Newly thirty-six, Anthony Green reflects on his life and career at a time when he’s never felt more alive.
Anthony Green is lying on the floor in the second of three green rooms located behind the main stage of The Intersection in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There’s a foam roller under his back, working out the knot and sore spots from what feels like a lifetime on the road, and there’s a half-drank smoothie sitting by his side. “My day is good,” he says while flashing a smile, “ I woke up this morning, and I play a rock and roll concert tonight. That’s the best day of my life.”
By these standards, Green has been living the best day of his life nearly every day for the past week. It’s March 30, and Circa Survive has recently launched a Spring tour with support from Foxing and Hail The Sun. The trip is the band’s first proper headlining run since the release of their sixth studio album, The Amulet, in September of 2017. The band has been on the road nonstop, but this string of performances offers more ownership of production than other recent outings.
“This is the first week, and it’s going great,” he explains, still stretching on the floor. “It’s always weird getting back out for me. I have these two completely different lifestyles, me being home and then me being on tour, so transitioning is always a little bit tough, but it was pretty seamless this time. We’ve been having more fun this week than we have in the last like year or two. We did a bunch of co-headlines over the last year, and that is always kind of weird. You never really know what’s going on. They were with our friends’ bands and everything, so it was cool, but, I don’t know, this feels good.”
The production for this tour is scarce but impactful. A mostly empty stage provides ample room for Green and the other members of Circa Survive to move as the band is illuminated by a flurry of lights, most notably lead by an arch of fixtures affixed to the back wall. Green says the idea came to him in a dream, and when he woke he asked the band’s Lighting Director to make it a reality.
“I think it happened right around Christmas time,” he says, remembering the dream in question. “It was slightly different, but it was just like that sort of half arch just going down, so it sort of kind of brought this little glow that created a focal point rather than some extravagant thing. It was simple, and I liked that.”
To hear Green use the term “simple” in regards to anything he’s creating or created can be cause for laughter amongst fans. Whether he’s writing as part of a larger group or working alone, Green has been heralded for his unique voice and perspective since for the better part of twenty years, in part because of its complexity. His most devoted fans spend hours, even days, working to decipher the meaning behind every line of every song he’s ever written. The mystery of it all is part of the fun, and that goes for Green as well. Even now, with his thirty-sixth birthday taking in April, he’s as excited as ever about the life he leads.
“I feel so fucking young; it’s so fucking weird. I don’t feel like I’m thirty-six. I see guys who are also thirty-six, and they’re dropping their kids off with me at their school, or taking part in father-son day at school, and I’m like, “dude, am I like that?”
Green shakes his head and laughs before continuing, “ But I’m so punk! I’m not like that! But, it feels terrific. It’s weird because I think if you were to ask me four or five years ago, I would’ve said I felt old. I saw an interview with myself from when I was thirty where I talked about feeling old, back when I was out of shape. It took me a long while to figure this life out, and I feel like if there’s a calendar of figuring it out, then I finally got to the first day. I’m like, “Okay! I got something under my belt now!” And I’m starting over. So I feel very fresh in the world.”
Before talk can turn to plans for celebration, Green explains he’s ultimately not all that concerned birthdays, or at least with his own.
“I woke up today and thought about how I get to play a concert today. At home are my beautiful children and wonderful wife, out here are my incredible friends and my career that couldn’t be better, and I have a multitude of creative people in my life that I can go and make something from. I can say the most fucked up shit that I feel and think and share that with people and feel not alone. So birthdays are kind of like, who needs a birthday? Who needs to do that? Every day of my life I’m like. ‘holy shit, I’m alive. I’m doing this.”
This moment brings Green back to a previous conversation had with the same interviewer, which took place in August of 2017. At the time, Green was making one final summer trip with his family before Circa Survive released The Amulet and his schedule demanded he returned to the road. Green had taken the call while at a then-unnamed beach, and upon remembering the moment, his eyes grow wide with wonder.
“We were at Avalon,” he says, his voice conveying longing to preserve that memory forever. “We just rented a house for two weeks for when this is all over — I’m doing this tour for my first [solo] record, Avalon. It’s a ten-year tour that will run in the summer until early August, and then the day after that we stay down there. The last show is in Asbury Park, and then we go to Avalon for two weeks and go to the beach every day.”
