Interview: Truthcircle

Dan McAvinchey: Al, who were some of your earliest guitar influences?

Al Mitchell: Kiss was my original inspiration. I pretty much had all of their albums, and I used to use a tennis racquet and a cut out piece of paper shaped like a Les Paul and jump around pretending I was Paul Stanley. At the same time, a lot of my friends were listening to The Outlaws and Lynyrd Skynyrd so I got into them too. My buddy across the street has an Ibanez Roadstar series guitar, and I would borrow it when he was in between lessons and then not want to give it back to him. The next Christmas I got a student model Gibson Challenger. It looked almost like a Melody Maker, and I put a Kahler tremolo on it right away so I could do bomb drops like Eddie Van Halen, who was also one of my early influences.

Dan McAvinchey: What guitars and amplification have you used to get your sound, and what are you currently using?

Al Mitchell: On the first CD (3/3) I used a lot of vintage equipment, like an Ampeg, VT40 combo amplifier like the one Keith Richards used to use. It had four 10-inch speakers in it. I also used a Chandler tube driver and a Dunlop Crybaby wah wah peddle. The guitar I used was a B.C. Rich Strat shape with a single coil pickup in the front position. On the new CD, Come out Fighting, I changed to more modern equipment. I used a Washburn Nuno Bettencourt model guitar with humbucker pickups for a wider sound. The amplifier was a Fender Pro 185 with two, 12 inch speakers. I drove it with a Metalzone peddle. I got a killer sound out of it, but it was running so hard that the next time we practiced after the CD was finished, the transformer and one of the speakers fried out. I trashed it for a Yamaha 100 watt head and a half-stack to use on stage. It's super loud and much more dependable. I also recently bought two Fernandez Strats with humbuckers. I like to have two identical guitars to go out with on the road.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you striving to achieve musically?

Al Mitchell: I just want the people that hear us to know me as a good guitarist and songwriter. I'd like to leave a small mark on the world musically, even if that world only has ten people in it, that's OK with me. I also want to have a recognizable style. If someone hears one of our songs and can tell that it's Al Mitchell playing, that's cool. It seems that no one plays leads anymore, so just doing leads as an integral part of our arrangements is distinctive in itself.

Tom Baratta: I think musically we are all happy with what we do, and if we always try to challenge ourselves and have fun, we'll stay happy.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us about your most recently completed projects and what's currently in the works...

Scott Hildner: We have been recording a new CD, Come out Fighting; it has nine new songs recorded 24-track to DAT, and some extra tracks of old songs recorded in "low-fi", (live recording on a crappy recorder at practice), which were digitally mastered. That record won't be out until June '97, so we are still promoting 3/3, and doing shows playing that material. Besides that we've been doing the behind the scenes work of putting together the CD cover and new press kits. All of the record company and booking work is done ourselves now, so we are still looking for a small label and management to help us out with getting a bigger tour together when the CD is released. We are also trying to hook up a release of 3/3 in Europe and Japan. We made some really good connections over the past year, but that could go either way, you never know.

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Dan McAvinchey: How is the music composed for the Truthcircle albums?

Tom Baratta: We all write together at rehearsal. We never set out to write something new, it always happens that one of us will be tuning up with an idea or just jamming on something, and the other two will jump on it. By the time we realize it, half the song is already written. We look at each other and say, "I guess we're gonna' write today!" They usually come out spontaneously.

Al Mitchell: Then we refine the song little by little by going over it at the next few practices.

Tom Baratta: Lyrically, it depends on the song. Sometimes Al will sing a melody while we are writing, but the words will just be mumbles. Then I take the cassette from practice home with me and write actual words to it but keep the same melody and hooks Al was singing. It's a strange way of writing lyrics, but it seems to work for us.

Scott Hildner: On the first CD we went into the studio totally prepared with lyric sheets in hand, but this time Tom and I were writing new lyrics to the second verse of a song while Al was in the vocal booth still singing the first verse. Again, it was totally spontaneous. I think we all know enough about each others instruments to just gel on the spot. We never get bogged down about comments like, "I don't like this part, or I don't like that fill, etc.." If it sucks we all know it, and if it's great we all know it too. It helps that we're a trio, there are less people to satisfy.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you record at home as well or rent time at a commercial facility?

