In 1973, Bob Dorough sang the timeless line, ‘Three is a magic number/Yes it is‘. That seems equally valid in music. Take pivotal acts such as Nirvana, Rush, hell even The Bee Gees. There’s something powerful and deceptively modest – arguably more sustainable – about a close-knit trio of musical creatives.
I first discovered US trio Circus Trees when I reviewed their excellent debut full-length Delusions in mid-July. It floored me so hard that the band’s name was subsequently shoehorned into every possible conversation. Family, friends, colleagues, people in socially distanced shopping queues – nobody was safe. But more on the album later; you’re here to digest a WFA article on Circus Trees… a Weekly Featured Artist, or – as an appropriate alternative in this case – a Weighty Fucking Article.
Sitting down to chat with the McCarthy sisters, who make up the indie post-rock/grunge outfit, I couldn’t help but wonder – having already come to hold their music in such high regard, what could I expect from a discussion with the hearts, minds, and souls behind it?
I’ll begin with the revelation my review kept for a closing plot twist – Circus Trees‘ three members have an average age of 16. It lends serious weight to the impressiveness of their achievements, but the McCarthy siblings are eager for the band’s young, entirely female lineup not to be anyone’s singular focus, rather a consideration. A feature of their identity, but far from the defining one.
The sisters affectionately refer to themselves as Fin, Giuls, and Egg. Nestled in the Massachusetts suburbs, they are aided by manager and Five By Two label owner, Robert McCarthy – better known as ‘Dad’. Surrounded constantly by those closest to them, the question of whether all that input is genuinely helpful is answered immediately between the three of them; ‘Definitely, 300,000 percent yes… I think we have every single resource we really need… We always have someone to do something.‘
Everyone chips in, which is a huge part of the appeal of Circus Trees. Combine it with their atypical nature in an arena of music generally dominated by older males, and you have the makings of a story as special as the music itself. Hearing of their inception is as heartwarming as any other avenue of discussion they embark upon. Not only that, but the origin story of this badass trio is humble and down to earth, harking back to that foundational link between family bonds and a love of music.
Fin began writing her first songs at the age of eight, but fast forward some years and we find that Circus Trees truly began existence from the ashes of an attempted five-piece project with their two brothers. The sisters sought to continue making music and have a damn good time doing it. The problem was: ‘We went out, reached out to tons of people, we practised with tons of people, played shows with tons of people, and nothing felt right… We had people quit right before shows that we had to play.‘
But after a season of stress and frustration, they opted to stick with just the three of them. The reason, according to Fin is, ‘We don’t feel a connection with anyone else the way we do‘. And what of the band name? Taken from ‘actual trees that you twist and bend, and make into super cool shapes‘, the moniker Circus Trees honours a shared love of nature, while also hinting (in my opinion) at the idea their music evokes – that the discomfort of change can lead to beautiful results.
Name decided, the trio set to work carving the sound they wanted , which they accomplished rather effortlessly, according to Giuls. ‘It wasn’t like we were writing towards a genre, we were just writing what we felt, and as soon as we got together to orchestrate and actually put the song together, the way that it came out every single time was kind of like what we’re pushing now.‘
In 2019, they released Sakura, a brooding debut EP that showcased great promise and talent, but by their own admission lacked any sort of cohesion between the tracks. After a positive reception, Fin almost instantly began writing more material. They each continued to devote time and effort to developing further, with Egg growing in confidence after her transition to bass duties. Championed by her sisters, she shared that she is, ‘definitely, slowly getting better‘. As a listener, I’d argue that the band’s youngest member underestimates just how well she’s doing, judging by the performance she puts in on the album – though I could confidently state the same for all three of them.
Increasing shows meant ensuring their crushing studio sound was replicated on stage. They garnered praise from fan and peer alike during their appearances at renowned events such as Post Fest, alongside billings with post-rock giants like Caspian. Giuls elaborates, ‘Getting up there and playing drums in the post-rock community has honestly, and surprisingly, been so accepting… I run into so many guys like that, who are just like, ‘You guys killed it, doesn’t even matter who you are or what you look like‘.‘
Now, I promised a revisit to Delusions. A stunning record, and album of the year contender for me, I’ll forego too comprehensive a dissection (see the review for that), but listen and you’ll experience an intimate, passionately crafted slab of bittersweet melancholy that the band herald as easily one of their proudest moments to date.
Over the course of its six tracks, the ensemble tap into multiple musical veins. You could pigeonhole them, but it would criminally undersell the breadth of influence and attention to detail that goes into the songwriting. Fin was forthcoming about how she shut herself away for months to write a roster of new tracks, before presenting Giuls and Egg with acoustic versions. After two weeks of ‘fighting over practice space‘, how did the first run-through as a full band go? ‘It was awful,‘ begins Fin. ‘We hadn’t played the songs together – ever – and we started playing the first song, and I honestly couldn’t tell what song it was… Everyone was so confused.‘
Fortunately, the chaos was short-lived. Practicing for nearly two hours every day, the trials and sheer effort put into refining their songs paid off. There is a sincere, emotional tone to the album, and when you home in on each instrument, along with Fin’s mature and poignant vocal delivery, you have to admire the quality and conviction of the execution.
