INTERVIEW: James Lees of Silver Sircus

James Lees has been hitting drums in a slew of Brisbane bands since the early 90’s, starting out in bands like Milch and Krud, which also featured a pre-Screamfeeder Kellie Lloyd.  If you’re a semi-regular live music goer, you’ve probably seen him behind the kit at some point in time.  These days his main focus is the genre-defying dark cabaret act Silver Sircus, which he formed with vocalist Lucinda Shaw.

James&Lucinda

My own history with James only goes back a few years, but in that short time we have been in three bands together and lived as housemates for two years.  I would class him as one of the nicest and hardest working people in Brisbane music.  I recently caught up with James over a few drinks to find out more about his career as a musician, and what’s next for Silver Sircus:

Tell us a bit about your musical history.  What bands have you been a part of?

Hmm, let me cast my mind back….  I’ve been in ISIS with Lucinda Shaw, and I’ve been in Chalk in the 90’s, and I played with Tylea for about 3 or 4 years.  Am I missing anyone?…  I’ve also been in The Good Ship and I’ve also been in Thirteen Seventy, and I’ve been in Bertie Page Clinic.  When you asked me that I immediately thought 20 years ago! *laughs*

Well you could go back even further probably, couldn’t you?

I could, but how relevant that would be is another question.

It was more about getting an insight into your history in Brisbane music and how far back that goes.

Well it does go back a fair way, back to the early 90’s.  You know I could list all those names and talk about those bands, but if you looked at all those bands broadly there’s a really great diversity of style across them.   I think that reflects my diverse listening habits and my diverse musical interests.  I listen to everything from strange jazz music to Swans, to Cindy Lauper, to Eurythmics, to Talking Heads, to Lou Reed and back again.  It wasn’t really by design, but all the bands I’ve played with have been very, very different.  So I guess if I look back I would say there’s a huge amount of diversity there, and there continues to be.

So, you’ve worked with a lot of musicians over the years.  Are there any moments that stand out or are particularly special to you?

I think the very first rehearsal I had with ISIS stands out to me, because – and I don’t want to put anybody else’s singing down that came before that – but I went to that rehearsal, and for readers with shorter memories ISIS contained three fantastic female singers.  When I rehearsed with them the first time, which was actually a pre-production rehearsal for a recording, when they all sang it was a revelation to me.  And I just went “OH, they’re really good *laughs* They can all sing!”  That rehearsal occurred in The Zoo, on The Zoo stage fully mic’d up with Magoo in attendance, and that was creating drum parts for the ‘Ooze’ EP which came out in 1995.  And that was my first rehearsal.  So that was a moment for me.  I was also a real fan of the band, so it was actually sort of a fan moment – ‘I get to be in this band!’  I’d say that would be the moment I’d nominate.

Tell us about your history with Lucinda Shaw.  How did Silver Sircus form?

All these stories go back such a long way.  I was a fan of the band and I was writing for Rave Magazine.  I interviewed the band, but I didn’t interview Lucinda, and I was interested in her because I knew at that time she was the main writer of music on that first record.  The way that I got to meet her was by booking the band for a gig that I produced that was Tidus, Rob Clarkson and ISIS at The Capitol, which was at Wooloogabba.  So by booking the band I got to meet Lucinda.  I met her that night and we had a brief conversation.  That was about a year before I joined the band.  So we were friends for a year, and then obviously we did the work with ISIS, and that went for a few years, and when that finished a project called Sugafix emerged out of that and I ended up becoming part of that.  Then that changed its name to Silver Circus (with a ‘C’) and that existed for about 2 to 3 years, ’til about 2002.  Then we worked on a few things together that I musically directed.  Lucinda did a show for the Cabaret Festival and then we did two big Ziggy Stardust shows that I produced and she was a big part of that as a vocalist.  That show featured a range of lead singers, but she was also sort of my confidant through that process of putting those shows together.  There was a lot of discussion that she and I had that extended beyond her being just a lead singer on a few songs.  That recording’s going to be released this year by the way, because Mr Jeff Lovejoy’s mixed it, but that’s another story.

I think the way that the current version of the band started was by me being driven slightly crazy by the body of work that Silver Circus mark 1 had done that had had been played a little bit in embryonic form, but in the intervening years had grown in my mind into being something that I thought could be quite good but had no means to be expressed.  Quite a lot of songs that had no life at all.  So it took two or three years.

