According to a recent press release: “It’s impossible to pigeonhole the sound of Circle The Earth. With a lineup featuring members from across the U.S., Taiwan, Brazil, and Japan, all of whom bring extensive professional experience to their music, the independent band craft a seamless combination of rock, pop, soul, hip-hop, and even emo. In addition to Khadia (a former background singer for Imagine Dragons, American Idol, and The American Music Awards who has also performed on gigs with Mya, Janelle Monae and Prince) and Tokaji (who was born in Japan and began playing guitar at age 7), the five-piece is rounded out by founding member, bassist and Atlanta native Michael McBay, Brazilian-born drummer Sandro Feliciano (who has toured with Ms. Lauryn Hill and Teena Marie) and keyboardist/music director Sandy Chao Wang, who grew up in Taiwan. Circle The Earth coalesced over the course of several years, first formed in 2018, driven by the vision of McBay and an overall message of bringing people hope, love and truth in a world that can feel maddening and hateful at times. They strive to produce music as positive and uplifting as possible, with messages of unity and inclusion that emphasizes the beauty of diversity and leaves good vibes in its wake. The band officially debuted in 2020 with their single “Could Be You” and have since released “Dead,” “All The Way,” and “Diamonds,” amassing over 2 million views on their official YouTube channel and nearly 750K streams on Spotify. Circle The Earth has also graced the stages of such famed LA venues including The Viper Room, Whisky a Go Go and The Mint as well as a performance at NAMM, building quite the reputation for their explosive live show. “Sweetest Pain” marks the band’s first release of many for Circle The Earth this year.” We get singer bassist Michael to discuss new music, influences, and more.
1. Tell us a little about your latest release. What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through? Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?
On first listen of our new single “Too Many Pieces,” the overall excellent vocal delivery, song arrangement, catchy chorus, and engaging instrumental solos, I believe, are what strike the casual listener first. Then, after several listens and more careful analysis, the diehard fan will appreciate the stellar production value of Ethan Kaufmann, including the excellent blending of the vocal harmonies and the powerful delivery of the rhythm section as well as the musicality of the way Sandy’s keyboard solo segues into Kazuki’s guitar solo and the subtle atmospheric background sounds as well as the obvious strength of Jim McGorman & Kazuki Tokaji’s collaborative songwriting ability.
2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?
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.
3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?
I am personally influenced by the excellent songwriting and underlying message of unity of the music of Sly & The Family Stone, Simon & Garfunkel, and any and all of the music of Yes – the tangible spirituality and power of their live concerts and the quality of people that attended them as well as the inspiring level of musicianship, songwriting and positive uplifting message of their music.
4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?
Any of the classic songwriters like Desmond Child, Dianne Warren, Jack Antonoff. But we are very happy working with Jim McGorman (Goo Goo Dolls / Gwen Stefani / Avril Lavigne) and we continue to collaborate with him very successfully.
5. What is your favorite activity when out of the studio and/or not on tour? What do you like to do to unwind?
Sandy (keys) and Mike (bass) practice martial arts quite seriously 6 days/week. Khadia (vocals) takes boxing lessons. Sandro (drums) is an amazing cook. Kazuki (guitar) practices guitar relentlessly and often unwinds with online video games.
6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?
The music of Circle The Earth is commercial melodic pop-rock with an “edge” that features excellent vocals, quality songwriting, strong instrumental delivery, and an underlying positive uplifting message. I have actually heard Circle The Earth compared to Mötley Crüe once which I found quite surprising and initially disagreed with, but Mötley Crüe is a great band with great energy so I’m ok with it.
7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?
Generally, either Sandy or Sandro or our manager (Johnny Miller) cook at our gatherings and they are all excellent cooks. Kazuki invariably plays acoustic guitar.
8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?
Kazuki has actually shared the stage with Steve Vai (the leading virtuoso electric rock guitarist in the world). Khadia has worked with Prince, Imagine Dragons and Kanye West. For me, personally, meeting Yes was a wonderful experience.
9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?
One of the best parts of being a musician for me, personally, is hearing a new composition fully recorded and mixed for the first time as well as the feedback from the audience when delivering a new composition live in concert for the first time. Other than being a musician, my dream job is being a medical doctor.
10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?
“What about God?” is the one question I have always wanted to be asked by an interviewer. My answer would be that, “All true religions and spiritual paths lead to the same loving God and not one Soul will be lost.” Honestly, being interviewed about the music and message of Circle The Earth is an honor and a privilege that we have all worked and sacrificed tirelessly for, for many many, many years. There are no questions that we are tired of answering – each question is a blessing and an affirmation of all the hard work and sacrifice that all of us have put in together.
11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?
Personally, my 20 years of addiction to crack were a great mistake, however the process of recovery from that (I am well over 12 years sober now) has deepened my character, spiritual focus, compassion, humility, sincerity and determination as well as my respect and appreciation for the wonderful people in and around Circle The Earth in ways that are so profound that it brings tears to my eyes to write this. After all that I have been through including jail, homelessness, loss of employment and my medical license, multiple treatment programs, etc. to be where I am today and to have survived all of that and still have been blessed to put together such a team of beautiful people, both in and around the band, with this level of talent, character, professionalism and integrity is amazing even to me. It is only by the Grace of God that this has been accomplished.
12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?
I would love to have been present during the recording of Close To The Edge by Yes. In particular during the closing outro where they are singing: “Now that it’s all over and done, called to the Seed, right to the Sun, now that you find, now that you’re whole…Seasons will pass you by…I get up, I get down. I get up, I get down. I get up, I get down.” Hearing the record Close To The Edge by Yes and experiencing the musical and spiritual intensity of it really inspired me on a very deep spiritual level from the very first time I heard it. My soul literally “came alive” as though it immediately recognized a spiritual frequency that was “brand new” and “ground-breaking” but also somehow immediately “familiar and precious.” for the first time, I realized that I was not at all alone in the search for knowledge of the one true God and The Light, that is common to all the religions and spiritual paths of the world, and I realized to what a tremendous extent music could be an integral part of seeking, sharing and delivering that Light with others.
In closing, I would like to say that all of the members of Circle The Earth (Khadia/vocals, Sandro/drums, Sandy/keys, Kazuki/guitar) as well as the team of people around the band are among the warmest, kindest, nicest, most sincere and most professional people that I have ever been blessed to work with and I don’t take a moment of any of this for granted! I (and all of us) try to push forward on behalf of everyone else – every single minute of every single day – pressing towards commercial success within a context of integrity, morality, diversity, inclusion and spiritual sincerity.