Relix 44: Circles Around the Sun

Dean Budnick on October 17, 2018
Relix 44: Circles Around the Sun

photo by Matthew Mendenhall


Welcome to the Relix 44. To commemorate the past 44 years of our existence, we’ve created a list of people, places and things that inspire us today, appearing in our September 2018 issue and rolling out on throughout this fall. See all the articles posted so far here.


Wandering Further: Circles Around the Sun

Circles Around The Sun originated with an invitation from director Justin Kreutzmann to guitarist Neal Casal, asking him to compose music for five films that screened during the setbreaks at 2015’s Fare Thee Well shows. Casal assented and gathered together a quartet comprised of Chris Robinson Brotherhood bandmate Adam MacDougall on keys, bassist Dan Horne (Beachwood Sparks, Jonathan Wilson) and drummer Mark Levy (The Congress). They recorded five hours of original music on the fly at Castaway 7 Studios in Ventura, Calif, drawing inspiration from the Grateful Dead. The results were so well-received that Rhino released a 2-CD set of highlights, Interludes for the Dead in the fall of 2015 and Circles made their first-ever live appearance at Lockn’ in 2016.

“We were kind of reluctant to even play this stuff live at first,” reveals Casal. “We were kind of precious about it. The way it came about Fare the Well was this kind of a magical moment and it wasn’t intended to ever be a record or a band or anything like that. We just made music for that specific purpose. Part of our thinking was to leave it at that—just leave that magic alone—and move on to whatever else we were gonna do. But people reacted so well to it, and we got so many requests to play live, that we finally decided to do it.

It transitioned so easily and it went so much better than we thought it would. I don’t think any of us had ever been in instrumental bands before, so none of us were used to that. It’s just a whole other discipline when you’re playing live. But that first show was just such a great way to open up the door and even though we haven’t played a lot of shows yet, every time we do, the band seems to get better, the chemistry gets better, and that’s what led us into making a second record, just trying to keep it all going.”

That new album, Let It Wander, found the group returning to Castaway 7 Studios to expand on their Dead-accented lingua franca. Casal explains that while the new record, “doesn’t contain any direct GD themes, the sound of the band is still the four of us improvising together, so it will feel familiar to fans. But we definitely went in some new directions and tried to evolve our sound past where we started three years ago. We added some different keyboard sounds, I expanded my guitar pedalboard, and we added some percussion, and will bring these things forward in a live setting. Where the first record was live in the studio, we did some overdubs this time, worked on the mixes longer, and were more detail- oriented. Chuck D. stopped by and did the intro on ‘One For Chuck.’ That was such an honor and so exciting for us.”


This article originally appears in the September 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here