Words: James Frostick
Band image: Chris Cornale
After several years in the wilderness, wickedly wayward Sydney rock-and-roll legends Circle Pit are back with a new-old EP. Wicked Wicked Time is comprised of four tracks written in the early stages of the band’s career, encapsulating them at a reckless, destructive, enlivening and entertaining part of their existence.
When you break it down, Circle Pit is essentially a success story. For some, the tale of the Sydney-born glam-meets-scum-rock hedonists is an infamous example of burning out and wasted potential. But ask those that know the band members a bit more, you’d hear it differently. The pairing of Angela Garrick (aka Angela Bermuda) and Jack Mannix came together in the late 2000s, performing as Kiosk before evolving into the debaucherous duo Circle Pit around 2008. The two wrought engrossing rock-and-roll numbers informed by bands such as The Rolling Stones and Royal Trux, with hedonism, desperation, sleaze and excess imbued into the very essence of each song they wrote. The duo lived the life they wrote about, and the music of Circle Pit bore the weathering of hard living and harder partying. As one can assume, such a lifestyle isn’t sustainable for the long haul. By 2011 the band entered a hiatus as Jack’s drug addictions fractured the creative partnership.
It’s been ten years since Circle Pit released it’s only full-length album Bruise Constellation – a now-iconic record that bridged classic rock with the scuffed-up down-and-out grit of Australia’s underground. Aside from a scattering of excellent singles on either side of the record, there’s not a lot of extra material available for listening. Those that dug Circle Pit in the late-aughts and early twenty-teens clutch these recordings like precious valuables, not knowing that out there in the world existed an EP’s worth of material waiting to see the light of day. While the band was touring America soon after Bruise Constellation’s release, Jack and Angie recorded Wicked Wicked Time – a four-track EP of tracks from their earliest writing sessions – with Matt Whitehurst from Psychedelic Horseshit in Columbus, Ohio. Originally thought lost, the tracks have been recovered and are now being shared with the world –nearly a decade on from Circle Pit’s last official release.
The EP itself (out now through Jack’s label Dero Arcade) is Circle Pit at its purest form – not overwrought, just impulsive enough to convey the energy that caught our ears in the first place. It’s boogie rock recorded in the midst of a rager. Contained within are elements of blues, hair metal, country and punk – the right kind of mixture for a good party. These are tracks conceived in the band’s sloppier early days, true – so those that hold Bruise Constellation in the highest regard might not rank these tracks on the same level. But who the fuck cares – new Circle Pit is incredible because many thought there’d never be new Circle Pit. Which is why I think they’re a success story.
In the years following the band’s dissolution, personal demons threatened to derail Jack’s life, not just his career. To see Jack and Angela back on stage (the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately pulled the plug on previously announced shows with Sheer Mag and Low Life), having them clean, comfortable and creating is what should be celebrated the most. They’re alive, resilient, here now – living their best lives out from under the shadow of addiction. What’s more, this release holds the promise of potentially new-new material to come, which would really be something. Use Wicked Wicked Time to reminisce about what Circle Pit was. Use Wicked Wicked Time to consider what Circle Pit could now be.
I chatted with Jack Mannix of Circle Pit about the era Wicked Wicked Time was conceived, what these songs mean to the band and what the future holds for Circle Pit:
To start, I was wondering if you could take me back to the time the recording took place. If you can recall, what was the band dynamic like and what was the mindset of the group during those days?
Jack: We recorded the EP while we were on tour in the states in 2010 – on my 22nd birthday in Columbus, Ohio – with Matt from Psychedelic Horseshit and a few friends. We were about six weeks into an eight-week tour with shows most nights. I think we did 55 dates all up in just under eight weeks, so as you can imagine it was a pretty insane time. Speaking strictly for myself, I was battling a pretty bad opiate addiction and was a completely different person to who I am today. Touring made it difficult to maintain my habit so I took to drinking most nights and micro-dosing acid that I woke up with in New Orleans.
The night we recorded the EP was also Thanksgiving, so was a particularly long and loose night with a lot of food, Jack Daniel’s and Xanax. We had just toured Australia with Yeah Yeah Yeahs earlier that year and released our album Bruise Constellation through Siltbreeze in the states, along with our ‘Sewercide’/’Roll With The Punches’ 7″ (Sweet Rot/R.I.P. Society), so by the time we got to Ohio we were probably tighter than we’d ever been as a band. At this point the line-up consisted of myself and Angie, with Harriet Hudson on guitar, Al Haddock on bass and Owen Penglis on drums.
The tour was so incredible – many highs and low lows, our friend Mike Spyros drove us all over the country and almost every night was a new party in a new city. Needless to say we were young, starry-eyed and making the most of all the fun and adventures on offer. Who doesn’t want to travel the world with their best friends day in, day out doing what they love? Despite some personal turbulence I still look back on these days and this tour very fondly – perhaps time and distance work like rose-coloured glasses, and while I am very grateful to be in a better place physically and mentally, I wouldn’t trade these experiences and times with friends for the world.
You were coming off the release of Bruise Constellation – what were your thoughts on the response to the album, direction of the band and its trajectory at that juncture?
