What started as a studio project to accompany the Fare Thee Well tour has now come together as a touring band.
As plans were being put in place for 2015’s “Fare Thee Well” shows, video director Justin Kreutzmann asked guitarist Neal Casal to compose music to be played with the onscreen visuals that would be shown during intermissions. In addition to a solo career that spans more than 20 years, Casal played alongside Ryan Adams in the Cardinals and currently plays guitar in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. For the project, Casal called on Brotherhood keyboardist Adam MacDougall along with bassist Dan Horne and drummer Mark Levy to compose nearly five hours of music that so perfectly captured the spirit of the Grateful Dead that it was later released on CD and vinyl as Interludes for the Dead.
Soaring, spacey, playful, psychedelic but always tuneful, the music Casal and company came up with continues to gain a following as the foursome is now on tour as Circles Around the Sun. “It’s a really good group that took us all by surprise,” Casal says, “so we’re just going with it for as long as it feels vital.” As part of the August Baker’s Dozen Phish-fest in New York, pre- and post-Phish events were held at venues across the city, with Circles Around the Sun performing a Sunday afternoon show at Brooklyn Bowl. Sharing the venue with bowlers and brunchers, Circles Around the Sun provided a soundtrack, just as they did for Fare Thee Well, that drew in listeners as the lofty notes filled the air.
Although the original tracks were laid down in the studio with no overdubs, playing such complex compositions live is a new experience for the group. “Being in an instrumental band is challenging but great,” Casal explains. “It opens up avenues for different kinds of writing and textural playing. It’s completely new territory and requires a certain patience onstage that we’re still getting used to.” Each “interlude” — it’s impossible to call what Circles does songs—is a lengthy exploration that veers in multiple directions and showcases each musician’s talents before returning to its theme. Among the standout compositions are “Gilbert’s Groove” and “Hallucinate a Solution.” Some titles, such as “Scarlotta’s Magnolias” and “Farewell Franklins,” allude to Dead standards and share some musical lineage with their namesakes.
Fellow jambander Scott Metzger of JRAD and Wolf! was at the Brooklyn Bowl show. “Scott described us as ‘Stuff meets Quicksilver Messenger Service,’ which was the most insightful perspective on us yet,” Casal tells us. Having grown from a project into a band, Circles Around the Sun will continue touring this summer, and plans are in the works to get back into the studio as band members’ schedules align.
“We’re growing by leaps and bounds every time we play,” Casal says. “It’s exciting.”