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redeyechicago.com

Q&A: Russian Circles

By Andy Downing

RedEye special contributor

10:13 AM CDT, March 9, 2014

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Instru-metal trio Russian Circles long has been a heavyweight presence in the local scene, releasing five albums, including last year's monstrous "Memorial," over the course of its decade together. Now that the band has both a burger and a beer to its name, though, it's safe to say the guys have really made it.
 
Just this month the crew landed a burger on the menu at hard-rock haven Kuma's Corner — a grilled patty topped with braised venison, fried beets and more — and DryHop Brewers released a Russian Imperial Stout named for Russian Circles’ 2006 song "Death Rides a Horse."
 
It's certainly not the group's first brush with fame, however. Band members Mike Sullivan and Dave Turncrantz actually graced the RedEye cover just last year. For an article about an outdoor hockey league.
 
"There was no mention of the band whatsoever," said guitarist and Logan Square resident Sullivan, 33, by phone. "It was just a picture of us two longhairs playing hockey outside and some [headline] like 'Hockey's back!'"
 
Are your Google Alerts going crazy with everything that's happening in Russia?
That’s funny. Everything that’s going on in Russia I found out through our Facebook page. There’s all this Russian spam all over the site, so it's like, "All right, here’s what's going on." I don’t think we’ll be going back to Russia anytime soon. That whole scene is dramatic and unfortunate. Hopefully it doesn’t get worse, but it’s not looking too good.
 
Have you played there often?
We played there on three different tours. We did St. Petersburg and Moscow last fall.
 
Do people there assume you're a local band?
[Laughs] You'd think so. I think we stick out like sore thumbs, though, just looking at us. Our name does give us a built-in audience there. We could be the worst band on Earth and still draw people. If you're a new band, name yourself and your albums after cities. It always helps to draw. That's my advice.
 
The name itself is actually taken from an ice hockey drill. Did you grow up playing?
Me and Dave [Turncrantz], the drummer, both grew up playing hockey and are big fans. I grew up in St. Louis and was a huge Blues fan, but I’ve been here long enough I've made the switch [to the Blackhawks]. Dave and I were in an outdoor hockey league here.
 
The music gets described fairly often as cinematic. Do you actually take any inspiration from film?
Yeah, we do, and more importantly soundtracks for films. A lot of our favorite instrumental records are from composers who create very minimal but effective movements throughout a movie, and we take cues from that in terms of learning to create an atmosphere. We're big fans of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and their work on "The Assassination of Jesse James [by the Coward Robert Ford]" and "The Road." And there's also Johann Johannsson, who’s a little more obscure, but he’s done a lot of cool minimalist compositions that are equally impressive.
 
Your songs are generally instrumental. Are you a fan of any other wordless pursuits? Silent film? Mimes? Can you speak sign language?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve never thought about that. Not that I can think of, though. As far as silent movies and that kind of thing, I’m no different than the average person. I don’t seek it out by any means.
 
I love the cover shot of the Grand Tetons on the cover of "Memorial." What’s the most impressive mountain range you’ve seen in person?
The Alps in Europe are my favorite to drive through. You can’t stop looking out the window because every turn is another beautiful view. We’re driving through some mountains today, actually, heading up toward Seattle. But there’s something about the Alps. The architecture is cool, and you see a lot of castles and ruins, and the roads cut right through the mountains.
 
I know you’re a bit of a beer geek. Do you have a go-to Chicago brewery?
Man, I’m really liking Revolution. I live down the street from it [in Logan Square], and their IPA is great. There’s actually a brewery making a Russian Circles stout that’s coming out soon. Kuma’s Corner is doing a [Russian Circles] burger of the month, and it’s getting released in conjunction with that. We were going to help in the actual brewing process, but it didn’t work out with our touring. I will definitely be at Kuma’s that afternoon after the Chicago show having a beer and a burger, just 'cause I'm an ass like that [laughs].

Russian Circles, 8 p.m. March 16 at Metro. $18.

Mike Sullivan personality test
What's the last album you bought? “I just picked up a record by the Groundhogs the other day. It’s called ‘Scratching the Surface.’”
Song you've listened to on repeat recently? “Crossbreaker” by Power Trip “That’s gotten a lot of love on a daily basis.”
Song you never want to hear again? “You know what? It’s a tough one because so many are popping into my head. To be honest, I stay away from all the crap I don’t like. God bless the modern age. You can just tune it out.”
Best concert you've seen in the last year? “Probably Swans at the Metro. That was a great show.”
New band you don't know personally that deserves to be big? Chicago's Anatomy of a Habit “I love that band, and I’m continually wishing them the best of luck and trying to help out in any way possible.”
Favorite movie ever? “Bottle Rocket” “I’ve watched it a million times.”
Chicago's best music venue? “There are so many good venues. The Empty Bottle is fun to go to, but I’ve seen so many good shows at Metro that it’s hard not to mention them, too.”