Discussing the passing time with anyone can be a tricky matter. Even artists who are celebrating what some may consider milestones in their career can view such occasions through an entirely different lens. Perhaps the album we celebrate as the best is one they regret, or maybe the fact it is so beloved in comparisons to other work they may feel is better has caused them to grow tired of their creation. Green admits he has not always looked back on himself fondly, but as he’s matured so has his outlook on life.
“I think we created this culture of, “oh, I feel old,” but I think we’re going to change the tides of that to like, yo, that’s an important thing! Like, yes, to endure something and be stronger and to grow and to age and to learn is a beautiful, beautiful thing where it happens as a culture, as a society, or as an individual, I haven’t always celebrated that, and maybe it’s because it’s happening to me. Maybe it’s just because of that fact that I recognize it, but I’m smarter now than I was when I was 20. I was such a dumbass, such a prick. I was such a piece of shit, you know? So I’m grateful to be 36 and to be still able to do this.”
Green has certainly put in his time as a musician. He formed his first band while still in high school, making his career in music something that arguably been a part of his life for over twenty years. Throughout those two decades, he has played a pivotal in the development, popularity, and continued existence of alternative music. He would never admit to any of this, nor would he accept the credit if you tried to give it. For him, music is far more personal pursuit, and one that continues to surprise.”
“There’s a song on my upcoming solo record where the chorus is, “keep your mouth shut.” The lyric “keep your mouth shut” goes to back to literally to when I was in the fucking band Saosin writing stuff down for song ideas. Later, on maybe the second Circa Survive tour, it came up again. We have these improvisational moments worked into songs in the live show, and I started using “keep your mouth shut” again during that time. Now, all these years later, it finally made it into the course of a song. It’s exciting. It’s an exciting thing for me to think that when I sit down to write at night when my kids are in bed, it’s 9:30, 10:00, and I’m exhausted, and I’m going to write until 2:00 in the morning. It brings me a feeling of validation or comfort knowing that something I might write tonight might come into use when I’m fifty! I want to put in the work.”
Optimistic as the previous statement may sound, Green is unsure he has another ten years in the industry. He hopes that is the case, and he’s working hard to be optimistic, but he’s also a realist.
“To me,” he begins, “I almost look at my career as just a dream, and I’m operating within it as a dream, and it’s awesome. It’s not going to be forever though. I know I’m going to wake up. I get a lot of much joy out of just finishing a song and being able to share it. I don’t need to have a certain amount of likes. Its existence is all that matters, and so that’s kind of what I’m focusing on right now, is so when this is all something…when I can’t move my body like this anymore, people don’t like my voice, or whatever it is, that I am still in this relationship with the muse and with the thing that’s been blessing me with the true feeling of why this is important from the very beginning. It’s not because somebody tells you that you’re good, and it’s not even because somebody is there reflecting your same feelings, it’s a self-contained, self-created tool.”
Green could probably discuss the muse and his interaction with it for hours. Ten years ago he could probably speak on it even longer, but the man he was at twenty-six could never have predicted the father of four he would become now. His career has never been in a healthier position than it is right now, yet that matters very little in comparison to life Green leads off the road. He tries his best to be in the moment, something he swears to be working on daily, but he’ll be the first to admit such behavior is sometimes hard to justify.
“You can’t always just be in the moment because things happen. People get pregnant, people get hurt, you have to think about the future, and you have to think about consequences, but I try not to go too far into what’s going to be. I can imagine lots of things, but when I’m expired, I want my children to undoubtedly be able to say that they had the best experience with their dad. All of this stuff is awesome, and I love this, it’s a fun game I get to play. Still, the most important thing to me is that when I’m not here that they’re able to say that they had a true relationship with me and that they knew me better than anybody else.”
Fatherhood didn’t come easy for Green. Much like his renewed outlook on life itself, Green feels he is very much only now beginning to understand how to be a dad.
