It was hot. And humid. Again.
Living in New England in the summer of the longest and most emotionally trying year on record hasn’t exactly been a pleasant breeze. On the one hand, the scorching and swamp-like weather has made it all the easier to abide by continued social distancing guidelines even as Massachusetts continues to be one of the best-faring states when it comes to the pandemic. Just staying inside is a very appealing option when all other options require stepping out and facing the heat death of the universe. On the other hand, even someone who is as much of an introvert and homebody as myself does need something resembling social contact and stimulation aside from playing with my cats for the 2,000th time and watching whatever mindless entertainment I can find on the streaming platform of my choosing.
So when I was offered an opportunity to premiere the lead single “Wasted Air” from Circus Trees’s debut full-length, Delusions, I not only immediately said yes. Since I live a short distance away from the band’s headquarters, which also serves triple duty as their place of residence for themselves and their family, as well as the place of business for the band’s label Five By Two Records, I decided it would be nice to get out of the house, take a few photos, and have an honest-to-god real conversation with someone not already living with me or over Zoom.
Upon knocking on their front door I was greeted by Eoghan McCarthy, the eldest of the younger generation of McCarthies living in the household (the light inside me is dead), followed by the clan’s patriarch, Robert, and then the band themselves – Giuls, Fin, and Edmee. Fin, the trio’s guitarist and lead singer/songwriter, and Edmee – or Egg, as the two sisters affectionately refer to her as – the bassist, are still in or just entering high school and clearly enjoying what they term as their “extended summer vacation.” Giuls, having been out of high school for a year and now out of work due to COVID, seems just happy to have things going on and projects to focus on.
And judging by my couple of hours spent there, there seems to always be something going on. As I’m given a tour of the basement converted into a fully-operational studio and video recording space – “I’m losing my house,” Robert quips as he explains all the parts that have been given over to the service of the growing musical needs of the label and family – Eoghan and Robert chat at the console over details for their first pre-recorded “Live Session” featuring local artists they had connections with in the Greater Boston Area to be released as a one-time event later that week.
Roaming about was also Aaron Garcia, a close family friend and surrogate McCarthy – “We literally call him our brother,” Giuls claims – who lives at the Five By Two house full-time and helps out with the label whenever not working on any of his own projects (PLBK, Young Culture) or helping produce others’.
All together, they form a unique symbiosis of family, business, and music, where the lines between each have been all but fully erased, and no one seems particularly upset or concerned by it. Fin remarks, “I feel like we’ve built this house from the ground up, honestly, to just be a house. And now I feel like everywhere you turn, there’s something going on, just Aaron’s always in there, recording, mixing mastering for bands just all the time. And then Eoghan’s downstairs, recording and helping Aaron out. We got a whole studio. I’m doing these live sessions for Five by Two. We’re just always working.”
All of that is said with a smile plastered on the trio’s faces. For them the prospect of living in a truly “musical” house where there is always something to learn, perform, and improve upon is an ideal situation, even when it means having to adapt to everyone else’s schedules. “It’s never quiet here,” Edmee says. “Someone’s either always playing music or like working on something until at least like three or 4:00 AM. And then that’s the only quiet time. So like noon and then everyone’s up.”
Once again, though, no one is complaining. “Having everyone here that is really supportive and everyone’s part of my family, it’s really nice. Cause like, if you’re struggling on something, you can always go to them and be like, how can I make this better? What can I do? Like, I need better equipment. What should I get? And everyone’s like, get this. It’s really helpful.”
For Circus Trees and Five By Two, all of this is a strength and what defines and bonds them together. If anything, it makes them far stronger as a unit. “We have such a big family living in this house, like eight or nine people,” Fin states. “So it’s like, it doesn’t feel like I’m stuck with my family. It doesn’t feel like, Oh no, like other people are like, Oh my God, I have to like, listen and eat dinner with my mom and dad every day.” She adds, letting that perfectly average teenage sentiment lie out for the ridiculous statement they believe it is, “And what are you like?”
The first time I hit play on “Wasted Air,” the opening track off of Delusions, I was nearly knocked back on my ass. After an ominous intro featuring sampled sound and deep atmospheric bass, the song’s main riff kicks in with a ferocious bite calling to mind the likes of sludgy post-metal greats Telepathy and If These Trees Could Talk. From there it dips back down to allow Fin’s clear voice to shine through with equal levels of urgency and frustrated fatigue – “You ask me how I am; you know I’ll lie; I’ll say I’m good enough” – resulting in the song’s cathartic mantra over the chorus. She yells, “Cause we’re just wastin’ air” and wraps the section with “So don’t waste your air on me.” It’s immediate and strikingly powerful, particularly for a band who has up to this point mostly written slower-burning songs that can require many minutes before reaching heightened emotional climax.
When I asked the band about this choice to lead the album with such a song, they all agreed its intent was the one I felt. “I think having that song in there was definitely really good for us just to be able to like, you know, catch you off guard,” Giuls states. Fin, who does all of the initial songwriting for the group, says that it was the first song she wrote for what would become Delusions, and even though at the time she hadn’t figured out what she wanted the overall feeling of it to be, she knew instantly at least that “this is going to be a banger.”
Whereas Sakura, their first EP released in 2019, was essentially a collection of songs with no immediate connection to one another, the band knew from the get-go after its release that they wanted to write an “album” in every sense of the word. And with “Wasted Air,” the goal was to “just make it a power statement, make it strong. We’re still here and we’re going to be here for a while.”
