Band of the Day

2014.01.12

Anthony Green

Circa Survive's lead singer steps away from his punk roots on an album of sprawling, lavishly textured pop
We made our bed from manufactured parts and Swedish guarantees, just as a conversation piece.
lyrics from Conversation Piece

In creating his latest album, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Anthony Green ventured further away from his punk/hardcore roots and pushed deeper into the lush, intricate, melody-driven brand of alt-rock he’d begun to master on his first two solo offerings. The inaugural release from the Circa Survive frontman’s newly launched imprint Moshtradamus Records—and Green’s first solo album recorded in a studio instead of D.I.Y.-style at home—Young Legs is a masterful collection of sprawling, lavishly textured pop. But while the album is Green’s most ambitious effort so far in a 16-year music career, Young Legs also bears a warm intimacy that proves both his strength and ingenuity as a songwriter.

Made at Studio 4 Recording in his home state of Pennsylvania, Young Legs finds Green teaming up with Will Yip, a producer/engineer who’s previously worked with Circa Survive (as well as artists as diverse as The Fray, Lauryn Hill, Arctic Monkeys, and Beanie Sigel). “I wanted this album to sound bigger and more atmospheric than anything I’d ever done, and I knew that working with Will could make that happen,” says Green. For more help in broadening his sound, Green once again joined forces with Good Old War, the Pennsylvania-based indie-folk trio who served as his backing band on 2008’s Avalon and 2012’s Beautiful Things. And to take full advantage of his uncommon chemistry with his longtime collaborators, Green waited until hitting the studio to finish writing the songs he’d sketched out for Young Legs. “Every time I’ve recorded with Good Old War there have been so many amazing things born from everyone getting together and jamming, instead of me just sitting in a room and writing alone,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that we had as many of those moments as possible, and that we were able to catch them in the recording of the album.”

The lead single from Young Legs, the pained yet powerful “Breaker” explores a much darker dimension of friendship. With its heady mix of gorgeously swirling guitar, furious drumming, and passionate piano riffs, the album-opening track features Green’s singularly sweet vocals capturing the heartache of what he calls “the experience of growing up with people and then growing apart from them.” That intensity fuels much of Young Legs, such as “You Have to Believe It Will Happen” (an epic, soul-stirring number that Green penned for a friend struggling through divorce) and the quietly devastating “I’ll Miss You” (a string-accented tribute to a departed friend). But a brighter, breezier mood prevails on many of Young Legs’ other tracks, including the dreamy acoustic reverie of “Stolen,” the gently cascading and harmony-soaked “Shine,” and “Anytime” (a blissfully bouncy ode to Green’s younger son).

“Most of the songs on the album were written for other people, or inspired by things that were going on in the lives of my friends and family,” explains Green. Describing the songs on Young Legs as “little presents to people I love,” Green adds that trying on different perspectives ended up helping him to become bolder and more honest in his own writing. “I found that the more I tried to write from someone else’s point of view, the more my own feelings about difficult things like loss and divorce were coming through,” he says. “It’s like focusing on someone else took the pressure off and made room for me to get more personal than I’d ever been in my songs.” Writing for others also helped him gain a sense of peaceful clarity that’s palpable throughout Young Legs, ultimately giving the album a transformative power. “There’s definitely a lot of darkness on the record, but I think there’s also a feeling of getting through a tough time and finding some kind of understanding and acceptance,” notes Green.

In crafting the sonics of Young Legs, Green looked to a wildly eclectic range of influences that includes the Beatles, Peter Gabriel, Queens of the Stone Age, Fleet Foxes, Justin Timberlake’s latest work, and—most significantly—Fiona Apple and Frank Sinatra. “Their music is just so clear and cutting and really captures a feeling,” Green says of Apple and Sinatra. “Listening to their records inspired me to strip away the big drum sound and distorted guitars I usually go for, and make it so everything really revolves around the lyrics and melodies.” At the same time, the improvisation-friendly atmosphere in the studio—hinging on his collaboration with Good Old War’s Dan Schwartz, Keith Goodwin, and Tim Arnold—played a major role in helping Green to create more elaborate arrangements on Young Legs. “There’s so much magic that happens when you give the music all the space it needs to grow,” he says. “You allow the song to sort of guide itself, and then you just follow it.”

Although most of the songs on Young Legs weren’t fully realized until Green took the studio, the 31-year-old father of two is quick to point out that his songwriting process has gotten a great boost over the past few years. “Before my kids were born, when I had all the time in the world, I didn’t push myself to write if I wasn’t feeling it,” he says. “Now it’s like, ‘Well, you may not feel like writing, but your boys are gonna be up in three hours—so if you want to get it done, get it done now.’ Somehow having less time to myself actually leaves me feeling more inspired than ever.” Green’s children are also more directly helping with the album’s creation by contributing flourishes to the handpainted cover art he’s producing for a limited-edition run of Young Legs. “You won’t get anything less pretentious or less contrived than what comes out of the mind of a three-year-old,” says Green.

For Green, a certain youthful spirit infuses both the launching of Moshtradamus Records (an endeavor he dreamed up as a “homebase for music and art and literature from people who inspire me, like the community I had with my band and all my friends’ bands in high school”) and the songs that make up the imprint’s premiere release. “When I was a kid and first started making music, I would just go for it. But then as music became something I did for a living, my perception of it changed,” Green says. “Now it’s all come full circle, where I’ve learned so much and I’m finally able to dial the clock back to just musing on ideas, letting everything flow, letting the songs write themselves.” So while the title of Young Legs references Green’s children, it’s also a nod to the songwriter himself. “Writing from other people’s perspectives made me realize that I’m still getting to know myself as a songwriter,” he says. “Young legs aren’t defined yet—they’re still growing and becoming and finding their footing. I really like the sense of limitlessness and potential in that.”