Middle is the perfect example of a very ambitious album where we pulled all stops.
Are you hoping to be able to tour at some stage this year?
To have the chance to play these songs live would be amazing. Perhaps a logistical challenge but one we’d certainly be up for!
Interview By Rob Lyon