‘Sweet Amnesia’ from the Sovereignty EP

So it was your creative desire to finish those songs off?

Yeah, it was very much unfinished business and a lack of closure I guess that really drove me to go, “Why don’t we just do it?”  You know?  I think that came with getting a little bit older as well.  Maybe I was about 34, 35, something like that.  I think when you’re that age you start having a lot of thoughts about ‘you only get to be here once’, and I sort of thought how am I going to feel if I don’t see this project through or if I don’t breathe life into this work in 10 years?  And I imagined myself regretting not doing it.  As soon as I had that thought I picked up the phone and I rang Lucinda and I said to her for the first time in about 5 years, ‘Would you like to be in a band with me?’  And she was slightly taken aback and then she went ‘Oh, yeah, of course, of course.  What are we going to do?’  And I said ‘We’re going to do Silver Sircus, and we’re going to do these songs, and we’re going to make them really good, and then we’re going to release them.  And she went ‘Right!  Okay…’  *laughs*  And about a year after that the Soveriegnty EP came out, and then we did the Dark Back Garden EP shortly after that.  That was only 5 years ago.

‘DarkBackGarden’

A lot’s happened in that short space of time.
Yeah, we’ve made even more music since then *laughs* which is pretty good for a band that moves at the speed of a glacier!  But we did manage to produce an album eventually.

So you’ve just last year released your first full album, which is ‘To The Place That Is Home’.  Tell us a bit about that, the songs were all mostly older?  And then there was some new stuff that you-

From the beginning it was this whole idea of a whole lot of material that was kind of in a queue from oldest to most recent that we had to kind of swat away.  So the Sovereignty EP was the four oldest songs.  DarkBackGarden was kind of an extension of that.  That material was all from a certain period of time.  So what happened after that was that once we had those recordings out of the way in late 2008 we wrote ‘Come Back As You’ and that was the first song that Lucinda and I made, just the two of us.

‘Come Back As You’ from the album To The Place That Is Home

So that’s almost the birth of Silver Sircus now, as we know it?

That’s the beginning song, yeah.  So that started out as a very, very simple little song with the guitar being played on the verandah and turned into the seven minute monolith that’s on the album now.  That song does date back to then, but that was the beginning of the first step of, you know, the way the band is now, and our current way of working.  What we planned to do was record that song fairly quickly and release it as a single.

And what year was that?

That was in 2009.  But life had other plans and what ended up happening was that Lucinda and I both went through fairly cataclysmic life events that took quite a long time to resolve.  So what happened was that that turned into a series of delays.  Actually about 4 or 5 delays.  Now we’re gonna record it, and then this happened.  Now we’re gonna record it, and then that happened.  And then just on and on it went.  What ended up happening is that we ended up writing more songs.  So if we had gone through with our first plan that song would have come out on its own.  In the second instance it would have come out with a B side.  In the third instance it would have come out as a 4 track EP, and the instance after that it would have been a 5 track EP.  For a long time that was a 5 track EP and it sat that way for a while.

Even up to the time where we meet I think you were still talking about putting out an EP next?

Yeah, there was a period of about 6 months where we took the accelerator off the band.  I use the term ‘accelerator’ very generously.

Was that the time when you started playing in every single band in Brisbane?

Yes!  That was in 2010.  The band kept playing, but I guess there was a feeling of frustration as to ‘why is this so hard to make this music?’  And I know why that was, and oddly the reason for that completely informed and fed the final form that that record ended up taking.  It grew up to be a full album, it grew up to be about the reason it took 4 years to come out.

I actually can’t imagine those tracks sitting together any other way.

No, no, it ended up all landing pretty well.  But I think people do look at the band and go: there was this flurry of activity at the beginning, and then a lot of performances, and then a little break, and then all of a sudden this big record and 3 releases in one year, and both EPs re-released in one year.  So 5 releases in one year.  But then I look at Kate Bush and I go, well she took 12 years off, and then she took 6 years off and then released 2 albums in a year.  If she can do it we can do it. *laughs*

But it was a really interesting moment when we kind of realised….when we took what was stopping us and we turned it into the fuel, rather than the obstruction.  As soon as we did that it surged forward and it found its very strong voice.  And then from that point the project took over and we just followed it, and it told us what it wanted to be and what it wanted to do and what it wanted to look like and everything.  And that was very satisfying for finally that body of work to live and to tell us what it wanted to do.  Because we were pushing shit uphill for a couple of years.

