Circle Pit: ?It’s Not Easy Being Us
With their unique sense of fashion and desire to push the limits of rock’n?roll, Sydney’s Circle Pit have amassed as many detractors as followers. But, as Angie Bermuda and Jack Mannix tell TIM SCOTT*, they’re not interested in winning any popularity contests. Photos by *PEDRO RAMOS.
Jack Mannix insists that Circle Pit work under a basic premise. ?We are a rock’n?roll band without limits,? he says from Somewhere Gallery, a Melbourne art space where the band are exhibiting their artworks this month.
Founded with collaborator and best friend Angie Bermuda, the duo are notorious in their native Sydney for their approach to music, fashion and art. Sure, a guy who has played with a dead bird hanging from the neck of his guitar will inevitably draw his fair share of detractors, but Circle Pit’s swaggering take on loose and primal ?70s classic rock has also drawn positive attention from the likes of Wire magazine’s Byron Coley, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kevin De Debroux from Pink Reason. Jack and Angie don’t really care either way. They say they play music to please neither hip musicians or jaded internet haters.
While their sound is often lumped into the arty scuzz rock of Royal Trux, Sonic Youth, The Stones and the Velvet Underground their debut Bruise Constellation, to be released on Siltbreeze in the US and locally via Timberyard this month, is an album of solid songwriting and raw power that captures the pair’s unique outlook on life and art.
How important is your relationship both on a creative and personal level?
Angie: It’s important in the sense it matches no other. I have had and still have many relationships in life that are both creative and personal, but none that come close to replicating the magic that happens when I am with Jack.
Jack: Creatively, Angie is my only equal, she’s the only person I can work with at the deepest level. Our personal and creative relationships are forever intertwined and the most important thing in my life. She keeps me in line, she keeps me sane and happy. She keeps me going and wants the same things from life.
You are both creative people beyond music but how do you define your music?
Angie: There’s a million ways you can execute ideas, at the moment music is the easiest. It’s immediate and relatively inexpensive and I think the possibilities are boundless.
Jack: We were talking on the plane down here [Melbourne] about our band and our relationship and how we would define it. We have this understanding, this psychic connection and we edit each others thoughts. But essentially what we both want to do is have no limits creatively. That’s the way we would describe the band: a rock’n?roll band without limits. But people have to realise that every creative outlet is as valid as the other – fashion is as valid as music, writing or painting.
Do you think that unsettles some people, especially those who want to categorise and sectionalise musicians or creativity?
Angie: Yes, but I think that it’s a good thing. Art whether it’s music or fashion or film is at times supposed to challenge and move people from complacency. Often those who can’t or don’t know how to take this challenge get overly critical.
How does criticism, especially based on uninformed opinions, affect you?
Angie: We are so used to it now. From the outset even going back to our old band Kiosk people were always ratting on us.
Jack: People seem to focus a lot on everything but the music. Our personal lives and daily stuff is enough of a struggle to really worry about it. But at the same time if things go over the line I will make a stand. I’ve lost a job over people talking shit about me on the internet. When it gets to a point when it’s affecting me and making my daily life harder then it already is, I’m going to step in. But we don’t care what people think. We are not doing this to please anyone but ourselves.
?I’ve lost a job over people talking shit about me on the internet. When it gets to a point when it’s affecting me and making my daily life harder then it already is, I’m going to step in.?
What’s the most frustrating misconception that people have of you or the band?
Jack: One thing that people seem to focus on is our image and a lot of people say that we are ?style over substance?. I know that it’s not true only because I think that style is important but it’s both style and substance. Anyone who says they don’t care about fashion is lying because everyday you wake up and you choose what you are going to wear. Whether it’s a wife beater and some baggy jeans or just some crazy outfit people make decisions to dress a certain way. We just don’t pretend that we don’t care how we look or how we present ourselves. It’s an important part of our band. It’s a visual medium just like the art work for a record is visual. Our performance is visual you can’t ignore that.
Do you think that some people miss the humour?
Angie: Totally, but if you look at our words and lyrics you will see that the humour is there.
Jack: Detractors like to say that because we like to care about our image. It’s one facet of the band we are conscious of, but it’s seen as being a negative thing. They like to use that as an excuse to ignore the substance that is in our music. I think it was carried over from Kiosk where people assumed they knew what we were doing but I was 15 or whatever back then! Not a lot of people seem to realise that we are making classic rock’n?roll and there’s nothing terribly challenging about it sonically. Thematically and lyrically I’d like to think it’s pushing boundaries or at least has its own voice. I think we are as original as any band can be without striving to do something that has never been done before.
Angie: Speaking for myself I don’t think I have changed that much from Kiosk. I’ve grown into an adult, but thematically Kiosk was executing one idea based on the people involved and Circle Pit is executing another.
Jack: With Kiosk, Catherine [Kelleher, now Catcall] was the only other member of the band and she had a very dominating personality. Also we were younger, we were punk teenagers and I think our common ground was the dissatisfaction with how society was being run. We are still just as passionate about the politics we used to write songs about but now we are more mature and the politics are not so much in the forefront. The politics are more personal. It’s more artful and less direct.
And you have grown in confidence in writing and performing songs too?
Angie: Oh, totally!
Jack: All the songs with Kiosk were written with one singer in mind which was Catherine so none of us were fully represented as personalities. Circle Pit was the first band we have had the chance to sit down and write songs for each other to sing and play guitar. I was drumming in Kiosk so I was expressing myself through rhythm and not through words. Now we share the spotlight.
Circle Pit has had a number of line-ups. Is the current line-up [bassist Alexander Haddock, guitarist Harriet Hudson and drummer Jeffrey Lewis] now solidified?
Jack: The line-up we have at the moment I think we are going to stick with for an indefinite amount of time. Either we decide we want something new or they give us reason to not play music with us, it’s always going to be the two of us but for the time being and with live stuff we have a steady line up.
Angie: It’s something that is going to evolve over time.
Kevin De Broux from Pink Reason, whose image at times has also been misconstrued, has invited you to tour with him in the States in June. How did you meet him?
Jack: It was kind of funny how we met. They were in Australia and messaged me on the internet. We had never spoken before and they thought I had some kind of drug reputation or connection and when we actually met I wasn’t able to get drugs for him. I only spent like an hour with him but they got me to get up and sing ‘Free Bird’ with them. We really admire each other’s music even though we don’t know each other very well.
Of the songs on the new album do you have a favourite or are they all your children?
Jack: They are all pretty important some more than others. My fave songs are ‘Speed Limit’, ‘Wayward Machine and ?Infinity?. ?Speed Limit? is kind of about being young and making mistakes. It’s a metaphor for life. The road going at certain speeds at some points and other speeds at other times.
Your songs aren’t all negative and dark?
Angie: No, definitely not, but they draw on elements of all emotions.
Jack: I find it hard to write when I’m in a really bad place. At those times ,writing music is lower on my list of priorities but you go through periods when you are living your life and other times when you are looking back and being reflective. It’s hard to write when you are in the midst of the actual experience, but intense experiences will eventually bear fruit.
Are they about relationships?
Jack: Not really. For each of us one song can have more than one meaning. I don’t think any one song on that album was about love. They were about our lives and our relationship and our outlook on the world. Love doesn’t come into it so much. Obsession but not necessarily about people.
Both of you are artists, visual art, fashion design, video and photography. How do you find writing songs. Is it easier than other forms of creativity?
Jack: Photography is probably the easiest and most immediate. I don’t do photography that requires any kind of set up or labour. Photography is always capturing a moment not creating a moment. Music is a lot more satisfying than photography as well. You use words and melody. Photography is more an interest of mine.
Your recent photo essay in Vice magazine, [?Jack Mannix Is Smoking?](http://www.viceland.com/int/v16n8/htdocs/fashion-jack-mannix-is-smoking-115.php), had a sense of humour to it that maybe some people missed.
Jack: People take our demeanour and aesthetic and public personas as being exactly who we are and it’s a pretty shallow interpretation of what we are actually doing. I mean me taking a series of photos of myself for Vice* magazine in different outfits comes across as one big ego trip, and I guess it kinda was, but that’s kind of the point. [*Laughs] For me and Angie, one of our biggest obsessions when it comes to all the different fields we work in creatively is the idea of public persona and the rockstar and the history of the rockstar and the act of taking on a role that is not necessarily you.
Angie: There’s no real rockstars anymore which is a shame.
You are a two person rockstar revival!
Jack: I don’t understand where, especially in Australia, you have to be so self deprecating. If you believe in yourself and you have a bit of ego then people instantly resent you for it because it’s not considered the ?Australian way?.
Angie: What’s wrong with trying to do something and be proud?
Jack: When we do things that people see as being self-involved or arrogant, it’s almost us doing it to spite them, well not necessarily to spite them, but to challenge them. I’m just me but I’m going to make myself bigger by just doing it. That some people buy into it and some people hate it proves that it makes a difference.
You have released the song ‘Another Trick’ on a new label that is associated with General Pants. For a band that prides itself on individual fashion and ideas, how did your relationship with a label such as this come about?
Jack: General Pants just approached us with the idea, we thought about it for a while and decided to go with it, because there was so little to lose and enough to gain. Basically, they ?released? ‘Another Trick’ as a digital single, meaning that you can purchase it through iTunes from their label website. It meant that they get use of the song, but we still own all the rights etc. They did publicity for it and got it on triple j, which can only be seen as a good thing, as it means our music gets heard by people from all over the country. We also got free clothes out of it, which was hard to turn down, considering we’re so broke. There’s no ongoing relationship, though. The single’s out and next month they’ll have moved on to other bands and we’ll have come out of it with more clothing, some extra cash and national airplay.
Some of your detractors come from a punk rock background, which could be seen as rather ironic.
Angie: That’s where we come from! Both Kiosk and Circle Pit comes from the whole punk thing and I find it hypocritical especially as a woman and Jack as a gay guy, that they expect you to be a certain mould.
Jack: The reality is that if you are not a straight dude then you have to act like one. There’s such a culture within punk that is anti-fashion, but why not express yourself in as many ways as possible? I think the way we look and present ourselves even though it may come off as being self-involved is also confronting. Neither of us come from wealthy backgrounds. It’s almost like more working class to not care about the way you look. Just because we dress up doesn’t mean that we are instantly shallow.
Angie: The thing with fashion is that it’s telling the conservatives to go fuck themselves and we need more of that! I think it’s something to do with the Howard generation growing up and there has been a turn to the right again especially with younger people. Growing up in the ?90s with technology and the culture of Australia as being a safe yet paranoid state. People want culture but they want a safe packaged version of culture. But we have to embrace all the misfits and freaks.
Jack: People don’t realise that I dress this way everyday. It’s not something that I put on as a musician. Everyday I get abuse from strangers walking down the street. I’ve been beaten up three times this year. As much as we are putting ourselves out there because we think we are amazing, we are putting ourselves out there to be crucified. People don’t accept us for who we are. It’s not easy being us and I don’t think people get that. And I think that’s part of the whole joke when people think we are some extravagant rich white kids when the reality is we are really broke and no one likes us [laughs].
Circle Pit: The Exhibition* runs from April 9-May 3 at Somewhere Gallery, Level 2, 314 Little Collins Street, Melbourne. The band will launch their debut LP *Bruise Constellation at The Toff In Town on April 18 with Fabulous Diamonds, New War and Dominic Talarico.