Green on ‘Pixie Queen’ and Overcoming Addiction to Become his Best Self
October 13, 2016
Anthony Green has lived a full life. From being a member of post-hardcore darlings Saosin to fronting Circa Survive, he’s now just released his fourth solo album, Pixie Queen on September 9.
The album was written several years ago while he was getting clean from heroin and other narcotics, and in his words, struggling to become the best version of himself. Here Green opens up about his love/ hate relationship with drugs and how music and his family have changed his life.
Where did you grow up and what are some of your earliest memories of music?
I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and was the youngest of four boys. My brothers were all older than me; there’s a 10 year difference between me and my closest brother. They all listened to different music. You know, some of them listened to New Order. My oldest brother listened to a lot of punk and metal. I remember listening to Tool and Nirvana with him, I remember listening to Boyz 2 Men and stuff like that with my brother John. My parents were really into The Beatles, and Patsy Cline was always on in my house. My family was never like a “musical family,” [but] music was always playing and I was aware of its presence as something in my life that enhanced everything from a really, really young age. I don’t think it was until I was in high school, listening to more punk bands and seeing kids start bands, that I started thinking, “I could probably do this.” It requires very little talent — just a lot of energy, and I felt like I had a lot of both of those things: little talent and lots of energy.
What was the music you were playing and writing like before you were with Saosin?
The first music I started playing on guitar was like a 13-year-old’s version of Operation Ivy or Green Day. Those were the bands that I wanted to emulate. Then I got older and I discovered bands like Promise Ring and were cool and playing really interesting stuff. They sang pretty and really expressive, yell-y shit. I was really attracted to the guitar because it seemed so expressive. I [figured if I] learned how to do this, then maybe I would make friends who knew how to do this. That was basically the foundation of why I wanted to play music; I just wanted to make friends.
Where in the timeline of you playing music in multiple bands and releasing four solo albums, did marriage and children happen?
If you’re looking at my life as a timeline, marriage and children are the tiniest sliver right at the very end of it leading up to now. It’s like the last quarter of a chapter. My whole life, I never imagined I’d be married and a full-time musician, and have a bunch of little kids. My romantic fantasies as a child were being like, a fuckin’ hobo, you know? Traveling around meeting people and finding experiences. Kind of like that guy from Kung Fu who walked around and went on adventures. The marriage thing and falling in love and having kids all sort of happened incredibly organically. I was so dead-set against it, and it all unfolded like a beautiful, beautiful, death flower.
What’s it like trying to find this new balance between family man and touring musician?
At first, it’s like anything that’s new; it’s a little jarring. I’m still very much a baby when comes to all this and figuring out my footing. We’re still trying to find our balance. When we first started out it was awful. It’s like when you first try to skateboard — you’re getting thrown off and whatever. I can’t say we’re on the board all of the time now, we’re not pulling any crazy tricks and we figured out how to stay our course, you know? And we at least know now that no matter what happens, we can get through it because we’ve gotten this far. And that’s a pretty great feeling.
There was also your struggle with addiction and drugs. Was that more recent, or had it been a longstanding factor in your life as a musician?
I started falling in love with narcotics when I was 13. I loved drugs from before I even fell in love with music, [but] it doesn’t help your situation when all your favorite artists growing up were doing acid or heroin, or some crazy, scary drugs. I was attracted to that stuff for multiple reasons; probably a lot of it had to do with my mental chemistry. I had a little affair my entire life.
I’ve been clean from heroin for almost three years. I don’t take any other narcotics or anything. My life is so much more manageable now than it ever was. I think I struggled for a long time with anxiety and depression and I think it had to do with the fact that I wasn’t thinking very clearly. And I definitely got my paths crossed with whatever my intentions were in the beginning with drug use. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to go out and experiment with drugs. I just sat there too long with them, you know? I think if you want to go experiment with drugs, it’s a good idea. Go find out what you need to find out; you turn the rock over and you find what you need to find, and move on. I didn’t get the “move on” part. I didn’t want to feel anything. At this stage in my life, learning how to deal with those feelings and manage those feelings and what came along with that in a healthier way, helps me be a better dad. I feel like it helps myself in my craft, which is trying to make the truest music I possibly can. Truest as in trying to replicate the sounds I hear in my head in the truest form possible. All those things are not things I could have done when I was thinking in the mindset of a drug addict.
