Battle Circus, an up and coming prog rock band hailing from New Zealand, has introduced the music scene to a new idea as to what a concept album should sound like. With grasping inspiration from academic papers on humans’ evolution in a post-apocalyptic world, this classically trained band offers up an eclectic sound in their four part album The Halflight Symphony. In a two-fold exciting development for Battle Circus, one of their pieces was chosen for the HBO show True Blood, and they were recently asked to open for Amanda Palmer from The Dresden Dolls. Recently omniphiliac talked to Ryan, the bass player of Battle Circus over the phone about the bands first international tour, progressing success, and how theory can save you in a post-apocalyptic world.
How did Battle Circus start?
We all went to the same high school in Auckland, New Zealand. We went to the same high school and met up with each other through mutual friends. We just went from there. This was about a few years ago. We’ve been touring around New Zealand before we decided to set our sights abroad and over seas, started focusing on that for the last few years. It’s sort of the common story, friends from high school and such.
“The Halflight Symphony” is a brilliant conceptual album about a post-apocalyptic world, how did this idea come about?
It all started with some academic papers that we dug up by an American academic named Philip Mossman. He published these papers that we dug up online and through various academic avenues in the States, they all focused around theories of what changes and evolution mankind would go through following a cataclysmic nuclear disaster. He wrote about these four different stages that any sort of society would go through following such an event. We were sort of fascinated by these ideas, you know, a lot of us are science fiction fans. Several of us have been trained in classical music, and the way classical music is styled, specifically symphony is styled in having these four stages. We have these four parts of a symphony and then a grand unification at the end. They seemed to fit well, so we developed this idea to base four songs in connection to one larger piece of music. Each would be based on the four stages that he wrote about. It was sort of based on these ideas that we adopted to the music.
they all focused around theories of what changes and evolution mankind would go through following a cataclysmic nuclear disaster.
What do you believe makes you stand out from other similar bands?
There’s a classical element to the music, we have Yvonne who is a performance-grade classical musician and her part and element to the band really stands out. A lot of bands have a keyboard but not in the classical sense and not where the music flows around the classical element of the piano so I imagine that’s what makes Battle Circus stands out. It’s something that we’ve received a lot of comparisons to bands like Muse before. A lot of people come to our shows and see a keyboard and they’re prepared to see it be behind the guitar but the piano is really the forefront of the structure of the songs.
You guys recently opened up for Amanda Palmer from Dresden Dolls, how did that go?
Yeah we were just in Germany where we opened for her. It was fantastic. We’re all huge Dresden Dolls fan and before we discovered them we had a hard time sort of lining ourselves with other acts that we felt passionate about. As far as the four of us collectively feeling strongly for another act, the Dresden Dolls are definitely at the top of the list. We had seen them the last couple of times they came to New Zealand and when the opportunity arose to tour with them we just jumped at it. The shows were very good, we all love Germany. It’s a country that is close to our heart and the audience and the crowd were all incredibly warm and friendly.
How has the international tour been for the band?
It’s been good. We decided a few years ago that we really had to set our sights abroad. New Zealand is a wonderful and beautiful country, we love it there but for our kind of music there’s a very small niche. After a couple of years of playing up and down New Zealand, I mean you can go down from the top (of the country) in a couple of days, we realized that we were playing to maybe twenty people a show. For us it was great but if you want to play to more people you have to go abroad, so for the international tour we started in Australia, then to Germany and now we’re in New York. It’s been fantastic in terms of meeting fans, new fans and people who maybe haven’t heard the style of music that we play before. We’ve really enjoyed it and right now the band is looking to relocate overseas, we’ve decided that we need to base ourselves somewhere else if we want to play to a size of audience that we want to. As for where we’ll wind up, we’re using this tour as way to feel out the different countries we travel to and get an idea of where would be the best place to stay.
Can you talk about how Battle Circus is starting to become well known internationally?