“In a lot of ways I’m just waking up,” he says with a smile as wide as his face will allow. “I had kids, and even when James was a little boy, I was doing my best, but I didn’t know what to do, and I was judging things and judging myself. I was doing a lot of work to hide all of my anxiety and all of my stress and all of my insecurities from people; it was tearing me apart. I think that it took a lot of tough experiences and lots of processing work, going to therapy, talking to people in my life that I care about, talking to my kids, talking to my dad, and thinking about what kind of fucking person do I want to be? What do I want out of this? What is the point, you know? To me, it all boils down to them and those boys. I love making music, and it is in a lot of ways the only thing that even comes close to those boys and in a lot of ways those boys, they’ll never… nothing will ever be the same as what music is for me. Music is the greatest passion of my life, and it can’t compare it to the love that I have for a child or a human being because it’s greater than that, it’s beyond us. It’s beyond who I think I am or who I pretend to be out in the world. It’s like a real spiritual thing. It’s nature. It’s something we can’t describe. It’s like the way they talk about God. That’s the way I feel about it.”
The happiness being expressed by Green at this moment is different than anything he’s conveyed up to this moment in the conversation. He, and perhaps everyone else present for this discussion, has realized that life is where he wishes it to be at this moment. More importantly, he appreciates the fleeting nature of the balance he’s been able to attain and wants to make the most of it.
“We see things all the time from this perspective of “oh this is hard, oh this is awful” or whatever, it’s so incredible. You’re so incredible to long for somebody or to miss somebody or to have loved something, you know? And if you want to focus on the thing that it’s temporary, that’s the reason why it’s so great! Because it’s not forever, it’s finite! It’s like a flower, you know? And our relationships, our life is like the most beautiful part of the blooming of the flower. It would be nothing; it wouldn’t be a joy if it were forever.”
He continues, “The thing about life is that you’re constantly getting reminded that it’s the last of something. The last time you do something, the last time you see someone, etc. We as people want to be comforted by the fact that everything’s going to be great forever, And that’s why we’re so fucked up. We can’t accept that things aren’t going to feel good. They’re not going to feel good. You’re not going to be happy all the time. You’re going to be fucking miserable, sometimes, and it’s important, and you have to go through it. A hermit crab when it goes from one shell to another goes through the most excruciating pain; it’s a thing that happens to it so it knows to get the fuck out of there so it can grow. Without that pain, we’d never grow, never change shells, or live. We need it!”
When asked how his kids feel about their father’s chosen career path, Green explains how he’s instilled a grounded perspective on his work. He’s no rock star, nor would he ever want to be called one. When people ask his kids if they know their father is someone famous they reply by informing the person who is speaking that their dad is not famous, just a musician.
“Famous people suck,” he says, having paused his stretching long enough to take a drink of his still unfinished smooth. “I don’t want to be thought of ever like that. I want people who like our band to know that they can come right over to me and talk to me and then if I’m weird about it, it’s because of the thing that makes me weird that makes me make the music thing. It’s not because I hate them or I think I’m better than them; it’s because it’s weird to have people do that to you. I hate it; we are anti-rockstar anti-all of that stuff. We’re like performance artists.”
Rising to the floor with plans to begin yoga in a few minutes, Green takes one last moment to reflect on his place in life and what the future might hold. He appears to have no interest in spoiling the fun of the unknown, but he is striving to better overall. He’s learned happiness comes not from the journey itself and not one particular moment or destination. It is what you make it, and he’s not done building just yet.
“I witness artists getting older, and it seems that many have lost touch with themselves. Some artists are growing, but I have some contemporaries — which I will not name — that make music that makes me wonder if they are making noise only to keep going? It doesn’t sound to me like they give a shit. It feels like they’re just trying to make their fans happy or something, or like they’re fighting to remain relevant. You have to fearlessly not give a fuck about that shit and know that you’re not relevant. You never were! Just because a fucking magazine put you on the cover once doesn’t mean you were relevant. They trick themselves to think that they’re not, that they were and now they’re not anymore. You never were. You’re only as relevant as how honest you can be with yourself and [that music] does not sound honest, so fuck off, you know?
Four or five years ago I was in such a dark place that I thought about killing myself. Coming out of that was like a rebirth, and I still feel that renewed excitement over life every day? So it’s weird. I feel like when I look back on when I thought the band was relevant, I thought the band was anything, we’ve never been as in tune with each other as we are now, and I think that’s what makes it relevant. It’s relevant to me.”
The following photographs were taken by Substream contributor Benjamin Howell during Circa Survive’s headlining show at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 30.