Circles Around The Sun brings ‘Language’ tour to Deep Dive
Circles Around The Sun, a fiery instrumental group from Los Angeles, will make its Ithaca debut Thursday night at Deep Dive. The band is touring to promote its forthcoming album, “Language,” which is due out in the spring, and finds it further exploring the “cosmic-disco vibe” of its previous release.
The band, also known as CATS, includes keyboardist Adam MacDougall (who has played in Ithaca with Grateful Shred and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), bassist Dan Horne (also in Grateful Shred), drummer Mark Levy, and guitarist John Lee Shannon, who replaced founding member Neal Casal after he passed away in 2019.
The band’s website tells its origin story in a nutshell: “In 2015 Justin Kreutzmann, son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill, invited Casal to compose the intermission music for the Dead’s Fare Thee Well concerts, a victory lap celebrating their final shows. Neal assembled the guys, recorded five hours of jams, and was surprised to find an eager audience and label support from Rhino Records. And Circles Around the Sun was born.”
“It was just a two-day affair to make music,” MacDougall said of the band’s initial session. “We never listened back to any of it, because we didn't have time. In fact, the first time Neal and I ever heard the music outside of playing it was when we were at Levi's Stadium and they were playing it on the P.A., so it wasn't something that we thought anything of – we all had other stuff going on. And it wasn't until those Fare Thee Well shows when people started to react to it, that we thought maybe we should try to put a band together. But it was not intended to be a band at all when we started.”
In 2015, Circles Around The Sun released “Interludes from the Dead,” a double album that captured those initial songs. That was followed by 2018’s “Let It Wander," which found the band adding jazz, funk, soul, and fusion influences to the mix. The band recorded two more albums in 2019 – an EP, “Meets Joe Russo,” and a self-titled full-length album – but suffered a jarring blow when Casal committed suicide on August 26, 2019.
“We had a record that was so close to being finished,” MacDougall said of the self-titled album. “We at least wanted to get that record out, because it was the very last thing Neal ever recorded, literally.”
Casal had left a written note outlining his hope that CATS would continue, so the band enlisted Eric Krasno (Soulive) and Scott Metzger (Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, WOLF!) to temporarily fill the guitar slot, before naming Shannon as the full-time replacement.
“We've known him for a long time,” MacDougall said of Shannon. “He was one of Neal's favorite guitar players – Neal used him on a couple of records that he produced.”
CATS headed into Horne’s studio, Liberty Hair Farm, to lay down the tracks for “Language,” for which the band developed the songs collaboratively.
“There’s a song that John definitely had a little demo of an idea, and we kind of ran with that,” MacDougall said of the band’s creative process. “And then there were some other songs or ideas that I had, that I’d just bring in on my phone. And then we bring it into the room, and everybody puts their stamp on it, and you see where it goes.”
The band has been road-testing several of the songs from “Language” since last fall.
“The first time we ever played them, they came off great,” MacDougall said. “They're really fun to play. It's nice because we have such long songs. We don't put that many songs on a record, so it’s taken us a long time to build up enough songs that we can start doing setlists that aren't repetitive. We usually put out about six or seven songs on each record so we’ve finally gotten to a place with this new record where I feel like we can start writing setlists that are interesting night after night, which is good. And we're one record away from really being able to spread that list out over a four-night run.”
The band recruited harpist Mikaela Davis, who’s based in Rochester and the Hudson Valley and performed with her band in Ithaca twice in 2022, to contribute harp to the album’s title track.
“I wish we had known her better when we originally did it, because it was more of a ‘Hey, let's get some harp on this – who can we use?’ And we had done a show with her in New York, so we just got her to do it. And since then, we've toured with her a lot – she’s opened our shows, and then played that song with us on our set, and it's been great. I would love to do more with her.”
All along, CATS has remained an instrumental band.
“It's really fun, actually, to try to pull off the whole night like that,” MacDougall said. “The songs are still structured, and they still have melodies. And if we do our job right, they’re songs that you can walk away humming.”
If you go
Who: Circles Around The Sun, with opener Rich Ruth
What: album release tour for “Language”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19
Where: Deep Dive, 415 Old Taughannock Blvd., Ithaca
Cost: $27 in advance, available online here; $35 day of show; $1 from every ticket will go to the Neal Casal Music Foundation