So the songs kind of became their own muse?

Yeah, I guess so.  It just became a lot easier.  It was not 100 questions running around in your mind, it became very, very simple.  This is what we do.  It’s going to look like this, it’s going to come out like this, it’s going to sound like this, these are the songs.  It all just slotted into place.  I know that’s a rarefied sort of situation to be in as an artist and I enjoyed allowing that to happen.  It was good to get it out because when we released it, it also felt like I was able to let go of a lot of the content and emotion that was woven into that record.

‘What Is A Witch’

One of the more interesting parts of that song cycle isn’t actually on the record, and it’s a B-side called Sleepwalker-

Oh THAT thing! *laughs*

…and it’s a little bit different to everything else, both sonically and in the way it was written…

That is a track that’s largely instrumental that I wrote and it comes from a very simple piece of music that I wrote when I was 20, and that I plucked out of the past and completely reshaped and completely recast.

When we were living together I heard different iterations of that song for months and months and months before it became what it is now.

I had a strong vision of that piece and I knew that if I gave certain musicians in the band certain instructions they would respond in certain ways and deliver what the song required.  And I knew that the song, being very abstract, was going to be a lot harder for me to convey to them ‘this is what we’re doing.’  It was actually easier for me to go ‘play it like this, play it like this.’

It sounds almost like Jimi Hendrix talking to his band in colours.

Yeah.  Well I totally directed that, and I know particularly with Mark Angel’s guitars, which are very beautiful and very dominant on that track, Mark put his faith in me.  He didn’t know what was going on.  He didn’t understand the piece until he heard the final mix, and then he told me ‘Ah, I get it now!’ *laughs* And I said to him ‘I don’t think there’s any way I could have explained this to you.’  But he put his faith in me and in the song, and in Magoo too, you know.  Even though I wrote it, when we came to record it, it was very much a team effort.  Especially when it came to the strings, just saying to Wayne and Sally, ‘There are 3 chords, there are 12 minutes.  Go.’  And that’s it.  And they’re such open and interesting artists that that’s enough for them.  They just played all this stuff over the top and then Magoo chopped it all up and then I went out and shaped it.  I had this big fear that Magoo was going to really baulk at the length of it, but he didn’t.  He really loved it.  It made me remember that he and Tylea made an 11 minute track that had not a lot going on, so I thought ‘he’s the man for the job!’

‘To The Place That Is Home’ has beautiful dynamics, is this something you put a lot of focus on during the recording & mixing process?

Absolutely!  Yes, every note was agonised over, probably by me more than anybody else.

It would have been just a day’s work for Magoo.

Well that’s the good thing about Magoo, is that he has got a very calming influence and when I take my very complex and overwrought thoughts to him, and my confusion, he has this fantastic ability to simplify and straighten out, and to bring everything down to one sentence and just go ‘Ah…how ’bout we do this?’  And he just does it and then it answers 40 questions in my mind.

I noticed that when we worked together as well, you were really good with pointing out how the song dynamics shifted and working with a producer other than Magoo on similar things.

Yeah, well I think that maybe it’s the drummer’s job to do that, because in my experience there’s this great relationship between the drummer and the bass player that’s very traditional, but there’s actually a very, very, very important relationship between the drummer and the lead singer.  A lot of times the lead singer is also the lead guitarist or the rhythm guitarist as well, and in Thirteen Seventy that’s the case, in Silver Sircus that’s the case.  So if you could imagine, a lot of people talk about your formulaic band being set up with your drummer is at the bottom, then the bass player, then keys or strings, or guitars or whatever.  Then at the top of that is your singer, and so it’s like this pyramid.  This is something that I was taught by my father as a teenager when I started learning drums.  He is also a drummer and he told me this is how a band works.  So I took that on, and I’ve seen that to be true in a variety of situations.  But what it ends up doing is rather than thinking of it like a pyramid, if you think of it like a circle the lead singer and the drummer end up being next to each other, on opposite ends.

Like a big loop?

