Circle Pit
by Kevin J. Elliott

“Obtuse” and “impenetrable” are perhaps the touchstone signifiers of most of the artists to be found on the legendary Siltbreeze label. It’s like those Dead C records are imbedded with an ancient code only a select few can crack to truly “get it,” To wit, with the recent Axemen reissues, one might need a proper sweat-tent cleansing before being able to witness the genius within. Silt-guru Tom Lax was born with an innate sense of foresight, hearing the eventual transcendence of one of those albums the first time through, knowing it would likely take another 20 spins before the plebs take hold. Lately though, it seems as if Lax has become a softie for the sounds that likely fueled his late-70s and early-80s eggers and keggers. Despite the Clapton covers, the neu-blooz of Mt. Carmel is enough to convince the avid Silt-cult survivor that the man at the controls is steering the ship towards being something a bit more impressionable upon initial contact. It might not be a remedy for the average Tropic Macaca fan, but the guy’s got those bases covered two-fold—now it’s time for some rock. Nowhere is that more evident than with the recent signing of Sydney, Australia’s Circle Pit.

The singularly named Angie and partner Jack Mannix, the absolute core of Circle Pit, aren’t at all forgiving for their first love and muse of classic rock riffs stewed with the urgent desperation and apathetic slack of 21st century junkie psych. This is sleazy biker blues and opium den hallucinations on the eternal riff. Bruise Constellation (to be released sooner than later) was admittedly written and recorded in a drug-induced blur. But the epiphanies that rose from those toxic sessions are made of cathartic grooves and a confident, swaggering buzz that never pretends to be too pretentious for its own well-being. Sure, the waifish girl-boy dynamic lends to a certain stylistic sickness that hearkens back to the glorious Royal Trux renaissance. Exile on Main Street is likely a breakfast cereal staple for the duo, but there’s also that Aussie outback to contend with—and for the better. Circle Pit soak it all in and appear to exude a glowing reverence for these traditions that is rarely heard in the black-market environment of the collector-scum universe. Not saying you’ll hear this stuff on satellite radio, but your stoner uncle might be jamming it the next time you’re spliffing amongst the suburbs of your hometown.

First I need your name, age, and what you do in the group.

Angie: My name is Angie. I am 23 years old. I write the songs with Jack, my best friend, and I play guitar and sing.

Jack Mannix: Jack Mannix, 21, guitar and vocals.

Is Circle Pit your first band or did both of you play in other groups before this?

A: I had played in bands before Circle Pit, and still do. Jack and I played in two other bands together before this one. We have been making music together in many forms for almost a decade. Although having played in many bands, I would never have called any of them “mine.” I know that Circle Pit is different in the sense that I am 50% of the drive and direction of the band. Thats why it is the most special to me.

JM: The main project we were both focused on before Circle Pit was a band called Kiosk with our friend Catherine, but we’ve both been in several other bands together and separately in the past. Currently, I play drums and bass for Angie and Harriet’s other band called Southern Comfort, who are amazing—surf inspired stoner ballads, with heartbreaking harmonies—and I have a band with my friend Roberta called Beautiful.

What was the stimulus that formed Circle Pit? Did you start with a clear idea of how you wanted to sound?

A: As I said, Jack and I had played in many bands previously, but none where the two of us were really the driving force. I wanted to be making songs in my bedroom, rather than in the company or others or while playing in a band. I found that all these songs were coming to me without the aid of instruments or others, small melodies that would arise while walking or talking. I needed Jack to help me mold them into songs, and he needed the same. The projects we were involved in could not really facilitate this kind of creativity as the songs were much more personal, confessional than anything else.

JM: It was really a natural progression, Angie and I grew up together, from teenage punks into whatever we are now—I guess this is our outlet for figuring all that shit out. We don’t think  about how we’re going to sound before we write a song. We kind of figure all that out after the fact. Our writing process is quite instantaneous and subconscious, like we’re exorcising our demons or something, but we don’t know until it’s out there in the open for everyone to see.

Bruise Constellation is unabashedly stuffed with classic-rock and electric-blues riffs, nothing too strange or obtuse. So I’m interested in knowing if there were classic rock albums that inspired you more than others? Do you think there were certain American and British groups that were more popular than others in Australia?

A: There are so many classic rock albums that are a constant influence—too many to name. Creedence’s Green River, Springsteen. Australia has always looked up to Britan and America, maybe a little too much for musical inspiration. I feel there is enough stuff making a good commotion over here. The Scientists’ Blood Red River and the Johnnys’ Highlights of a Dangerous Life are classic Australian rock albums that I will always love.