It’s been great. It’s interesting for us because we started with quite a small fan base comparatively, I know there are a lot of bands in the US that have the opportunity to go from state to state and they can tour for months on end and play to many people if they want to. For us it’s a very new concept, we’re used to driving the few main cities in New Zealand and playing to a handful of people. To be able to reach out to new audiences and considerably larger audiences and have such a fantastic feedback from them is very reassuring. We look forward to doing more of this because it’s so important to know that there’s a larger audience out there. I can speak for Yvonne, our pianist, when we were told that we had the opportunity to open for Amanda Palmer she really hit the ceiling. She was thrilled because Amanda is one of her idols musically and as an artist. If we can keep doing that, keep pushing further in playing with more and more bands that we admire and look up to that would be ideal.
To be able to reach out to new audiences and considerably larger audiences and have such a fantastic feedback from them is very reassuring.
What do your fans have to look forward to on your current tour?
We’re trying out this time around to bring in a visual aspect to what we do. Our guitarist, Marcel, has spent time with Photoshop and After Effects and other computer software to develop some pretty amazing visuals that would go with the music. They’re very psychedelic, kaleidoscopic visuals which we are using and it’s the sort of the thing, without being too specific, adds a lot to the experience of seeing Battle Circus live. I want to mention that “The Halflight Symphony” is only four songs from quite a large Battle Circus repertoire, we really only play a couple of tracks from “The Halflight Symphony” [at the live show] but we have songs that will eventually make it onto the debut album.
How do you think you’d survive in a post-apocalyptic world?
(Laughs) Well, after reading so much about it I think I’d be well equipped. I think there’d be some pretty interesting results. It depends on which group you’re in, and without giving a lot of background to Mossman’s theories that need to be brought into an answer like that, there’s a theory called “The Founder Effect.” This is where several different pockets of society basically evolve on their own independent of the other ones, there’s a different evolution that occurs between each pocket of civilization that after such an event sort of evolves. I think it really depends on which group that you’re in, because a lot of what he wrote about was the group that first emerges from subterranean pockets of society will be the ones that decide it’s up to them to establish the new order and new doctrines, whether that’s religious or political. Basically what he was talking about is that the people who emerge first will have the most influence. Obviously, everyone would like to be in that group as long is everything is clean, everyone would like the opportunity to say “this is how it’s going to be from now on.” So I’d have to say as long as we’d survive I’d like to be in that first bunch.
Who are your major influences?
It’s a hard one to say for one of us to say collectively. The classical influence is definitely there, we have a huge admiration for bands like the Dresden Dolls. We’re big fans of Tool, I think they’re one of the most important bands in the last ten years. Other than that, Pink Floyd was so significant for modern music and we may not have had the opportunity to say that we’re going to make a concept album without them. It stretches beyond bands as well, I mean films that we’ve seen. The name of the band came from our guitarist being up at four in the morning and seeing the old Humphrey Bogart film “Battle Circus” on TV, and our guitarist suggested we write a circus song. Very early on that was our intention that our music would have sort of theatrical and circus vibe to it. We get compared to Muse quite a bit since they have a classical element and I think it wouldn’t be right to rule them out as being an influence because I think they’re one of the more interesting and artistic bands around. Apart from that I think we’re huge fans of Mars Volta, and I think it’s so important to have bands like that around that aren’t making three and half minute radio singles. We admire and respect any band that doesn’t put boundaries on what they do.
We admire and respect any band that doesn’t put boundaries on what they do.
What does Battle Circus have in store for the future?
We’re looking forward to basing ourselves overseas, certainly release “The Halflight Symphony”, and do some more touring with more bands that we really admire. If we can get on tour with bands like Mars Volta and Placebo that would be fantastic for us and we’re definitely going to push for that. Immediately there will be an album released next year, there will be a loose concept to it because it’s a way of writing music that we’re very fond of. To not just simply write songs but to write soundtracks to ideas.
For more information on Battle Circus and to listen to their music: