GRAMMY.com Exclusive First Listen: Circa Zero
(Circa Zero will be featured in an installment of the GRAMMY Museum's The Drop series on March 26. For more information, visit www.grammymuseum.org.)
Circa Zero — a new project comprising former Police guitarist Andy Summers and vocalist Rob Giles of the Rescues — are set to release their debut studio album, Circus Hero, on March 25. Ahead of the album's release, GRAMMY.com has your exclusive first listen to the melodic mid-tempo track "Whenever You Hear The Rain."
Featuring 13 tracks, including the debut single "Levitation," Circus Hero strikes an agreeable balance between pop accessibility and musically ambitious arrangements that afford ample room for Summers' palette of six-string textures, while also showcasing Giles' clear, versatile voice. The group will follow the album's release with tour dates throughout 2014.
Summers is best known for his tenure with GRAMMY-winning trio the Police, who scored Top 10 albums such as Zenyatta Mondatta (1980, No. 5), Ghost In The Machine (1981, No. 2) and Synchronicity (1983, No. 1), the latter of which was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2009. Multi-instrumentalist Giles is the co-founder of L.A.-based quartet the Rescues, whose albums include 2013's Blah Blah Love And War.
In addition to the First Listen, GRAMMY.com conducted an exclusive interview with Summers regarding Circa Zero's origins, the creative process for Circus Hero and the enduring legacy of the Police, among other topics.
You've said it was the Police's 2007–2008 reunion tour that put you in the mood to play in a rock band again.
You'd think I wouldn't want to go anywhere near rock after that! [laughs] No, not really. I did take a year and a half after the Police tour where I did other things. I played in Brazil, traveled a lot and I made a record with a great American guitarist called Andy York that [has] yet to come out. But yes, I did think about having a rock band again. So maybe I was inspired by that Police tour to get back to working with a singer and putting a rock band together. I spent about a year putting together rock tracks with two or three different singers. And right at the end of it all, I got to know Rob Giles and that changed everything. As soon as I heard him sing, I knew that's what I'd been looking for.
How did you discover Giles?
Rob was in a band called the Rescues, who were managed by an English friend of mine who lives in L.A. I went to see them once at the Troubadour and about a year later at this little club in Hollywood called the Hotel Cafe. They were amazing both times, but it was on that second occasion that Rob and I got to talking. We seemed to click and I knew he had a great voice, so I said, "Maybe you'd like to try out some songs with me. Get together and see if it works." He did come down and we really hit it off. We started playing a couple of guitars and I very quickly realized that this guy really had all the things I was looking for. He started to come down to the studio and we quickly found a way of working together to build the songs that became the album.
Are you and Rob the only two players on the album?
Essentially we are, although we used a drummer named Dan Epand on three of the tracks: "Whenever You Hear The Rain," "The Story Ends Here" and "Hot Camel."
There are occasional guitar bits on the record that call to mind your guitar work with the Police — particularly the clean, reggae-inspired chording in "Say Goodnight" and the chorused arpeggios in "Shoot Out The Stars."
There's one or two things like that, yeah. Echoes of the Police. But there's nothing deliberate in that. That's just the player I am. There was no thought on my part of, "Oh my God, I better make this a bit like the Police because otherwise they're gonna be pissed off." That never even entered my mind. I just wanted to do right for the songs.
So it wasn't difficult to work on this knowing there would be inevitable comparisons to the Police?
That never even occurred to me. I think Rob is much more concerned about that than me. But then I've been doing this a bit longer than he has.
The Police won GRAMMYs in 1980, '81 and '83.
Yeah, five GRAMMYs and loads of nominations. I got some nominations on my own records as well.
Do any of those years stand out in your mind as particularly pleasant memories?
It was all amazing. Obviously 1983, when we were No. 1 for four months straight with Synchronicity, was certainly outstanding. We had the whole world in the palm of our hand at that point. That was the culmination of the whole thing.
What was it like playing the 49th GRAMMY Awards in 2007 with the reunited Police?
We opened the show and I think it was great. But it was nerve-racking. We were worried that we would blow it, but it all went fine. I've also been on a few times presenting awards. I haven't been for a few years, but I would like to go back with Circa Zero.
Do you think there will be more Police reunions down the road?
I would not think so … as far as I know. The tour in 2007–08 was so amazing it would be hard to top that. But I could be wrong. I got toward the end of that tour, and I was eager to get off the road; but at the same time, I didn't quite know why we were stopping. It's a confusing feeling, because you get to a place where touring is all you know. You sort of become the automaton that's just there every night doing the show.
What are your thoughts on the place of rock music, and an album like Circus Hero, in today's market?
People say, "Well, there's no more rock anymore." I find that a bit hard to believe actually. That might be true of the U.S., but if you go to Eastern Europe, Germany or Australia, that's not really the case. Music's gotten away from the heavy guitar thing. And maybe rock isn't as prevalent as it used to be. But I've got a lot of faith in this record. These are all great songs — hit songs. Most albums I check out these days, they're not great. They're flawed. You get one or two good songs, but that's it. And it's a hard line to walk between being too heavy on the one hand and too pop on the other. But I think that's where Circa Zero comes in. It's aggressive in a good way, but it's not ultra-heavy like the Foo Fighters. There's a line you gotta walk.
(Veteran music journalist Alan di Perna is a contributing editor for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His liner notes credits include Santana Live At The Fillmore East, the deluxe reissue of AC/DC's The Razor's Edge and Rhino Records' Heavy Metal Hits Of The '80s [Vols. 1 and 3].)