Circa Survive released their fourth full-length studio album last year, and the guys have been busy on several different national and international tours ever since. We got the chance to sit down with Anthony Green during their last Orlando stop in September. It wasn’t long before they came back to Central Florida with Minus The Bear, on another tour that stopped through Tampa’s Ritz Ybor. This time we got to talk to Brendan Ekstrom, one of the low key guitar aficionados that provide Circa Survive with their signature sound.
When did you first start playing guitar?
I was in high school. I think I was 16 or 17 when I got my first guitar, and I learned a couple Nirvana riffs. High school was a really weird time for me, so I didn’t really dedicate myself to it at the time, but I was definitely interested. Then I think around 20 years old, maybe 21, I started to really kind of jam with some friends and do some more. Everything was like, punk rock, though. So I never had that sweet background where I went and learned all the Metallica records and knew how to shred or anything, I was just always sort of like, half-assing it. I wanted to do it, but was never great at it.
Just kind of played around?
Yeah, just kind of noodling, trying to make fun shapes with my fingers and stuff like that.
Cool, that’s probably how you came up with such a signature sound.
What do you remember about your first guitar?
It’s called a Martin Stinger, and I don’t think it’s actually affiliated with Martin guitars at all, but it’s this red guitar that had a Grateful Dead “Paint Your Face” sticker on it that looked like it was just melting off the side of the guitar. It was a total piece of shit. I gave it to my nephew. My nephew was born — Not my nephew…my cousin’s son was born the same birthday as me, April 6th. So after I got a nicer guitar I gave him my guitar. He’s taking care of it somewhere.
What do you like about your guitars now?
Well, I started playing Melancon Guitars…I guess about 8 years ago, like right around when Circa Survive started, and they’re very lightweight and just feel really nice to me, I kind of got addicted to them. There’s a couple guitars…I never really did Fender or Gibson, never really did like, the sort of mainstream things. Which is weird ’cause, they obviously sound amazing, that’s why everybody uses them, but I don’t know. Girard has always been really good to me – that’s the guy that builds the guitars and helps me out. There’s a couple other kind of boutique guitars I plan on trying out soon but haven’t really done it yet.
I’ve always thought that your guitar – the main one – the natural wood one, looks really beautiful. I’m just a little bit envious.
The first one that I ever bought, it was like one-piece ash, all-natural looking, and a one-piece neck and fretboard, like it was all one-piece rosewood with no fret markers on it, and it was the most beautiful guitar I have ever seen in my life. It had like a built-in MIDI pickup and like, custom pickups and it was perfect condition, and I was just like “I can’t keep this. I beat the shit out of everything I own. This is too nice for me to own.” So I ended up trading it for some gear and another Melancon guitar, and now I’m like – I would fucking kill to have this guitar back. It was so gorgeous, I want it so bad.
Yeah, but if you love something you’ve got to let it free, I guess…right?
Unless it’s a really nice guitar.
Maybe it’ll come back to me.
Maybe, just maybe. So were there any musicians or influences that you think shaped your guitar playing early on?
Early on…like I said when I first started playing it was sort of the grunge era for me, I was 16 when, you know, all that shit was happening. And I learned by playing Silverchair’s first record, and The Toadies’ first record, and Clutch. Like, Clutch was really influential because the guitar player does a lot of sort of bluesy patterns, and like, sort of groove-oriented patterns around the drums, so I think that that really stuck with me a lot when I first started playing. But as far as just listening to stuff, like, Pink Floyd and Sunny Day Real Estate and Tool have always been probably like the most influential. And Led Zeppelin, stuff like that.
Is there any one piece of gear that you really love, that you feel shapes or defines your sound more than any other piece of gear?
I guess I really don’t know. I mean…
They’ve all got their purposes, huh?
It’s hard to say. I had this pedal for a long time that was in my chain, but to say that it shaped my sound would be like…insane, considering my amp and my guitar are probably the two biggest factors in what I really sound like. But I had this Durham Electronics Sex Drive pedal that… I’d put it in front of any amp and it would just sound like, sparkly and brighter and more alive in a way, and it died recently, and I bought a new one and it just doesn’t sound the same and I’m so bummed about it.
Maybe it was like a different version or something?
Yeah, it’s like a newer pedal in a smaller box, and of course they say it sounds the same, but I don’t think any two pedals are going to sound exactly the same, you know what I mean?
Yeah, I mean, down to individual wiring and stuff, I guess. You know?
Yeah. But recently like, I’ve been playing a Strymon Timeline pedal, which is a delay pedal, and it’s been one of the most integral things because it’s easy for me to program multiple delay settings into that without having a rack unit or anything. So that’s really helped my live show a lot, and it’s really diverse. You can do a lot with it. And also, I’ve just been into like, using a lot of weird fuzz along with this bass octave pedal, that just…like on “Birth Of The Economic Hitman” on the new record, there’s a breakdown at the end of that song where I use a Keeley fuzz pedal with a low octave and it just sounds like it’s going to rip your head off. I really love that sound.
Yeah, sounds pretty awesome. It seems like a lot of people really are inspired by how you guys use effects, and especially delays. Like, the delays you guys use create a lot of cool atmospheres and ambiences sometimes.
I mean, it’s mostly just noodling. People are always like “How’d you come up with that?” and I’m like “Well first of all, don’t know what you’re doing. Go plug something in and start turning the knobs, and you’ll get somewhere.
That’s another thing people, I think, are amazed at. Like, the way you and Colin, you don’t really have a set rhythm or lead guitarist. You guys just kinda – it almost like you’re just noodling but the noodling works and intertwines so well.
I think we realized after the first two records, we were like, “Yo, like, every once in a while I’m going to play rhythm so you’re going to hear how cool that lead is, or that you’re doing there.” So over the years we’ve tried to do that a little bit more and just let some of the melodies shine out, because we had so many counter-melodies on the first two records, and we didn’t want that to die all together, but at the same time wanted to let some of them stand out a little bit more.
Do you have any tips before we go for new guitarists that are starting out today that maybe are inspired by what you guys are doing in Circa Survive?
I mean, for musicians in general I just feel like it’s important to take chances, you know? If some guys are touring in a band and they need somebody to fill in on guitar, even if you don’t love that, if that’s an opportunity for you to get out there and meet some people, then you’ve gotta take chances, because this whole business is so luck-related, and I think it’s just about being good to people and taking chances and working. And I think Circa was all about that from the beginning, like, we wanted to get together with other people that we knew were going to work and take this seriously, and as much as, you know, we have fun and we’re silly, we know this is really all we have outside of family, and it supports our family, so, you know.
Right. You guys do amazing at it and I think you’ve got a real dedicated crowd, and we all love you guys, and keep doing your thing, man.
I appreciate it, man. Thanks a lot.
Great talking to you.