I'm Dan Ahn, Brooklyn transplant by way of Seattle, WA. Former music editor for The Northwestern Gazette.
All opinions reflected on this blog are my own.
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DECEMBER 20, 2004
SHAPESHIFTERS: Sitting Down with Square Circle, Indie Rock's Next Big Thing (You heard it here first!)
It’s a rather unprecedented experience for this reporter to get to sit down with his favorite up-and-coming artists to talk about their work, but today I have the honor to bring you an interview with Square Circle, whose Origins E.P. I reviewed extremely favorably last month. Thanks to the power of the good old interwebs (and their extremely kind manager Evan Dhatri), my review landed in their hands, and they were so enthusiastic about my enthusiasm that they agreed to meet me at Williamsburg mainstay Black Betty for some afternoon cocktails.
I’ve seen Square Circle play on multiple occasions, and have been consistently blown away by their camera-readyness. As an onstage ensemble, they offset one another’s personas perfectly as they veer from scuzzy punk rock to euphoric harmonies. From the audience, they feel both untouchable and raw at the same time. I wondered, as I ventured down Metropolitan Avenue, how vastly their personalities would depart from what they present onstage.
Turns out, not at all. They arrived in character – that is, they are their characters, and they’re worth describing individually. The band has two alternating lead singers and primary songwriters, Spencer Savard and Nick Crandall, who are the band’s yin and yang. Savard (who ordered a dirty Stoli martini, straight up) has the smirking swagger of the highest order of rock god; he’s otherworldly, a venomous snake with a Calvin Klein face. Crandall (Jack Daniel’s on the rocks) is equally appallingly good-looking, but in the opposite way: he arrives in a fog, eyes intensely focused and lost at the same time, and when he laughs it feels almost inappropriate, like he’s breaking a vow of silence. Then there’s bassist Jacob Overman (whiskey sour), who is so welcoming and loquacious for an aspiring rock star that it becomes subversive – he doesn’t give a shit that he’s not supposed to act this way. Finally, there’s wildly gifted drummer Bill Bright (Old Fashioned), the quiet one, whose vibe is gently watchful and plainly wise, the guardian of the band.
The following conversation happened over a few rounds this December, 2004.
DAN AHN: Is there anything you guys wanna say to get us started?
CRANDALL: Fuck George W. Bush.
SAVARD: Took the words right out of my mouth.
And fifthed. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s jump into it. I first saw you play at The Monkey’s Paw this summer [with Root Cure] and it was fucking electrifying. The whole crowd seemed to feel the same way. But later, I found myself talking to a friend about it, and I couldn’t quite explain what you were doing, or how you pulled it off. How would you describe it?
SAVARD: Fuck, man, that’s tough.
CRANDALL: I feel like you put it really well in your review [of debut E.P. Origins].
SAVARD: “Band Without a Sound” – we loved that.
OVERMAN: Yeah, you totally got it. You seemed to pick up pretty instinctively on things that we had to argue our way through for a while. Our creative process is kind of funny because we spend a lot of time talking about what we’re doing, which isn’t very rock’n’roll.
SAVARD: Jacob makes us talk about it.
OVERMAN: Bill too!
BRIGHT: It's true, I do too.
Do those conversations get heated?
SAVARD [thumbing toward Crandall]: Sometimes this one makes me want to wring his little neck.
I’m surprised, only because onstage you seem so confident about what you’re doing. On record, too. It makes it way harder to deny, as a listener, because as a band you all seem to totally know who you are.
CRANDALL: Jesus, man. Thanks.
I mean it! So you two [Savard and Crandall] do most of the songwriting, yes?
SAVARD: Yeah, we do. We both have been writing songs forever so a lot of the time they’re shit we’ve been working on individually, or that we wrote, like, years and years ago, but left incomplete – we still have tons of them, we’ve already worked on a few since we recorded the E.P. – and we’ll take it to each other and be like, “Help me make this shit good.” And we notice each other’s bad habits. I keep this guy from writing everything in drop D.
