Watch Circles Around the Sun’s ‘One for Chuck’ Video: Exclusive Premiere
Three years ago, guitarist Neal Casal and keyboardist Adam MacDougall took a brief break from their work with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood to form the instrumental rock band Circles Around the Sun with drummer Mark Levy and bassist Dan Horne.
The life of the band was initially focused on one goal: to create and record Grateful Dead-influenced instrumentals that would play during the set breaks at the Dead's Fare Thee Well shows.
Those interludes became so iconic to the Fare Thee Well sets that Circles Around the Sun put the tracks together for their debut studio LP, Interludes for the Dead. "That really wasn't intended to be a record," Casal tells UCR. "The first time out, we weren't really sure what this band was. I just called some good friends of mine to see if they'd help me out making this music for a very specific purpose."
Casal admits that he lucked out with the band he assembled, and it's because of those musicians that Circles Around the Sun became more than just a project for a handful of Dead shows. Now they're preparing for the release of their second studio LP, Let It Wander, which comes out on Aug. 17.
Though there are distinct similarities between Let It Wander and Interludes — the music remains purely instrumental and speaks the language of Casal and MacDougall -- Circles Around the Sun have become tighter as a band. "We recorded that first batch of music [included on Interludes] in two days, it was entirely live in the studio," Casal says. "This time around, we spent more time on the sounds and the mixing and the direction. It's a little bit more thought out this time, but I think the sound of the band is still very similar."
If there's one track that stands out among the rest on Let It Wander, it's "One for Chuck" -- a nod to Public Enemy's Chuck D. We have the exclusive premiere of the song's new video, which you can watch below.
Produced by Steven Mertens, the video is a perfect complement to the musical experience of "One for Chuck." Though Casal is usually a very hands-on guy when it comes to anything related to the music he creates, for this particular video he took a step back and let Mertens work his magic.
"He heard the tune and came up with the idea for it. He explained it to me and I trusted him so much that I just let him run with it," Casal explains. "That's not like me ... but sometimes you just need to step to the side. If you have the right people together, let them do their thing and they will take you where you need to go. That was absolutely the case with this video."
Speaking of the right people, "One for Chuck" doesn't only serve as a nod to Chuck D, but it actually features his vocals on the intro to the song and video.
"Chuck lives in the same town where the studio is located," Casal says, "and I've heard about him working there but I've always missed him. I mean, I would never barge in on his sessions, but I'd come in to the studio and hear that he was there last night. One night when we were recording, I was outside taking a break and a black car pulled up and out stepped Chuck D. He came in and he heard our music we were making and he was really complimentary."
Casal recalls Chuck D telling him and his bandmates, "You are real musicians. You can't be replaced." When he left the studio, Casal and company came up with the idea to get Chuck to do an intro to one of their songs. "We asked our producer and engineer if Chuck would be willing to do that. He asked, and Chuck very graciously came in and did it for us. It was a really nice thing to happen."
Still, there was actually a chance that Chuck D's contribution might not make it onto the album. "There was a moment where we felt kind of strange about it, wondering if it would fit because it's the only vocal on the record," Casal remembers. "We were worried if it would make sense for people, so we were considering only using it on the vinyl or something like that. Thankfully, though, one morning I woke up and just thought, 'Why would we not include this in every part of the campaign?' In other words, 'Who fucking cares?! It's Chuck D!' We decided to go with it, and of course it was the best thing we could do."
As for the future of Circles Around the Sun, Casal and his fellow musicians are excited to see how the project continues to grow. "It's something we all enjoy, and other people seem to enjoy it," he says. "It's such a nice, unexpected thing to happen in all of our lives. There's no reason not to continue it."
No matter how it evolves over time, Circles Around the Sun will forever be connected to the legacy of the Grateful Dead, and Casal is okay to be hitched to that ride.
"I saw many Grateful Dead shows and caught them in their later years, in the late '80s and early '90s," Casal reminisces. "One of the strongest memories of seeing the Dead was in '94 — this is pretty late in the game for them. It was at Nassau Coliseum and it was going along as a typical Dead show. Nothing was standing out as that remarkable — it was just a show, it was cool, everyone was having a great time. But then they broke into this song that I didn't recognize, and it was very, very slow and kind of mournful. It was as if time stood still in that moment."
Casal remembers the entire arena quieting down as thousands of people turned their full attention to the music and nothing else. "This incredibly profound musical moment started to unfold in front of us, and it was just this performance of a song that was so heavy and mind-blowing that it united the entire arena," he says. "Everybody felt it in that moment. I didn't recognize the song, so I turned to someone next to me and they told me it was 'Days Between.' I never forgot it. It absolutely floored me and it still does every time I hear it. When you really focus on every word and the melody and those chord changes ... it's just a stunningly beautiful song."