Tom Baratta: We record at Marion Studios in our hometown of Fairview, NJ, with one of our good friends engineering, Frank Fagnano. We've done lots of demos there and have known the owner for a long time, so he tries to help us out and keep the recording costs within our budget. We rehearse at another friend's studio, Sessions in Palisades Park N.J., where we've done and still do all the pre-production for the CD's and live shows. The owner was, ironically, the first guitarist Scott and I ever played with, so he helps us out too.

Dan McAvinchey: What made you decide to release an independent, self-financed record and start your own record label?

Scott Hildner: Before we got together as Truthcircle I had been playing with a hardcore/punk band doing a lot of basement shows and D.I.Y projects. I saw so many bands putting out their own products, like 7-inch records, CD's, t-shirts, etc.. and having success with that, I knew when we started the band, I wanted to do the same thing. First, we recorded a two track live demo tape for $450, sold a bunch of those, but we all knew that if we wanted to be taken seriously we would have to record a full length CD.

Tom Baratta: This is not the 80's anymore when bands get signed to development deals. Labels want to see bands ready to go. That means doing it all yourself. We all want to be big stars someday, but no one is knocking on our door right now saying, "Hey Truthcircle.. We think you're great and we want to make you famous!" We know that if we don't do it ourselves, it's never going to happen.

Scott Hildner: In the beginning, we started our own label only to be taken seriously by industry people. At times it seems like the whole thing is a big lie to make ourselves seem more important, but them you take a step back from yourself, see all the hard work you've done, and say, "This is what record labels do for artists anyway, so I guess we are a real record label."

Dan McAvinchey: From your experience, what are the advantages and disadvantages, of being an independent group of musicians?

Al Mitchell: The advantage is we control everything, from what goes into the songs to the shows we play. I hope we get a big record deal someday, but I would hate to have some outside party telling me what my music should sound like.

Tom Baratta: We're getting spoiled by being our own producers.

Al Mitchell: The disadvantage is coming up with money for all the expenses.

Scott Hildner: We pay for everything, including photocopies of the press kit, stamps, gasoline, and a million other things that you don't realize you need when you start your own label. It's easy to lose sight that the music is the most important thing, when everyone is stressing out about being able to afford guitar strings because we just sent out $200 worth of press packages.

Dan McAvinchey: Would you have any promotion tips or any inspirational message for musicians about to release their first independent record?

Tom Baratta: First I'd say make sure the band is stable -- you can't get anywhere if the band breaks up. Second, get product. Do whatever you have to do to get something impressive together. Save your money and do it right. There are a lot of great books out there on how to release your own CD. You could also ask anyone in the industry that you already have a contact with for information. That a good way of networking and promoting your product before it is even finished.

Scott Hildner: My tip is to make friends with a photocopy machine. Learn how to use it inside and out. It may sound stupid, but I save all my pocket change in a jar to use at Staples every week, so I can send out press kits and flyers for upcoming shows continually. My other tip is to carry your product and information with you all the time. Support other original bands and go anywhere other musicians gather. Network with anyone and everyone. You never know who may be able to help you. Also, if you can get yourself in front of a computer, do it. Get a web site, even if it's just a small page, as long as you have a URL you can link yourself to everyone else who's doing the same thing as you in cyberspace. This interview never would have happened if I didn't E-mail Guitar Nine on the chance that they might be interested in us. This is a great way of getting our name out there, and we are very grateful to have the opportunity to do this. Thank you Guitar Nine!

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Guitarist Al Mitchell, along with Scott Hildner on bass and Tom Baratta on drums, form the funk/rock band Truthcircle. From the suburbs of New York City, this trio decided that releasing their own CD and living for music was the only way to follow their hearts desire. In 1996, Truthcircle released their first CD, "3/3", an aggressive, powerful, and realistic representation of life. The record was released on their own label, Airquake Records. The members of Truthcircle then set about doing everything possible to connect with others in the music industry, to promote their band as well as their new record.

Dan McAvinchey asked the members of Truthcircle to divulge their motivations and inspirations for doing what many bands only talk about but never accomplish -- an independent release with uncompromised artistic integrity.