JM: Like Angie said, far too many to mention. Classic rock is most of what I listen to, and I find so many albums incredibly inspiring for different reasons. American and British groups are probably more popular than Australian groups in Australia. I’m not sure which were the most popular back in the day, because I wasn’t around then.

I’ve heard a lot of the ’70s rock from Australia, like Colored Balls and Buffalo. Is that something you can point to as an influence? Are there particulars that you feel define an Aussie record?

A: The first band Jack and I were in actually took our name from a Buffalo song. I’ve been listening to them more lately, especially Volcanic Rock. I love the lead guitar tone. I’m also a fan of the “pub rock” bands from Australia in the ’70s and ’80s: the Expression, the Church, the Sunnyboys, the Johnnys, GOD. There is also plenty of latter era post-punk bands in Sydney—like Slugfuckers, Systematics, Pel Mel—that I really dig. I guess a lot of Australian bands share themes of desperation and isolation related to the fact that we are so far away from everything. There is a desperation to make something happen down here, so we don’t just sit and rot. But I guess to an extent you find that everywhere. The thing I find about Australian culture is that there is so many extremes. It is so relaxed, everyone sitting on the beach all day long. But then there are intense social paranoia and police everywhere. There are huge cities full of life and culture, but as soon as you leave, no urban sprawl, just fucking outback and desert for hours and hours and hours. I’m sure these extremes find their way into songs somehow. 

JM: Australia in the ’70s was ruling. Not only were there the incredible biker rock bands like Buffalo, AC/DC and Coloured Balls, but there were some really amazing punk and post-punk bands like the Boys Next Door, the Victims, Go-Betweens, the Saints, Primitive Calculators and all the other “little bands” in Melbourne. Also, there were bands like Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl, and Goanna, who were really popular over here but probably not so well known abroad. They were part of that “pub rock” sound Angie mentioned, which I think is pretty unique to Australia.

Of course Royal Trux were an inspiration, especially in the vocals. Do you have a favorite RTX album?

A: We get compared to Royal Trux a lot, and yes we are fans of the band, but I think perhaps it is a stylistic thing more than anything else (i.e. boy/girl, both interested in fashion). The way we operate the band—with two writing and instructing a touring band—also holds similarities. I feel that bands like Blue Oyster Cult and the Plasmatics are more of an inspiration as far as the vocals and music goes. 

JM: Royal Trux is an amazing band, and have definitely inspired me many times before, but I never look to another band for inspiration when it comes to our music. Our songs are very personal and come to us subconsciously. I really dislike the idea of someone sitting down to write a song with a certain band or another song in mind. It seems so calculated and unreal. I also believe quite strongly in singing in your natural voice, which is particularly a problem in Australia. With all these bands singing in fake American or British accents—it’s weird. That said, I guess my favourite Royal Trux album would be the third (untitled) record, the one with gold skulls and pink text.

Can you describe the scene on a typical night of recording, partying or playing with Circle Pit?

JM: If you’d have asked us this question a year ago, the answer would have been a lot more unsettling. Fortunately those darker days are behind us for now. Nowadays we just chain smoke, get blazed, watch TV, and hustle for cash.

What was the process like when recording Bruise Constellation?

JM: We recorded the album over two days at a studio in Sydney’s Italian district. Most of it was done live and in one take, with some guitar and vocal overdubs. I was in the middle of a bad drug problem so it was kind of a blur for me. Half our band was absent from the studio at any given time either scoring or taking drugs. It was seriously gross. We’re not like that any more.

How did you get hooked up with Siltbreeze? Are you big fans of the label?

JM: Pink Reason and Psychedelic Horseshit toured Australia last year. Angie was away in Europe at the time, but I went down to their show and met the guys. They were really sweet and got me to sing “Freebird” with them. We hung out a bit that night and talked shit, traded records. They passed ours on to Tom Lax, and he wrote to us. We’re massive fans of the label, so we were totally stoked.

Fill in the blanks:
In ____, I was in the 10th grade, listening to ____ with ____ in the ____, doing ___ , thinking one day I’d be ____.

A: In 2001, I was in the 10th grade, listening to the Stones in the park with Jack, doing nothing, thinking one day I’d have a band like Circle Pit.

JM: In 2004, when I would have been in 10th grade had I not dropped out, I was in Melbourne, listening to the Germs with Angie in the gutter sniffing amyl, thinking one day I’d be dead.

What’s next for Circle Pit once the record comes out? Are you planning to tour in the States?

JM: Right now we’re finishing off writing our second album, WASSUP, working on an exhibition we’re doing in Melbourne, and planning a summer tour of the States with Pink Reason.