Jack: We recorded Bruise Constellation over two days in 2009, not realising it would be released as an album. We were making demos for an album but then ended up just releasing those recordings. Our lives were pretty chaotic already by this point, and getting the band from that album together to record was pretty difficult at the time (the band on Bruise Constellation was ourselves, Jai K Morris-Smith on Guitar, Al Haddock on bass and Jeff Lewis on drums).
I was personally pretty blown away by the response to the album – I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to creative endeavours, so I wasn’t that happy with the recordings initially, but in hindsight I’m proud of what we made with the limited resources and sanity we had at the time. We always intended on making music consistently for as long as we could, like The Stones, and we were always planning our next move.
We met with Sub Pop at their Seattle offices about doing a 7″ for their Hardly Art imprint (which came out in 2011 as ‘Slave’/’Honey’) and discussed an album. Then things fell apart for me in my private life and it became clear that I needed to take care of myself and get better before we could continue functioning as a band, so we essentially dissolved in 2011 after releasing ‘Slave’/’Honey’, potentially on the cusp of bigger things for the band, but at the expense of our wellbeing and friendships. So we pulled the plug indefinitely.
What was the origin of these four tracks? Were they holdovers from Bruise Constellation writing sessions or fresh material?
Jack: ‘Neon Idol’ and ‘Come To The Beach’ were relatively new songs for us at the time we recorded it, having written them earlier that year in Australia, but Wicked Wicked Time was formed in the earliest stages of us being a band – back in 2007 when Angie and I decided to start writing. I had almost never played guitar before and that was the first song on guitar that I had ever written myself. Angie and I workshopped it into something semi-cohesive, wrote vocals and lyrics and never really revisited it once we started writing more straightforward material, until we decided to record it in Columbus. Then we solidified lyrics and structure etc – I think it’s my favourite song from the record because it took three years to write and record. We released our first 7″ ‘Total Waste’/’Everybody Left’ in 2008 on R.I.P. Society (their first release also), and around the time of writing those songs we also came up with ‘Winning Streak’, which we played live occasionally but could never find a good fit for on any releases until this EP came to be, somewhat spontaneously, so these songs span 2007-2010 but were recorded in one long night late 2010.
What sparked the idea of recording them while on tour?
Jack: We were staying with Matt from Psychedelic Horseshit and Beth from Times New Viking (both Siltbreeze label mates of ours) and we had been discussing the possibility of recording with them when we had a night off in Columbus prior to our arrival. It happened pretty organically and haphazardly – as is the nature of touring – which I think adds to the shambolic, wasted, gnarly beauty of these recordings.
From what I’ve read this was a gruelling trip for the band. How much did setting and circumstance play in shaping these recordings?
Jack: I don’t think this record would sound the way it does if it had been recorded in a different time and place. The band was tighter than ever but this night we were also particularly loose, which is one of my favourite qualities in rock and roll music – that tension between stadium rock and blown-out experimentation. I also think that working with a character like Matt definitely lent an added level of fucked-up-ness to this session, which feels like a fossil by this point – a snapshot of a very specific and somewhat unfamiliar juncture in our lives.
What was the recording session itself like? Smooth sailing or contentious in its own way?
Jack: As I mentioned previously, this was recorded on Thanksgiving 2010 – which was also my 22nd birthday – so by the time everything was set up and we hit record, we were all already well on our way to being wasted. Many hours and drinks later the last thing I remember is Angie and I forgetting almost all of the lyrics to ‘Wicked Wicked Time’ and having to re-write them in a stupor, then recording that song last. You can almost hear the chemicals and insanity seeping through the speakers.
Stylistically and thematically, what was new and exciting about these tracks for the two of you at the time?
Jack: Half the songs were new and fresh to us, while the other two were fairly old by this point – so it’s different for each song really. But I suppose this was kind of a full-stop on a period for us musically, our final scum-rock record before we recorded the dream-pop ‘Slave’/’Honey’ single in 2011, and eventually moved on to other projects and sounds, together and separately.
It’s been ten years since these tracks were recorded. I think I read that it was planned to come out through Bedroom Suck. What caused the delay?
Jack: So many things. We were originally supposed to release the EP with Sacred Bones, but after our US tour shit hit the fan more than once for me in my personal life/hell, so we put things on hold while I attempted to address these issues. A few years later we played a couple of shows as Circle Pit and spoke to Joe from Bedroom Suck about releasing the EP. He was keen and so were we, but I was still struggling with mental health and addiction, and so it never eventuated. Then the masters went missing (not the first time Circle Pit recordings have vanished into the ether), and Angie had to travel back to the states and track them down in what can only be described as a mission improbable, but as luck would have it we finally got them back, mostly intact.
What makes them resonate enough to warrant a release now?
Jack: We always intended to release them one day but after several years felt there was no real urgency to do so. Angie and I briefly reunited musically as GLÖSS in the mid-2010s, with a focus on more industrial, electronic sounds fused with guitar solos and rock-and-roll songwriting. We had other projects on the go (Angie was doing Southern Comfort, Ruined Fortune and solo work, while I had Drown Under and a solo noise project Terminal Infant), and I kept moving back to Melbourne, making it difficult to continue to collaborate consistently.
