Circle The Earth is a combination of will, timing, and a little bit of luck.
The quintet of lead vocalist Khadia Handon, guitarist Kazuki Tokaji, bassist Michael McBay, keyboardist Sandy Chao Wang and drummer Sandro Feliciano uprooted from their native towns and countries to convene in Los Angeles, unknowingly foraging a musical partnership years after their arrival.
The band looks as different from each other as their sound does to your typical indie soul-infused rock band. Chao Wang, a native of Taiwan, says she was introduced to music early on as a method of expanding her mind and keeping her out of trouble.
“Growing up, there’s access to music because parents want their kids to do music,” she told BET during a recent interview. “I remember taking group piano lessons and I just always knew how to read music, I was in concert bands, marching bands, and once I moved here [at age 10], I’ve just always had that interest in music.
“Moving to America opened that door for me just in terms of I have so much more time to learn and practice and like it because the educational system in Taiwan is pretty strict,” she continues. “I decided to study music and moved out to Hollywood and kind of took off on there. I just wanted to learn, it was never really like I want to be on stage. I want to do all that but was more like I just wanted to learn and get better and that kind of led me to where I am.”
For bassist McBay, the group’s eldest member, his music history helps guide the band – almost as a father figure; however, the possibility of even participating in such didn’t come without its own personal trials and tribulations. A former addict, McBay has been clean from drugs and alcohol for 12 years now, which he says allows him to be honest in life and the music he creates.
“Being in recovery for a long time, the whole point is openness and drug addiction is all about medicating secrets and hiding pain and medicating pain,” he explains. “So the whole basis for recovering from drugs and from any addiction is expressing and revealing vulnerability, opening up about what’s wrong, telling people what the problems are, and what the pain is about and sharing it – and then being open to let the healing happen.
“Spirituality, God, whatever you want to call it comes in and heals those things and allows you to express your life more freely and stop hiding and stop medicating,” he adds. “That carries over to the music.”
Roughly a decade ago, McBay played the role of Circle The Earth’s founder, meeting the Brazilian-born Feliciano, who also grew up in a musical family and began playing percussion as a teenager. As an adult, he began playing gigs in cover bands and played rock and Brazilian music with friends before moving to California to attend the Los Angeles College of Music. It was around then that he met McBay and they met lead singer Khadia.
“After a few years of performing, everybody [I knew] kind of just scattered and started doing their own thing, finding other ways to make money so it just went to the wayside for a little bit but then I was introduced to Michael and it was just like the manifestation of coming back full circle,” she explains. “Michael had started this group and it was 100 percent my dream come true once again. So I was like, Yeah, this is definitely supposed to be it.”
The final piece of the quintet hails all the way from Japan, lead guitarist Kazuki Tokaji who has quite an impressive musical portfolio at such a young age. He started playing guitar when he was 7 years old, and drums at age 10. He graduated from the prestigious Musicians Institute in 2018 and has performed with many talented artists including Grammy-award winner Steve Vai Marty Friedman of Megadeth. Tokaji has also helped write and produce several of the band’s songs.
According to Tokaji the group’s differences not only in culture but background in music is what sets them apart from other bands. “We are all professionals (of different music genres). We all grew up in different states and different countries and we all have different (music) backgrounds. Some of us grew up with (and were influenced by) either Jazz, or R&B, or even Funk, and I grew up with Heavy Metal.”
Put it all together, Circle The Earth combines rock, pop, soul, hip-hop, and even emo music; however, most of their music has typically been heard during shows rather than through streaming. That, though, is about to change.
In early March, after dropping loose singles here and there, the group released their debut EP Hey, Goodbye, which they still wanted to make sound as though fans were hearing it in a venue capacity. That includes the project’s title track, one of their most popular.
“We started really developing it to make it sound live, so that it’s bigger than just a song [or album],” Khadia, a native of Silver Springs, Maryland, explains. “It’s interactive with the audience and I think for the most part, that might be one of our bigger songs because the audience gets to participate and it’s super exciting. We get really great response from that.”
The band says they continue to strive to create music that leaves good vibes in its wake while making the world a better place. On songs like “New Religion” and “Pick Your Poison,” Circle The Earth rebels against simply following the status quo or the pressures of simply getting through everyday life – and that’s relatable to nearly everyone, regardless of where they’re from.
It’s their bond, shared love of music, and companionship that made their varying backgrounds not only easily come together but a source of better understanding of each other and their overall mission.
“There’s a commonality between everybody in this band,” Khadia notes. “The commonality is everyone in our band, we’re like the first and maybe only musicians in our family. My parents come from a science background – they don’t know anything about music. I think that’s really cool that we made it from all over the corners of the Earth here, so confident in our ability, and we didn’t even have that type of structure or family lineage that did the same to kind of tell us what to do. We figured it out. We followed our spirit and it brought us together. It’s amazing to me.”
Listen to Circle The Earth’s EP Hey, Goodbye below.