In a lot of ways, I still am very much a drug addict; I just apply those horrible drug addict habits to something more productive like making music. I’m a little more meticulous than I ever was; a little more focused than I ever was before.
With everything that happened with getting clean, did you take a different approach when writing Pixie Queen?
Honestly, I think that the process behind writing this record was so different than writing the other records, because I had a couple ideas that I had for a little while just sitting around. And then I had another good eight ideas that were just loose vocal lines and a couple parts just scribbled on my phone. I went in the studio with these melodies and did all my arrangements on the spot with my producer, and focused on arrangements in a place where I could try new things and hear what they sounded like.
When I did Young Legs, my last solo record — there isn’t a way to describe how high on heroin I was. Conceiving that record, recording the record. I was trying to stay straight during the day and then my kids would go to sleep and that would be the time that I would work. And that was also the time that I was getting fucked up. During the recording process, I was just out of my mind. It was just a miracle the record got made. Most of it had to do with [producer] Will Yip and Tim Arnold and Keith Goodwin, [who] helped me reel in the songs. There were definitely times I had no idea what was going on. And then it would sound awesome. And it was a really good feeling to go in there. I still do [that], where Keith and Tim would play on this record and I told them to just go fucking crazy. The difference between actually caring about what is happening and just really caring about getting out of there so you can get fucked up — there’s a huge difference there. I really enjoy being a part of the process.
I love what I do, I love music, you know? So, when I think about those times, it bums me out. A lot of times when I hear that record, there’s songs that still move me to a point I can’t describe. But, there’s also songs on that record where I just think, “What the fuck was I thinking doing this?"
I will make a mistakes, they will be documented forever, and I will learn from them and move on.
The first single from Pixie Queen, “A Reason to Stay” has a more positive vibe and the lyrics are sobering and earnest.
It was an interesting thing where I could just sit back and make really happy songs that also feel very sad and record it and make it very solemn. And there’s also songs where I’m singing about things that I really love and it sounds really sad. I think that’s really interesting because, in life, things aren’t really one way or the other. Everything comes with a silver lining; everything comes with a price. Even the greatest things in your life come with a little extra weight, maybe a little sadness with them. You lose something, you gain something.
What’s the biggest thing you want this record to accomplish?
I mean, the honest answer to that question is that it’s already done; it’s finished. I did it. To me, that’s as far as it goes. That’s where all of my torture comes from and that’s where all of my gratitude comes from. It’s a chapter of my life that I’m now able to close and move on to the next one and go do another record and then another one. And it’ll be going until 10 days after I’m dead. The whole point of it is just a habit; it’s done. It’s not going to do anything, it’s not going to make me famous and it’s not going to make me any money. It’s just gonna make me happy.
Well, it might make me a little money. Let me just add that in — it might make me a little money. It’s good because I need a little!
How is touring looking for the record?
Well we do all of September in America and I think that’s it, probably. I start writing and recording a Circa record after that, and I’m going to be having a new baby in November. And then I’ll hopefully have a new Circa record in December and be touring with them all next year. And probably playing little solo shows if I get a chance to.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians who are trying to play music as a career?
You know dude, I don’t think I’m qualified to give advice. I sometimes think I know stuff and can share stuff, but then I realize I don’t know shit. A lot of the stuff that has happened with me has happened by accident. I feel like any minute now people are going to realize that I’ve just been playing the role the best I can of someone who knows what they’re doing. People ask me all the time, “How do we do this?” And I’m like, “I don’t fuckin’ know, shit.” I don’t know what I’m doing. I play music as often as I can for anybody I can with anybody I like. And, I really don’t do it because I’m trying to be super popular or because I’m trying to make a whole bunch of money doing it; I just like doing it a lot. I want to do it all the time.
If you’re trying to be famous, I don’t know how to help you. If you’re trying to make a lot of money, I definitely don’t know how to help you. But if you want to know how to manage your own business that’s minutely successful and do that with four kids, I might be able to help you. I can tell you about living within your means while making very little money, haha.
Photography: Andrew Swartz