Yeah!  So it’s almost like the drummer and the lead singer are on a playing field at the opposite ends and you’ve got to connect that, and that’s your real job.  I definitely think since probably the third band I was in, which was Chalk, I saw that as a real responsibility of mine.  Also because James Kliemt, the lead singer of that band, had been a great friend of mine for years, even when we were that young.  By that point we had that connection, that relationship.  I guess I’ve always seen the band with the drummer at the bottom.   If you make all the right choices there, that’s setting you out on the right foot.  Everything else kind of follows on.  I think there’s actually a great responsibility with the drummer.  I’ve applied that in lots of situations.  I applied that with the work that we did.  And certainly I’m in a band with a lead singer.  Lucinda and I are the core duo of the band, a drummer and a lead singer.  So obviously the dynamics are a massive part of that.

How will the writing process for your next album differ from the way you’ve approached your previous recordings?  “To The Place That Is Home” is an incredibly dark and beautiful record.  Will the next one lead us further into the abyss, or pull us back towards the light?

I don’t know, it’s not written yet!  That’s not true…  Okay, so the first bit of that question was is the writing process going to be different?  The writing process is going to be absolutely different.  Absolutely different.  We are a fair way into the writing of the record.  I guess the main difference, right from the outset, is that for the very first time we’re working on a body of work that is all being made before our eyes and ears, right in front of us.  So I’m not having to straddle – here’s a song that’s brand new, here’s a song from 3 years ago, here’s a song from a year ago, here’s a song from 10 years ago and mix them all together.  Which I didn’t mind doing, you know, we wanted to do that, but we have truly cleared the shelf.

So you wanted to start from square one and write a record?

Yeah, we’ve never done that before.  So that meant, in the past we were writing music, but we were also corralling older stuff and assimilating it with now.  That process is completely not happening now.

Some of that would have involved other writers as well, wouldn’t it?  People who have since left the band?

In one instance it did, in all the others, no.  So I guess none of these songs have existed before 2012, which is a really refreshing feeling.  It’s just cast this whole other tone, this whole other feeling over working over a whole lot of music, that we’re working on stuff and none of it actually exists yet.  This is a difference.  The other major difference, and this follows on from that process, is that we are involving some of the other members in the band a lot more intimately with song writing.  We’re asking the people who have something to offer in that way to contribute if they want to, and several of them are.  The point we’re at now is that that is about to happen.  What we’re working on at the moment is a whole lot of words and a whole lot of music that has been music largely written by me, words all written by Lucinda.  So we’ve got quite a few sketches, but we’re going to introduce what I hope will be all these major spanners into the works from the other people, but I want that.  I wanted something really challenging and strange to happen, and given who we have in this band, I have every confidence in them!

And who do we have in the band in 2013?  It’s a completely different line-up to Silver Circus mark 1, and even Silver Sircus mark 1.1, really.

Oh, it’s completely different, yeah.  The main line-up of the band is unchanged over the last few years, so it’s a really nice connection.  Having made this record together, now, that has really unified us quite a lot.  We’ve made this record and we’ve all gone away and listened to it and everybody’s had their own little process of listening to that record later on.  Even though all their roles have been very, very different, that’s sort of….yeah, I guess that’s the right word to use, we’ve kind of aesthetically unified a lot more than we ever have been.  So over the next week I’m going to hear music from 3 other people.  So I’m hoping that’ll be…unexpected.  *Laughs*

Silver-Sircus-band
The current line-up of Silver Sircus is (l-r) Parmis Rose on piano, Terry Dixon on bass, Lucinda Shaw on vocals, Wayne Jennings on cello, James Lees on drums & percussion, Sally Campbell on violin, and Mark Angel (not pictured) on guitar.  Fi Ellwood also regularly contributes percussion.

So the material that has been written so far, is it going to continue to be quite dark, or is it going to be a little lighter now that those really big life things have moved on a little, and you’ve kind of cleared the decks?

Hmmm…I’ve got a feeling that it will be less dark.  I know there were certainly 2 or 3 moments on the album that we tried to go for something very, very dark indeed, which I think we achieved.  And that was very deliberate.  Tracks like ‘I Am Going To Find You’, and ‘Hold Them Close, Mama’, and probably the little instrumentals that are on the record.  We definitely tried to convey the feeling of an incredible amount of grief and loss and death and you know, all the great things in life. *laughs* I really wanted to express that.  I think there’s less of a drive to express those things so strongly this time.