CRANDALL: I fix all this motherfucker’s bridges.
It sounds like it always goes pretty well.
[Laughter from Overman and Bright]
BRIGHT: Do not believe these assholes. They're making it sound like a breeze.
OVERMAN: They fight like they’re, like, middleschoolers trying to ride shotgun.
BRIGHT: High school sophomores fighting for who gets greens.
SAVARD: Sophomores! So specific!
CRANDALL: We do fight. But it’s because...
OVERMAN: He was gonna say “because we care” but he’s embarrassed to. But we do.
SAVARD: Jacob does. The rest of us don't give a fuck.
OVERMAN: You are such a shit.
So okay, a slight change of topic. Are you guys willing to talk about Case Study?
SAVARD: What’s there to say, man?
Well, I thought – if it’s cool with you guys – I thought I’d give you a quote from [Matt Weiss’] review of your EP. Is that – do I have your permission?
SAVARD: Bring it on.
Okay. So the last lines of the Case Study review read as follows: “What this record makes painfully clear is that the rising generation - a generation less than a decade younger than myself, I should note - has developed such incredible A.D.D. that they are no longer able to pledge their allegiances to anything. Instead we get E.P.s like this one, by liberal arts fuck-ups who imitate and appropriate everything in sight, who lack vision so profoundly that they can't even keep their schtick consistent. Knockoff "bands" like Square Circle show us how rock'n'roll will die: not with a bang or a whimper, but with an imitation of a whimper. ”
How do you respond to that?
CRANDALL: I mean, doesn’t he say it himself? He’s a dinosaur.
BRIGHT: Twenty-eight and already out of touch.
SAVARD: So sad!
Everyone seems to be looking at you, Jacob.
[Pausing to think]
OVERMAN: I mean, I remember when I first read that, thinking to myself – well, I mean, my very first thought was, like, “This is the worst thing an artist ever could read about their work.” [Laughs] But it also wasn’t super long before I was just like, “Well, he missed the point.” And I think part of that might actually have to do with age. Y’know, we really do represent a generational perspective – we’re not talking about it all the time but it’s pretty intentional, or like, self-aware – and I think what [Weiss] missed is that the shape-shifting, the genre-hopping... It’s not a gimmick because we’re really not kidding. Like, we know we’re doing it, and part of it is obviously funny, but that doesn’t automatically make it disingenuous.
SAVARD: It’s not forced at all. Up until a couple months ago we thought it was a huge problem, honestly. And finally we were just like, “Whatever.”
BRIGHT: “This is us.”
OVERMAN: And maybe that is an age thing. Like, I was fourteen when OK Computer came out. And I was seventeen when Kid A came out. And that wasn’t that long ago, but already that experience of hearing – y’know, fucking Radiohead, who were my be-all-end-all –
CRANDALL: Everyone’s be-all-end-all...
OVERMAN: Exactly, the world’s favorite rock band, and they’d been gone for these really formative years of my adolescence, and then came back and were basically a different band...
BRIGHT: And it wasn’t a problem. There’s maybe a little bit of a middle finger in there, but it’s mostly a middle finger that’s like, “If you object to this, that’s your damn problem, because we’re totally comfortable with this new identity for ourselves.”
SAVARD: It’s so “like it or leave it.” And of course everyone loved it.
Are there other bands that have had that kind of trajectory, you think?
ALL: The Beatles.
CRANDALL: We talk a lot about the Beatles.
Stones vs. Beatles, you guys are solid Team Beatles?
CRANDALL: We’re team everyone.
SAVARD: We’re team everyone and no one.
CRANDALL, OVERMAN, BRIGHT: Douchebag!
SAVARD: I knew you were gonna say that!
I kind of feel like I'm in a bunch of places at the same time.
Suddenly she feels trapped.