Even the simplistic video for lead single “Wasted Air” was a labour of love. With lockdown limiting creative possibilities, they pursued a creative concept involving trippy visuals on a projector, and around 40 separate takes of Fin performing the song, unaccompanied, in various poses. While the result is definitely worthwhile, Egg smiles, ‘I was definitely happy I didn’t have to go through playing it 50 times.‘
Each track teems with thick guitar, expansive bass, and cacophonous drums. All are overlaid with lyrical themes that Fin wanted to be about ‘…situations that have happened and what we’ve had to deal with‘. Additionally, they’re broken up with interludes constructed by Fin and Aaron Garcia (of PLBK) – a long-time friend and collaborator who is essentially family:
‘We knew we wanted something a little different, something to connect the songs together more… [Aaron] had this tape… It’s this Boston medium… She’s just going off, talking to this lady about her [late] husband, and it’s like two hours… and he would record bits and pieces.‘
Part-dialogue, part-synth, these harrowing interludes chunk the distortion nicely, as midtempo tracks that speak of confusion and pain ensnare you. The instrumentation may be powerfully driven, but the band place heavy emphasis on you responding to it as you see fit. It’s a cathartic outing that emotionally bludgeons, while at the same time oddly comforting the listener.
Demonstrating such maturity and vulnerability can be taxing so, understandably, the band are proud of the response Delusions has had since release. ‘People have been super supportive of it,‘ explains Fin, with the band ‘getting some good traction… and tons of messages‘. At the time of writing, it’s been around six weeks since the record dropped, but the incoming adoration and praise show no sign of slowing.
Looking ahead, the trio feel as though the sky is very much the limit, even though lockdown sizably affected plans:
‘Definitely recording… We wanted to play it safe, so that pushed us off a couple of months… It ended up happening though, so we’re thankful for that… We were supposed to be playing a show with Caspian at a pretty big venue here in Boston… It was super sad to have to be like, ‘Wow, we can’t play the biggest show of our lives‘ .‘
Not to be dissuaded, Fin, Egg, and Giuls pressed on and kept busy. As with any band – particularly those formed at a young age – the dream is always for the project to flourish for as long as possible, and Circus Trees is no different. But unlike countless youthful ventures that peter out, Circus Trees have every right to be optimistic.
Seeing where they’ve come from, it’s hard to fathom where the band could be two years from now, given their explosive growth in sound and character. Furthermore, exposure is on the rise, with artist spotlights and airplay galore. Here at Everything Is Noise alone, we’ve reviewed them, featured Delusions in our Weekly Recs upon its release, and even counted the album among our curated highlights for the Noise Of August feature.
They must be doing something right, and Fin explains that they’re keen to maintain that upward trajectory for as long as possible. ‘If there’s no COVID next year or we’re playing again, I would like to see us on tour… Not even necessarily with bigger bands, just on a tour – a tour has always been a dream of ours.‘
And if you’re curious about new material, Fin confirms, ‘The process has started again… I mean, as soon as something gets released, it’s on to the next thing.‘
Given the relaxed and free-flowing nature of our conversation, I felt compelled to pose the McCarthy sisters a final conundrum that, while tangential, was nonetheless an interesting way to draw our time together to a close: a one-off gig lineup – three acts, one choice each, and no fighting over the headline spot. The resulting discussion only served to cement in my mind what a rare gem Circus Trees is. Egg, Giuls, and Fin each considered their picks, deliberating not only their personal choice, but what would complement each other’s selection so as to produce the best fictional show possible. It was over five minutes of frantic compromise and collaboration, but ablaze with life.
That’s my point; even tackling an imaginary and ultimately irrelevant scenario, there’s an endearing camaraderie that runs deep alongside the infectious energy these siblings give off. As Fin so aptly puts it. ‘Communication is just so strong between us. We’re family – we’ve grown up together, we know what we like… I feel like we’re more confident with what we want to say, and what we want to do.‘
It’s an ‘unspoken bond‘, in Giuls’ own words, that’s impossible to ignore, and a subtle flavour of why this rapidly evolving trio of musical and familial strength are assured a future that’s even brighter than their present – which is practically blinding in itself.
Circus Trees is:
Finola – guitar & vocals
Giuliana – drums
Edmee – bass
You can stay up to date with Circus Trees by following their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Their Bandcamp should also be your next port of call if you haven’t already picked up a copy of Delusions.
Oh, and the gig lineup they proposed? boygenius, Now, Now (playing the album Threads), and Foxing (playing Nearer My God). Where do I buy a ticket?