There are other things informing the new work that are very, very different from that, like polarizingly different from that.  To give you an example, I’ve been looking for lots and lots of things that can provide inspiration from non-musical sources.  I’ve wondered how they can feed into music, how they can feed into lyrics, how they can feed into the atmosphere of a song or a record.  I’ve introduced those things to Lucinda, and she has taken them on quite strongly as well.  So to give you a couple of examples, one of the things that we’ve kind of tried to feed into this record is the story of the female pilot Amelia Earhart, who died in mysterious circumstances.  She was a celebrity female pilot in the early 20th century, and she disappeared somewhere in the ocean.  Her plane was never found.  She was a huge celebrity, and she was a big, early feminist, without actually being a feminist.  She was a very strong female in a man’s world, and she was almost this swashbuckling female pilot with no fear, and she got into these, you know, jalopy old ratbag planes in the 1920’s and 30’s and she flew around the world.  And one day she just vanished.  Of course, you know, there’s 80 years of conspiracy theories about her, but in all likelihood her plane had a fault and she crashed into the sea never to be found again.  So we’ve taken her story as an inspiration, and we’ve made a song called ‘Aviatrics’, which I suppose is going to be about her.

Another really, totally different sort of feed to us is the children’s nursery rhyme drawings of two women from the 1930’s and 40’s who were twins, and became massively famous.  They never took husbands and they lived with their mother.  They became very, very successful.  In the late 70’s when they were around their 50’s, one of the died in a freak household accident from smoke inhalation from a kitchen fire, and the other one, devastated, had to continue with all of the work that they had commissioned at that time, and she could barely do it.  Once she had done all that, she retired because she couldn’t draw without her sister.  They would work on two drawings at once, with their backs to each other, and they would swap drawings halfway through and then they would just keep going.  And so the actual authorship of all of their drawings is genuinely to them both.  They’re incredible.  In the 90’s, the surviving twin went back to illustrating, and for the first time in her life, in her 70’s, started illustrating solo.  So, she died in the early 2000’s.  Their story is incredible.  What’s also incredible is the beauty of the work, and they created all these images that a couple of generations grew up with in children’s, ah, they’re called something like ‘Dean’s: A Child’s Book Of Verse’, all these wonderful old books with these very beautiful, at times very creepy, quite sinister, almost adult kind of cartoon images.  They’re a big part of my childhood, and I rediscovered some books recently.  I researched them and I shared them with Lucinda, who just gasped when she saw them – at their quality and how sinister and strange they were, and how much you could get away with that in the 40’s and 50’s.  Children’s illustrations don’t look like that now.  We love them.  So we’ve written a song about them too.

What plans do you have for Silver Sircus over the next 12 months or so?  You’ve been a little quiet since the record came out.

As per the statement, which is still on our website, we are in the midst of a hiatus from performing.  The reason for this is because life moves very, very slowly in this band, and if we want to make a record, I felt that we could deliver that more quickly if we relaxed the incredible pressure on us to deliver one gig every couple of months. *Laughs*  That’s one thing.  Another thing was, for the same reason, what was happening is that we were doing show after show of the same music.  Some of those songs, even though we love them, are a few years old now, and I personally really needed to give them a rest.  I just think one of the really good things about Silver Sircus is that it’s an incredibly flexible artistic entity.  It can be whatever we want it to be, and if we want to temporarily retire from playing live and completely change the way the band sounds, we can do that!  Really any band can do that.  I think it’s a fairly brave choice, I think there are a lot of bands who would be really frightened by doing that.  They would feel like everybody would forget about them, or that if they did that the whole band would just fall apart.  But having been around the block a few times, I know that those things are not necessarily true.  I feel like it’s more important to be true to myself as a musician than it is to conform to what I think a band ‘should’ do, because I’ve done that and I don’t need to do it again.  So wouldn’t it be good to have a little break and reconsider everything, and actually stop thinking about it for a while?  I think I exhausted myself making that bloody record.

Well you weren’t just devoting brain power to that record.  You were doing so many other things at the same time.

Yeah, I was, I was, but most of my artistic energy was going towards that because I’ve got a much bigger role as a composer/musical director in that band than any other stuff I’ve done in the last couple years.

So, In terms of what’s happening, we have indeed been the very grateful recipient of an Australia Council grant to make a new record.  So this is the first time ever that I have worked with funding.  Every single thing I’ve done has been funded out of my pocket, or partially out of my pocket, or out of the pockets of the people who are leading the projects, like yourself.  So this is quite a different ball game, knowing that we’ve just got money to go and record.  So we’re very happy about that.  What’s going to happen is that there’s going to be two releases.  There’s going to be an EP, and all things going very well, it will be released by the end of the year.  Then the new album will follow in 2014.  The EP’s going to have four tracks.  It’s going to have very full, very rhythmic, very…it’s going to have a lot of heat, where the album had a lot of cold.  So it’s going to have faster songs, it’s going to have much denser arrangements.