I got my personal life back on track a few years ago and started my own record label Dero Arcade and we released Angie’s last two solo records Shyness (2017) and The Underling (2019). I felt like (and still feel like) I owed it to Angie to make up for all the years she had to put up with my wild, unhinged ways. I needed to prove to her that I was changing and growing up, becoming more responsible and bearable, and I think these things take time. Then mid last year I came back to Sydney for the first time in four years and just felt like I needed to be back here and back around Angie and my friends who I grew up with. I kept coming back to Sydney every other weekend for months and eventually sublet a room in October to spend some time living here, testing the waters for a potential move.
Then one fateful day in early October out of nowhere we were offered two shows to play as Circle Pit, one in Sydney in late October, and one in Melbourne in mid-December. It seemed too serendipitous to not consider – despite having not played in over five years – and after a brief discussion we decided to say yes to these shows and potentially reforming the band. The Sydney show was so much fun and was received so well that we decided to do this for real, and since we didn’t have any new material we figured why not release the old recordings ten years later? Sort of an end and a beginning at the same time, if that makes sense. We needed to purge the past in order to forge our futures, and as everything old becomes new again – rock-and-roll was back in vogue so we decided to cash in.
Looking back reflectively, what do you think these tracks encapsulate best about that era of Circle Pit?
Jack: Our youthful ambition, reckless abandon, chemical impairment and undying love for each other and the outer limits of rock-and-roll music/life.
The band has performed a couple of times since coming back into the spotlight (it’s a shame the Sheer Mag show can’t go ahead!) What was the live dynamic like at the Bendigo Hotel gig back in December?
Jack: I honestly don’t remember that show and would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to the amazing band we had that night (Harriet Hudson, Jai K Morris-Smith, Annie Llewellyn, Brent Ferrarin, and of course Angie) and everyone who came to see our first Melbourne show in eight or nine years. I tripped over some guitar cases at soundcheck and fractured my wrist, and because of my history with opiates didn’t want to take painkillers. Also I was already tipsy and hate hospitals so I decided to just soldier on and drink through the pain. Unfortunately the combination of my drinking over an extended period of time and inability to move my wrist meant that I was a mess by the time we played – incapable of playing guitar properly and unable to recall lyrics or song structure. Definitely not my proudest moment, but fun nonetheless. We drove to Adelaide the next morning to play the following night and I didn’t make it to a hospital for two days, but we had a riot despite all the off-leash behaviour. I suppose chaos is inescapable for us and may be one of the essential ingredients to the band, although we’re trying to minimise it more these days.
You’ve discussed elsewhere the personal circumstances that led to the band’s hiatus after the ‘Slave’/’Honey’ release. Are you far enough removed from those times that you’re considering a new chapter for Circle Pit, or does Wicked Wicked Time represent more of a book-end?
Jack: I’m proud to say that myself and the rest of the band are all several years clean from opiates (those of us who ever had problems that is), and I honestly don’t know how we survived what we did. I cannot imagine doing half of the shit I used to do in my youth, and it kills me to think about what I put everyone through with my complete and utter disregard for life and all its beauty. Thankfully we are all in a place now where time has healed old wounds, and we’re looking after ourselves and each other. Wicked Wicked Time is both a book-end and a new beginning – we have been slowly working on new material for Circle Pit reincarnate, some ideas left over from the old days but mostly a fresh start. We are back to stay and plotting as if we never stopped.
Do you feel like you have more to say as Circle Pit? If so, what do you envision new material looking, sounding and feeling like?
Jack: I feel like we have more to say than ever – we created a perfect storm and miraculously lived through it. We died and came back to life more than once (figuratively and literally), and for the first time since my teens I can say as a 31-year-old that I am more inspired than ever. I have a new lease on life and no desire to stop now. We still plan on mining the depths of rock-and-roll’s past, blowing it up and putting it back together in a way that feels both new and familiar, glamorous, modern, strange, prehistoric, infectious and disgusting. An impossible contradiction, fuelled by magic and dumb luck.
We never really think about a ‘sound’ when we write. Angie and I have an almost psychic relationship when it comes to creating music as we have such similar tastes and an intimate understanding of one another – it just pours out of us and we operate almost as a separate third, singular entity. I’ve been listening to a lot of stadium rock, 70s MOR and hair metal. I listen to a lot of rap as well (favourites include Lil Kim, Geto Boys, Da Brat), a lot of 80s Australian pub rock/dirge like Lubricated Goat, Hoodoo Gurus, Cold Chisel, Thug, Rowland S Howard, as well as death rock and industrial music, black metal and of course Royal Trux, Johnny Thunders, Guns N Roses, Germs, Funkadelic, Plasmatics, Alice Cooper (The Rolling Stones are always permanent fixtures). No doubt this will all seep its way into our collective unconscious, but put through the Circle Pit filter will hopefully sound unrecognisable and non-linear, alien and human all at once.
You can purchase Wicked Wicked Time now on vinyl or digitally through Dero Arcade. Listen to it below: