Anthony Green of Circa Survive Is Sober Now, and He Likes it That Way

The psychedelic post-hardcore master opens way up.

Dec 16 2014, 7:00pm

It’s been over a decade since Anthony Green turned his back on the scene to become one of its biggest saviors. In 2004, he had every reason to be happy—his groups, the Newport Beach post-hardcore outfit Saosin, had become one of Myspace’s biggest success stories, dominated the Warped Tour circuit, and even snagged a deal with Capitol. For the Warped Set, Saosin, along with like-minded peers like Thrice, presented a smarter alternative to the paint-by-numbers screamo band; aside from being equally conducive to slam-dancing and introspection, the songs proved technically astute without getting bogged down by theory or pretension. Still, something was missing. That summer, while kicking it in Phoenix on a layover, a depressed, listless Green glanced down the road before him—a new deal, cushy studio time, tours, hordes of newfound raccoon-eyed devotées—said “Fuck it,” and headed back to his home state Pennsylvania to forge his own path.

Enter Circa Survive, post-hardcore’s beloved gang of emotionally-charged, prog-obsessed fever-dreamers. It took less than a year for the quintet to earn their spot in the canon with their 2005 debut Juturna, a precocious record whose psychedelic trappings were unlike anything else in the early aughts. The albums that followed, 2007’s On Letting Go and 2009’s Blue Sky Noise, took those trippy tantrums to cinematic heights, seamlessly blending melody with meticulous instrumentation. Green and company never seemed to run out of ideas, and between the barren ballads (“Frozen Creek”) and the batshit classics “Stop the Fuckin’ Car” (a song that, to many, serves as the band’s champion achievement), Circa Survive—and Green in particular—may as well have been the musical equivalent of that kid from AP English who could chain-smoke jays before class and still write a flawless Pynchon essay.

As it turns out, drugs provided the impetus for much of the band’s musical mission. A fan of booze and bud since his teenage years, Green eventually graduated to pills and heroin—addictions that lingered even after his marriage and the birth of his sons, and which informed virtually all of the band’s output up into that point. These struggles remained hidden from both the band and his family until Green finally entered rehab this year. For the second time in a decade he was faced with a choice of paths: would he abandon one of his most beloved muses and risk losing his art’s unique, inherent madness, or would he break the cycle and start anew? Once again, Green settled for a new beginning. Five weeks later, Circa Survive had hired a new management team, and were putting the finished touches on Descensus, their most crushing effort to date. Green Sobering up hadn’t hindered his band's psych-driven sound—if anything, it’s amplified it.

Noisey: Congratulations on your son!
Anthony Green: Thank you very much. I think just having a family, in general, has given me a better sense of time management. When I didn't have a family to take care of, and I didn't have the children in my life that require and deserve so much attention, I had all the time in the world to fuck around, and I would find that I would get bored.

I feel like that's the greatest sin against humanity, is allowing yourself to get bored, and I would be bored as a young man and listless and not feeling all this resistance to starting a task—"I want to fucking write a record right now!", and I'd write, like, half a song and be like, "Eh whatever, I'm gonna watch TV now." And now when I'm on tour and I'm away from my family, I miss them terribly, but I utilize the time to write. I'm trying to stay in shape so that I can stomp around on stage like a maniac better than ever, so I'm trying to exercise a little bit, and doing things to keep myself busy and fit and productive, never allowing myself to be bored.

It's interesting you mention boredom because it’s one of the biggest factors in how people deal with addiction. It’s an issue you’ve dealt with extensively.
I remember being in rehab and sitting around in a small group setting where people, an entire group of people, were saying that boredom was one of the hardest things to deal with when it came to addiction.

When you get bored and you don't have anything else to do, it's really tempting to just go get high.
There really isn't any excuse to get bored. There's so much you can do. Even when I was bored, I felt bored, but I was allowing myself to do nothing. I didn't want to start something 'cause I didn't want to have to deal with the consequences or the responsibility of taking accountability for whatever I was gonna start. I wanted to write a record, but it's so hard. I feel like feeling that resistance that you feel to do something, you get something started to fight that boredom is a natural thing that everybody goes through, but you have to fight it.

Yeah, doing drugs and drinking is easy, and fun, and it gives you immediate gratification. All those things that give you immediate gratification will sort of derail you from the things that you're really meant to do in life. Like, my calling is to make music. I believe that. I'm not gonna be a fucking clothing designer. I'm not a fucking actor. You know what I mean? I'm a songwriter. I love being around music. And there are times when that difficult task of having to write something and having to enter into that journey is so daunting that, yeah, it'd be easy to do something else: to go jerk off or to go eat a fucking gallon of ice cream or do something that would make me feel good immediately. But what makes me feel really good is working mega hard on something, getting over all the obstacles, or under or around all the obstacles that put you there that are put there to help challenge you to do your best. I think that's kind of one of the things that hurt me in my life is that I would always go for that immediate gratification and not the longterm feeling that you get when you know that you put in a lot of work on something, and you fought through the obstacles, and you fought through the resistance, and you made something true and honest and beautiful. It's not an easy, fun, immediate thing.

I was looking over some old tour footage and I found some footage of Warped Tour, I think '07, and you came out on stage wearing a dress. I was wondering about that. What made you decide to do that? Were you channeling Courtney Love? What was the story with that?
At that time in my life, and even age, I grew up in the house, I was the youngest of four boys and they were all great at sports and did very good at school and I was sort of the oddball out. I was always the sensitive kid. I've just always kind of connected with the feminine energy. I find that on stage things can be aggressive. People tend to associate the aggressiveness with this masculine macho thing and that's just not how I am as a man and not how we are as a band. There needs to be a balance there. There is nothing more aggressive than feminine energy charged by the appropriate agent.

When I was on that Warped Tour, I definitely felt there was a lot of that machismo fucking bullshit going, and we were definitely a band that stood apart from a lot of the bands that were on that tour. I sort of did it to freak out some of the bands that I can't name that were on that tour that were a little bit more conservative - like, a lot more conservative - and who sort of were going through this whole banging chicks, being an '80s hair metal type of band, sort of macho bullshit.

I definitely think I did it to freak them out. There was something that happened in me when I would get into a dress like that. I definitely would feel powerful. I think there's something really interesting there. I don't get the urge to go put on high heels as much as I did when I was an adolescent, but I think there's something really interesting and powerful about changing the energies you get from femininity and masculinity and really examining that. I definitely think that we're more of an aggressive band, but people talk about aggression, I think there's a feminine aggression there that is way more powerful and way more direct than something we can get out of that male macho fucking suck-my-cock bullshit.

When’s the last time you seriously changed your outlook on something?
I'm trying to think because I was sort of raised in, well, you know what? Here's something that I was talking to John [my son] about the other day. I was very strict Roman Catholic. When I was growing up, I rebelled against it completely and I thought it was complete bullshit. I went in the complete opposite direction, pretty much on the same spectrum where I was not questioning anything that I was being told. I thought that all religion and all spirituality was just bullshit and lies.

After talking to people, and after keeping one foot in the pool for a really long period of time, I've come to really accept the spirituality behind the major monotheistic religions as being extremely valuable and a wealth of knowledge. I believe why most people that believe these things believe them because they're very strong and they have this great message. It sort of helps me get in touch with a sense of spirituality and a sense of my relationship with my Higher Entity that I never thought was gonna be possible. I didn't believe in any of that shit. For all intents and purposes, I was agnostic or atheist. But as I grew older and I talked to different people of different cultures and different religions and I experienced new things on my own, really finding things out, I realized there was something greater than me. I felt it in music. I felt it in connections with others.

What about your kids, too? For a lot of people, fatherhood and just becoming a parent opens your eyes to a bigger picture and makes you believe in these powers you once thought were just bullshit.
I mean, that definitely had a lot to do with it, but it almost started before that. It started with my relationship with my wife. When we got married it was difficult in the beginning, and, in cultivating that relationship and really being open with each other and being vulnerable, making that connection with somebody else and being able to feel that connection through different things, it's euphoric. It's like being naked. It's like not knowing and it's beautiful. That's something I couldn't appreciate at a younger age. I didn't understand spirituality and I don't fully understand it now, but I accept it as something that I don't understand and that I'm excited to learn more about, rather than kind of running away from it and stringing it through denial.

Has sobering up accompanied any other big lifestyle changes for you?
Yeah, we're trying to eat healthy. When I was young, I didn't believe in a correlation between what I ate and how I felt, and as I've gotten older I really started to believe and I've really started to try to practice clean eating. I feel better. I think clearer. 100 percent affected my life in a huge way. When I was young, I loved doing drugs and drugs. Loved them! It was part of my identity. It's on every record we ever do. It's on songs about them. I have songs that are like, "I love pills," or whatever. As I've gotten older and children came and different things came into my life, I really was examining how that played a role in my mental state, which I didn’t feel that great about. I don't do drugs. I don't drink anymore. I don't smoke weed. I just recently stopped smoking cigarettes. I've never felt better about it. I've never felt more in-tune with what we do, creatively, and what I'm supposed to do here on this planet, and I've never felt more fucked up in my life than when I'm not doing drugs and drinking.

Aside from getting active and finding your highs in other ways than drugs, what’s helped you to stay sober?
I mean, for me, meditation has been a huge part of it. Through meditation I've learned to stay calm when something is happening that I'm not in control of that I have to deal with. There's breathing exercises that I do when I get anxious. I get lost in creativity. It can be anything for anyone, but playing guitar, writing music, finishing something like that, it gives me a rush.

Not to sound like a fucking weirdo, but exercise has helped so much with anxiety and depression in my life. There's so much energy and so much pent-up anxiety and weird shit that I don't feel anymore because when I really am taking care of myself, I get into a vigorous sweat where I sort of just clock out and I'll do mobility or conditioning or strength training where I just feel almost like a fucking high afterwards 'cause you push yourself and you push your body. It's really just about finding what works for you.

Follow Zoe Camp on Twitter.