Are these all going to be new songs as well?  Because I know there were maybe one or two leftovers from before.

Two of them are new.  One of them is an old song that we’ve hijacked from ISIS, and another song is an even older song that we’ve hijacked – from the sixties!  And that’s ‘Venus In Furs’ by The Velvet Underground, which we’re going to record.  And we performed that in our Velvet Underground show last year.  So that’s an EP that’s going to come out, and then the new album, which will be completely different in tone again, will follow that.  And it’s the album that has the arts funding.  The EP’s a little bit separate from that.  So we’re gonna go hot, then we’re probably gonna go cold again. *Laughs*

‘Venus In Furs’

How do you think Silver Sircus fits into Brisbane’s musical landscape/history?

I don’t think that it does, and I don’t mind.

Well, we have a pretty diverse music scene at the moment.  Are there any particular artists you feel are on the same wavelength?

No.  No, I find it hard to think like that.  I don’t really know what people think about the band.  I know that if we play and if we promote a show properly a decent sized audience turns up.  We did our album launch at The Old Museum, we sold it out.  That was nice.  I just don’t think like that.  For somebody that spends their daytime hours working in publicity and production, I just can’t think like that with the band.  It’s sort of my sanctuary away from all that.  The band was conceived purely as a vehicle for Lucinda and I to, firstly, publish ourselves as composers and songwriters, and secondly for us to further ourselves as artists and makers of music.  They are the only two requirements I have of Silver Sircus.  The intention from even before we played, to today and into the future, is that.  If we recruit audience along the way, and people come and see us and people enjoy us, people buy our record, all of those things are bonuses.  That’s how I regard it.  That’s kind of the key to it as well.

Do you have any musical recommendations?

Do I have any musical recommendations?  At the moment?  Well I think that in the absence of a Silver Sircus record *laughs* coming out any time soon I think that people should listen to the ‘Breathe’ EP…

Shameless plug! *laughter*

…where they’ll hear Lucinda doing a great vocal on the band’s namesake track, and on ‘Breathe’, which I play on too.  Recommended listening?  Do you mean in Brisbane?

What’s turning you on at the moment?

Okay, well I’m really enjoying the most recent NickCave album, Push The Sky Away.  It’s just stunning.  The title track is unbelievably, horribly good.  I’m enjoying the new album by Low.  It’s a really beautiful record, I love that band.  I’m also still listening to the new My Bloody Valentine album, and why wouldn’t you?  And I’m also listening to The Seer by Swans.  But when you come to make a record I often struggle with listening to other music, and I feel like I definitely don’t want to listen to music that I feel might be an influence, or music that I feel I might get really obsessive about or really passionate about, or really love.  So, yeah, I’ve been listening to the new NickCave record, but not for the last month.  I’ve deliberately put it aside.  The beautiful deluxe book is sitting on top of my piano, but I’m not listening to it, because I don’t want to accidentally get too close, or copy something.  These are all the artists that we look up to, like, what are they doing now?  So I’m actually listening to less music at the moment, and that’s deliberate, to try and clear musical bandwidth in my head.

Do you look at music as a business, a love, or something you’re compelled to do?

Something I’m compelled to do.  And the reason that I say that is because about ten years ago I stopped playing music, because I found myself in a situation where I’d put about a decade into several bands, all of which in their own ways had been quite successful.  I found myself not in that situation anymore, and I was a bit confused as to why that was.  And having turned thirty, one voice in my head was sort of saying ‘this is something that you did in your twenties, like a lot of other people, and now you have a career, and now you have a house, and now you have this, and now you have that’ and all these other awfully grownup things.  So I ended up having a break and doing a whole lot of other things.  It took four or five years, and it was sort of the birth of Silver Sircus that made me realise how unhappy I would be if I didn’t continue to be a musician.  I think a mixture of only having expectations for producing work that is to a very high standard and having very low expectations about how much money I might make, and also of being extremely persistent and never giving up, might be a good recipe for having a sustainable career as a musician for the rest of my life.  I think I worked out in my mid thirties that if I didn’t have music in my life in some way, that I would be deeply unhappy, and I would not be able to make sense of the world if I didn’t have that.  So I blame my father.  Again. *Laughs*

So James, tell us about your mother…

Ooooh!  Never again! *Laughs*

In an ideal world, how would Silver Sircus run?  Or is this the ideal world now?  Live work verses recording, digital verses physical distribution…

There’s no ideal world.  There’s no ideal.  There’s just how it is.  There’s just ‘this is what we’re doing today, this is what we’re doing now’.  That’s all there is.  Ideal to me is a ten year old idea, and there is no ‘ideal’.

