Interview with Michael McBay of Circle The Earth
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I was first introduced to music when the kids in my neighborhood all got instruments and started a band. I thought bass would be the easiest instrument to learn on my own since it only had 4 strings. I was introduced to the music of Sly & The Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Chicago, then the very first time I heard the music of Yes my soul literally came alive and I have been inspired to make music with beauty, harmony, integrity, intensity and a positive message ever since.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Outside of music, I practice Shotokan karate at a competitive level 6 days/week for many, many, many years. The serious practice of this artform from a spiritual perspective gives me drive, determination, discipline, the ability to rebound after setbacks, patience, humility, respect for others, sincerity, kindness, compassion, integrity and character, which I am honored to say that our project is known for. (It's also a tremendous stress reliever!)
Sandy Wang, our keyboardist, practices the martial art of Muay Thai equally avidly 6 days/week and we often share mutually inspirational training stories with each other to keep each other motivated to push ahead.
In addition to martial arts, I am also very active in my drug recovery program and have been sober for well over 12 years now. I also work full time in a medical clinic that provides services to low-income minorities and this keeps me grounded and allows me to be of service to others on a daily basis. I actively pursue spirituality (not formal religion) on a constant basis and I am a serious student of several well-known spiritual teachers (both living and deceased).
All of these activities directly enhance all aspects of my personality and character including my personal creativity and the pursuit of Circle The Earth.
How long has your band been around?
As the founding member, I first discovered drummer Sandro Feliciano 10 years ago and we’ve worked together ever since. 6 years ago I found singer Khadia, then 4 years ago our keyboardist Sandy Wang, and finally 2 years ago guitarist Kazuki Tokaji. So, the current lineup has actually been together for 2 years in its present form.
Where are you based out of and how does that influence your music?
We are based in Los Angeles which gives us access to the very best musicians, songwriters, producers, recording studios, and music venues as well as a huge resource of industry experts all from various cultures and backgrounds. Being in Los Angeles also puts us in direct competition with literally an estimated 8 thousand other local acts all striving to accomplish the same thing here in LA, so we are forced to work very hard and strive very hard to be a "cut above" the competition in every aspect including songwriting, musicianship, recording & production quality, image, stage performance, professionalism and integrity (all of which I am grateful to say we are known for!).
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
The name Circle The Earth refers directly to the international nature of our line up - Sandy Wang (keys) is from Taiwan, Kazuki Tokaji (guitars) is from Japan, Sandro Feliciano (drums) is from Brazil, and Khadia (vocals) and Mike McBay (bass) are from the USA. Our name symbolizes concepts like: ethnic inclusion, cultural diversity, international cooperation, religious tolerance, women's rights, LGBTQ equality, and in general, all of the truly spiritual intentions common to all of the world's religions and spiritual paths.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
So many of our shows are memorable. The common theme to them all is the universal acceptance of our band and its music by audiences that at first one would consider highly unlikely to receive us favorably. For example, we have opened shows for completely Spanish musical acts playing to completely Hispanic audiences as well as opening for heavy metal/death metal rock acts to completely hard rock oriented Caucasian audiences, and we have also opened shows for old school R&B acts and also straight up Rap concerts with completely African American audiences and all of these audiences have reacted overwhelmingly positively to our music and its message (to our tremendous delight!). There truly is something in our music for everyone.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
There are several wonderful venues in Southern California that we love playing in the tremendously including: The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano!!, The Regent & The Vermont in Los Angeles, and The Grove Theater of Anaheim, for larger venue capacities, and then The Whisky a Go Go, The Viper Room, and The Troubadour in Hollywood for smaller cap venues. We would really like to open shows at The Hollywood Bowl or The Greek Theater in LA.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
It would be an honor to open a show for BTS (even though our musical styles are not quite similar). This wonderful group has a message that is the same as ours: international cooperation, ethnic inclusion, cultural tolerance and personal integrity.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
My #1 advice would be to be sure to have a reliable day job and a secondary skill as a fallback position to support yourself while pursuing your musical dream and #2 to practice, practice, practice (both individually and together relentlessly), #3 constantly seek outside advice, constructive criticism and guidance from professionals with bona fide industry experience, #4 beware of the liars, cheaters, deceivers and charlatans that are literally everywhere in the music industry who literally make a living by preying on the hopes and dreams of the aspiring artists, and #5 beware of drugs and alcohol which also in their own way prey on the hopes and dreams of the aspiring artists.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
I often go back to places that were significant in my musical past and pray and try to send advice to myself back in the past sending messages of: continuing encouragement, inspiration, discipline, dedication and patience for the unimaginably long road ahead.
Of your songs, which one means the most to you and why?
All of our songs have tremendous meaning to me because of the history of the band that they are associated with but currently:
“Sweetest Pain” expresses the pain of being in a relationship with someone whom you love tremendously and deeply however that person is not yet ready for this level of true love and the pain that comes with the slow but inevitable realization that this person will most likely never be ready for this kind of love and so must be slowly released and the relationship must be allowed to dissolve. This "sweet pain" can actually be an unavoidable anguish until the relationship is finally resolved and the person is released.
“The Other Side” expresses the spiritual aspects of our message describing the absolute reality of tangible contact and communication with the unseen spiritual world as a direct experience and the beautiful inspirations and guidance that can be received from pursuing this.
“Dead” displays the power of the band and the intensity of our collective drive to succeed together.
“Diamonds” expresses the challenge of overcoming tremendous personal adversity and the spiritual rewards that are eventually reached only by enduring these pressures with determination, faith, patience, sincerity and tenacity...."only diamonds are made under pressure."
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
All of the above songs and actually all of our songs are our favorites to play for different reasons for each band member, but I would say that pretty universally when we play "Diamonds" we can all literally feel the crowd being "won over" during that particular song because of its message and the intensity with which we deliver it. I would say that “Diamonds” is the song that touches all of the various audiences we have played to most universally.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Generally, our guitarist Kazuki Tokaji has a writing session with songwriter Jim McGorman (Goo Goo Dolls, Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani) and they generate a rough demo which the band then arranges, interprets, and twists to our musical style. During that process, Khadia often makes adjustments to the vocal lines and creates "rap" segments when appropriate. After this, the band goes into the studio with our producer Ethan Kaufmann (Dorothy) and the song is further modernized and updated into the powerful, edgy modern rock style that we are now known for.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
The message of our music is based on concepts like: ethnic inclusion, cultural understanding, international cooperation, religious tolerance, women's rights, LGBTQ equality, personal integrity and in general all of the truly spiritual intentions common to all of the world's religions and spiritual paths.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Of course, we have disagreements in the band from time to time, but they tend to be minor stylistic differences that are easily solvable thru discussion and compromise. In terms of major issues like general direction and musical style and overall approach, we are all very much in alignment and agreement.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
We are releasing 1 new single and video every 45 days thru the end of 2022 and will be releasing another single, a video and an entire EP at the end of Jan/early Feb in 2023. Several of our songs are up for placement in movies/tv/commercials and we are also being considered for some prominent talk show appearances that are in the works. Fingers Crossed on all of these developments, any one of which could really help to launch the band!
I would like to close this interview with a message of inspiration, love, hope, sincerity, integrity, recovery and spirituality to the hearts of anyone out there who is open to hear it: "All true religions and spiritual paths lead to the very same loving God, and not one Soul will be lost!"