Chicago-based Russian Circles have been hammering their brand of groove-heavy post-metal across the globe for seven years now. For most of their touring life, the three-piece outfit, consisting of Mike Sullivan, Brian Cook and Dave Turncratz have done so as club-show headliners. Since the release of their stellar, 2011 album, Empros, the band has even seen their share of nighttime main-stage slots at festivals such as Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin.
Given that the group will not enter the studio to record their fifth LP until May, in hopes for a release in late Fall, Russian Circles hit the road for some shows. But this time, they're not the headliner. In fact, they're not even the prime support act. The group is currently in the midst of a multiple-month tour with new-prog giants Coheed and Cambia and North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me. The tour brings the trio of metal-minded acts to the Palladium in Dallas on Sunday night, March 3rd.
For guitarist Mike Sullivan, having Russian Circles perform the quick, first set of the night on a lengthy tour has its share of pros and cons.
"If you're headlining, you have the luxury of playing to your own demographic, and to the people who know what you're all about," says Sullivan over the phone from a tour stop earlier this week. "There's also more time for sound-check and to make sure everything's as it should be. When you're the first of three acts, there aren't as many luxuries. Sound-checks are shorter, if you get one at all, and you're playing to someone else's crowd. That's not a bad thing though; because for us, it's become a game of us trying to win over the audience who isn't there for us."
Before anyone begins to feel sorry for Sullivan and his band of thundering instrumentalists, he's quick to point out that it's not an issue of negatives versus positives, but one of being inside or outside of their comfort zone. It's a challenge that he welcomes.
"We play our stuff and try to be ourselves then see how it goes," he says. "Of course, we're playing to a large audience that's mainly not familiar with us, so it's fun to see how a crowd reacts to seeing us for the first time. We don't often tour as an opener for someone else, so the change of perspectives is actually fun."
Whether a band is headlining the largest stadium, or opening a show in a tiny living room, there are going to be ebbs and flows as the months march on. Sullivan acknowledges as much, but again, turns his metal frown upside down.
"Since we don't play for long, there isn't much time for the crowd to get restless or anxious," he says. "So, sure, there are some nights where the band is really feeling it and things are going great while we're on stage for that small amount of time. And then there have been some nights where we play and look into the crowd and wonder if the mics are on, or if something bad happened that we weren't aware of because the vibe's just off. But even those nights aren't so bad."
Sullivan assumes that many Russian Circles fans have not been to many of the shows on this tour, thanks to the higher ticket prices of this bill, but not the fact that the band isn't listed on many of the various posters or club announcements regarding the stops along the tour. Again, for a band that's used to being the star of the room, even if that room is a smaller one, Sullivan says they understand their role and that their collective ego has remained undamaged throughout.
"The lack of seeing our name at the top of the bill, or at all, doesn't really affect us, he says. "This tour is such a different beast, so we don't even try to compare this with what we normally do. Honestly, we go out there, have fun and play for a bit, and then we're done for the evening. We focus on that aspect."
Of course, just because fewer fans of the band show up to see them on this tour, that doesn't mean it's not obvious to the band which ones are there for them each night.
"Some people do shout-out to us to make sure we know they're there," Sullivan says. "But each time the smell of marijuana hits the stage, we figure that's one of ours [laughing]. We're all like, 'we'll claim that guy,' for better or worse. Really, the fans for each band are very different groups and they've all been really good to us. The ones up-front have been standing in line outside or at the front of the stage for hours to see Coheed, so by the time we get on-stage, people start clapping, just because some music is about be played."