I know you and Lucinda are supporters of gay and lesbian rights.  Has the recent public focus on the ‘gay marriage’ debate had an influence on any of yours or Lucinda’s new material?

Interesting question.  I will say that we have both been involved in the gay & lesbian community in various ways for quite a long time.  When we were in ISIS we stood for a lot of social and political values very strongly, and this was a big part of the audience that the band attracted as well.  We wrote music about those themes back in those days.  It was really nice back in December 2012, when the very last ISIS performance happened, but for the grace of God *laughs* for The Zoo’s 20th birthday, where we performed our song ‘Messiah’, which has got a very, very, very strong gay and lesbian and human rights message.  So it was really nice to perform that song again, 17 years after we made it, to find that it was as relevant as ever.  That’s not a song that will find it’s way into a Silver Sircus set, but to do that again with ISIS at the end of last year was kind of sobering, but full of joy and really fun as well.  It felt kind of really invigorating to go back into that really strong voice.

‘Pleasing You’ by ISIS

There was a lot of emotion at that show.  I saw Rosie cry on stage.

Did she?  Oh, she had her back to me, I didn’t see!

Yeah, there was a lot of emotion in that show, and you also looked like you were having a lot of fun.

Yeah, well I guess there was, there’s always been a lot of emotion attached to ISIS.  I guess that’s why people, you know, from a certain era love the band so much, including us.  I don’t know what else to say about that… *Laughs*

So is it informing any of your newer stuff, or is it something that’s now kind of an ISIS thing and Silver Sircus isn’t visiting that?

It’s an interesting question because you know, obviously Lucinda has written a lot of political works.  But really the Silver Sircus stuff, the universe that we inhabit is a lot more internal and introspective.  Although having said that I think now would be a really good time to write lots of political songs.  If ISIS were making a record now there would be so much to write about, but I don’t think we’re really doing that.  But we might!  I don’t know…  I’d say we’re about 20% into this record, so who knows? *Laughs*

I only have one last question for you, James: Can you see Silver Sircus growing old disgracefully with you?

Hmm…no.  I don’t think, or see like that.  I think in the past I’ve felt pressure to invest in the longevity of things, especially when you’re in your twenties, bands are so much fun.  You never want it to end, but they do end.  Look at the statistics!

You don’t need to tell me that

Yeah!  So all that’s here is today.  All that’s here is what’s in front of us right now.  We made ‘To The Place That Is Home’ and it was a massive full stop on a body of work, on a way of working, on an era in the band’s life, and I didn’t know what was next.  And I think one thing I’ve learned is to not be stressed or to put pressure on myself about not knowing what’s going to be next – in all aspects of my life.  Particularly with music and with that band, and obviously I hold the band very close to my heart, but at the same time I know it’s not something I’m going to do forever.  And it is quite, sort of, agonising hard work *laughs* in a lot of ways.  Silver Sircus is not a party band.

Well, I won’t invite you to play at my birthday this year then.

Well, if you want lots of songs about death and grief and loss…

That sounds right up my alley.

Great! *laughs*  So I…you want wonderful things to go forever.  But they just don’t.  They just don’t.  And that’s fine, that’s okay.  So instead of worrying about something lasting, or never ending, I think it’s a lot better to worry about what you’re doing right now.  And what we’re doing right now is making a new record, with this great financial assistance, and putting all these new energies in, and new ways of working, and new inspirations into it, and it’s just starting to grow legs, and it’s just starting to work out who it wants to be, and just getting past that toddler stage, which is very satisfying.  But it might be the last thing we ever do.  Or it might not.  I don’t know.  Either way’s good for me. *laughs*

 Silver Sircus_Live

Silver Sircus will be emerging from hibernation this Saturday, 25th May to support Underground Lovers at The Zoo.

By: Clint Morrow

 

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