Mainstays of the Austin music scene for nearly a decade, anthemic indie rock band The Rocketboys have steadily built a loyal following with two LPs and a handful of EPs, and hundreds of live shows. Their dynamic, expansive songs often outsize the clubs in which they perform, earning the apt comparisons "... sounds like an amped up Death Cab for Cutie with Coldplay-style melodies" (New York Times). After nearly five years without a full-length release, The Rocketboys return with Certain Circles, a seasoned and cohesive LP that combines the grandiosity of the band’s debut 20,000 Ghosts with the soul of sophomore effort Build Anyway, with a sprinkling of their 2015 EP Left | Right's pop-sensibility.
The band's brief stint on an indie label in 2015, despite bringing notable accolades (single "Viva Voce" on GLEE and over 1 million Spotify streams), left them never quite feeling comfortable in their own artistic skin. Once they parted ways, songs that had been set aside during that time for not being “hit-worthy” resurfaced, and new songs were written with a focus on creating beautiful music regardless of immediate commercial appeal. “It’s liberating to return to doing what we love, remember why we were playing music in the first place," says keyboardist Justin Wiseman. "We’re incredibly proud of all of the music we’ve created, but with this LP, it feels like we’re back to doing what we do best.”
Lead singer and guitarist Brandon Kinder agrees. “We’d gone from small Austin studios, to big LA super studios, to bedrooms, to literally the back of the van. This time, we mostly recorded at my home studio in Austin because we wanted to be able to spend a lot of time experimenting with sounds and parts. It was nice not to feel the pressure of an expensive studio. I think this is the best thing we’ve ever done because of the extra time we were able to spend chasing down ideas.”
For their last few releases, Kinder says, the band had drifted toward writing songs with an agenda behind them. And it was never really supposed to be that way. "When we started this band (in college in Abilene, Texas, circa 2005), it wasn’t to make money, or to write a hit, or to hear our voices on the radio," Kinder says. "We just wrote songs that we thought were cool, and we had fun playing them. I wouldn’t trade the experiences we’ve had for anything, because I think we’ve grown a lot as songwriters and musicians because of it. But I wanted to get back to that innocence, back to writing with our fans in mind, and not a dollar sign. It’s why we love standing in front of a microphone and an audience-- and about what it is to chase a dream until you almost want to give up. Most of the songs on Certain Circles reflect that journey.”
Adds Wiseman, "Although we loved the songs on Left | Right and relish the successes it brought, we knew there was something better in terms of what this band can be. Ironically, we wrote many of the songs before and after that label stint during some long periods of just...waiting.”
The title Certain Circles is like a Venn diagram. "It’s one group pulling us one way, and a different group pulling us another," says Kinder. “We didn’t realize until we started making this record that there were some groups of people who had one idea of what they thought The Rocketboys should be, and there were other groups, other circles that had another idea of who we are. And at least for me, I lost my direction. I just thought I’d plow along and see what happened. But when we started making this record, we realized we wanted to take it back to where we started, and that's just making music that we love.”
"Talk", a live staple of the band for almost two years, makes its recorded debut on the new LP. "It was going to be one of the main songs on Left | Right, but at the last minute it was axed," says Wiseman. "To be able to re-think it gave us a chance to give the song far more meaning. I think it’s probably one of the best songs we’ve ever done. It always gets a big reaction when we perform it live.” "The Land that No one Promised Us" went through an evolution on its way to the final tracklist. “Originally it was a super-poppy and fun song, and it would’ve probably ended up being our most upbeat track ever," says Wiseman. "Then randomly Brandon did a version of it on piano, playing all seventh (jazzier) chords and way slower. At first it sounded like a joke. But then we couldn’t get past this new take, as it fit the lyrics perfectly. Brandon also did an amazing job with the guitar solo and some other little nuances.” Kinder describes one of his favorite tracks, "You’re Just Going To Let Me Down Again" (an angst-ridden self-accusation of a song) "...it was already one of the best in my opinion, but we were able to add some really interesting keyboard stuff on it," he says. "And Away We Go -- the ending still gives me goosebumps everytime I listen to it.”
The Rocketboys’ traditional DIY spirit lives on. The band did much of the recording themselves, but employed engineer Kevin Butler (Black Books, Quiet Company) and Andy Freeman (Eisley, Manchester Orchestra) to mix. It’s a natural progression for a band -- a streamlined, but ambitious effort. Certain Circles stands to bring nostalgia to longtime fans while standing out as The Rocketboys' best, most creative material to-date. The end result sublimely captures the arc of the band's circuitous career. Ten years of highs and lows are compressed neatly into 40 minutes of music.