"There's been a pretty wide range of experience that we've pulled together," Frangicetto says, sitting on a couch in the Creek House, a single-story structure that the band rents on a leafy back road in New Britain. After seeing the inner workings of both indies and majors, he says, "It was like, 'Well, maybe we don't have to be on a label anymore.' "
For the most part, releasing their own records used to be what bands did until they got signed, packing boxes and working the postage meter until they could persuade someone else to do it for them. But in an age of decentralization and digital distribution, bands from Radiohead on down are finding that doing it themselves can be an endpoint rather than a starting place.
Although a table in the Creek House's kitchen holds a stack of limited-edition LP sleeves and a sheaf of posters waiting for each of Circa Survive's members to sign them in turn, the band is not handling every detail of Violent Waves' release itself; that's what publicists and distributors are for. But the album came along when the band's members were ready to take their affairs fully in hand, which, for the first time, included acting as their own producers.
Although Circa Survive was still nominally a major-label band when it started writing songs for the album, the process was uncharacteristically self-contained. In the past, the band had relied on producers to referee disputes about what direction a song might take, but this time, the differences seemed to settle themselves. "As the band was growing, our ability to structure songs and come together on the final product progressed more and more," singer Anthony Green says. "It wasn't really until this album that we found our niche writing. It just became evident: This is something we could do ourselves."
With outside producers, Frangicetto says, "You realize that they're not thinking about what the record sounds like to your fans so much as what it sounds like to their next clients," which means the raw urgency of the band's live performances was usually covered in a thick coat of studio gloss. Green approvingly notes that on Violent Waves, his voice is treated like any other instrument, sometimes sitting on top of the sound mix, sometimes woven into it. On previous albums, he says, "The vocals are just so loud."
The songs on Violent Waves, especially the seven-minute songs that bookend the album, stretch out into unexplored territory, from the staccato rumble of "The Lottery," which marks out the common ground between U2 and Gang of Four, and the shoe-gaze swoon of "Suitcase."
Over the eight years of Circa Survive's existence, the band's members have moved into new territory, as well, but by paying careful attention to the way the band runs as well as the kind of music it makes, they have managed to thrive in substantially different circumstances.
When they lived together - as many as nine people in a previous house, including wives and girlfriends - the rent came out of the band's earnings, with each member drawing what Frangicetto calls "a modest salary." As much as their artistic endeavors, Frangicetto speaks proudly of the business acumen that has allowed band members to build a stable career in an ever-shifting environment. "We have always been really conservative with our finances," he says. "The kind of lifestyle that affords everybody is super stress-free and conducive to creative activities."
That has remained true even as the band members' lives have changed. Frangicetto and Green are both married, and Green has two children under age 3.
"When I started, I just wanted to have enough to have fun that night and put some food in my stomach," Green recalls. "Now that's not enough, even if I wanted it to be. I'm proud of what we do, and I think that it's worth something financially. I think it's worth something emotionally, too. I see a lot of emotional return from people, telling us they connect with the music, and it helps them just as much as it helps us. In that aspect, I think we're very successful. Turning that into something where we're able to focus on the creative part of it is more and more difficult."
Although it was written while the band was still signed to Atlantic, "Birth of the Economic Hit Men," the leadoff track on Violent Waves, prefigures the band's current concerns. "We become everything we criticize," Green screams in the song's chorus. "Nothing is sacred."
But as Frangicetto points out, the latter phrase cuts both ways: If nothing is sacred, then you're free to do what you want. Two decades ago, putting a song in a commercial was the height of selling out. Now, it's a way for bands to make back the money they've lost in album sales, and it doubles as a promotional tool in the absence of radio airplay. It's a new world, and the rules, if there are any, keep changing - or, as Green sings: "Maybe we have to forget everything we learned about where we came from to find out where we need to go."
"I feel like if there are any economic hit men," Green says, "it's us."