The clearest difference between Sakura and Delusions as a whole is one of simple growth, growing confidence in themselves as songwriters and performers. As lovely and tender as the songs of Sakura are, Delusions prefers to take big swings and raise the emotional stakes more frequently to highlight their dreamier and more pensive side. This is to be expected from a group who has started at such a young age. It’s not just what many critics would call the kind of “maturity” that comes with age though. It’s the kind of rapid leveling up that comes with simply putting in hours and hours of work to find their voice and hone their crafts. “We’ve each grown more confident on stage and even off stage during COVID, we’ve all grown more confident in our sound, in what we individually want to sound like,” according to Giuls. “I think this album really showcases that.”
This perhaps applies to no one more than Edmee, the youngest and quietest McCarthy of the trio. According to the band, at the group’s inception they had a separate bassist and Edmee, still in middle school, contributed on keys. After that original member’s departure though, Edmee was encouraged to learn bass herself and take ownership of the spot. “I always wanted to learn either bass or guitar. Cause I mean, it was nice seeing Fin move around with the bass and everything, and on piano, you’re kind of just stuck in one spot.”
Even as recently as their live shows last fall Edmee was still playing double duty on bass and piano. With Delusions, however, Circus Trees ditched the keys entirely and allowed her to focus solely on the low-end. It’s perhaps no coincidence then that the new album displays a much greater comfort with going loud and heavy, most notably on the aforementioned “Wasted Air.” Her sisters have taken notice of the work she’s put in. “She’s gotten a lot better and she’s gotten a lot more independent in writing all the songs,” says Fin. “She would really spend tons of time down in the basement, just playing them over and over again with her headphones in.”
The most surprising and revealing thing I found in my lengthy conversation with them was the absolute support and unforced affection they have for one another. Just as they have fully embraced the notion of living, playing, and working with their entire family 24/7, the three of them have each others’ backs and encourage each other to grow and be confident in themselves. One exchange in particular sticks out in my mind for representing both this mindset and one where they are all encouraged to take on projects and tasks they’re not already comfortable with and learn through experience. In conjunction with Five By Two Records’ recent expansion into artist live sessions, they have launched a brand new website and look. Edmee mentions off-hand doing some work on the redesign, but Fin quickly interjects.
“You did a lot of the website. It was a lot of, it was, you got to take credit for it.”
Giuls agrees and adds, “She was sitting at the table literally yesterday and I just see her smack her hands against her face. And she’s like, I don’t know how to do it! So just like screaming for like five straight minutes. And then it’s just Oh never mind! It’s so funny, our processes.”
Edmee responds, “Cause I don’t know how to do anything. And then it takes me five minutes to figure out anything.”
“We kind of just like threw you in,” Fin adds. “And we were like Do this, and she was like, I don’t know how to, but I will.”
That “just do it yourself but with all the support you need” mentality starts from the top, in this case being father and band/label manager Robert. Finding his kids seeking venues and outlets to play their music but being shut out of almost all of the most obvious places for young bands to turn to like bars and small clubs, McCarthy started Five By Two Records as a home/de facto advocacy group for young artists. “We’re giving opportunities to young musicians to be able to play on a real stage and have a real show and even get to play with older, more successful bands,” Fin states proudly. “We take an older band and put like two young artists on there and then they’re like, Oh my God, this is awesome. And it’s just like being able to like give that to you as an artist is just phenomenal.”
For Fin, Giuls, and Edmee, the difference in reactions from unsuspecting audiences when they learn of their ages but haven’t heard them yet and after they’ve performed is priceless and never gets old. Giuls acts out laconically, “Like, Oh, they’re all 18 under. Wow. We’re all going to have to like, you know, fake clap and give them the pat on their back.” All of which is followed by “And then just the immediate after our set, just the switch of, Oh my God, this is a good band.”
Of course, no one, least of all the three of them, has played any live shows in front of people for a long time now. Like everyone else, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into many of the bands’ plans, including a significant show opening for Caspian that was to take place last spring but was ultimately canceled. None of them predict they’ll be playing in front of people anytime soon either, at least until 2021.
But they’re not sweating it. They claim that in reality it hasn’t affected what they’re able to do with their work and music all that much, and if anything it’s given them the space to focus even harder on developing new skills and improving on existing ones. Fin states that “I’ve been able to get so much done. Just like continuously being able to work on stuff with Circus Trees, mainly promoting stuff and, you know, making music videos and doing all that.” Giuls puts it in somewhat more serious terms, saying “It’s literally been make or break for each of us.”
As the only one of the three out of high school and not currently attending college and also without steady work, she feels some more pressure to make the most out of this time for herself and the band. That being said, she knows that everyone in the house of Five By Two is going the extra mile. “We have all sort of just found things and we’ve just been grinding; Aaron mixing, mastering music sessions, new projects, reaching out to people; Fin you know, video, audio line up, really getting good at that and sort of just like even learning it, like she’s just really been grinding; Egg again with like the entire website. It’s just been like grind, grind, grind, grind, grind.”
In the end though, not any one of them is concerned about failing or coming up short. “Five By Two, you know, we’re still gonna thrive.”
It’s getting late. When I arrived the sun was still hours away from dipping below the horizon, and now twilight was setting in. I realized I had been talking to the three of them, with Robert and Aaron hanging around in the background, for over an hour straight. “I’ve got like 10 articles worth of stuff,” I chuckle as I reach for my phone and end the recording. And yet Fin, Giuls, and Edmee are still smiling as wide as ever, looking like they could keep going on for another hour easily. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tempting. The entire energy of the three of them and the rest of the household is infectious.
I came simply excited for some human contact and conversation, and I left convinced that this house and the people inhabiting it were truly special and bound for greatness. If I could feel that energized simply from a couple of hours spent there, then it’s easy to see why a life of living there 24/7 could produce something as full of promise and passion as Circus Trees. Hopefully the rest of the world is ready.
. . .
Delusions is out August 14 through Five By Two Records. You can purchase the album through Circus Trees’ Bandcamp.
All photos taken by Nick Cusworth.