"It’s Just a Punk Record from 2004": Circle Takes The Square Discuss the Ten-Year Anniversary of 'As The Roots Undo'
Circle Takes The Square vocalist and guitarist Drew Speziale possesses a striking amount of humility for someone whose band is responsible for As The Roots Undo, one of the most critically acclaimed cult classics in modern hardcore. Often imitated but never duplicated, what Speziale describes as “just a punk rock record from 2004” has long garnered praise from both the press and fans alike for its forward-thinking blend of 90s screamo, fractured grindcore, and experimental post-rock.
To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the record is getting repressed on vinyl through the band’s own Gatepost Recordings label. The timing could hardly be better either, as the band is also currently preparing for an extensive tour that will see them covering much of the Western US and hitting up cities they haven’t been seen in years. We recently caught up with Speziale over the phone to discuss the record’s repressing, opening for Terror at 924 Gilman Street, and more.
Photo by Jonathan Van Dine
Noisey: Now that it’s passed its ten-year anniversary, how do you feel about your work on As The Roots Undo? Is it something you’re still proud of personally? What’s your general feeling toward that record looking back on it?
Drew Speziale: I think it’s a pretty accurate documentation of where we were musically at that point in our lives and I think we really embedded a lot of personal mile markers in there. So for me, it’s like a cool reference point. I guess I’m proud of it. I don’t really think about it in those terms. I associate that record more with my memories of that time period. I don’t really think of it as a showcase necessarily, if that makes sense? I don’t think of it as the record that it is, probably, I just think of it as the embodiment of a time period in my life and our band.
Is there anything in terms of the writing on the record, or the production, or really any part of the process of how it was released that, looking back on it now, you might have done differently?
You know, I think at the time, I might have when we deemed it complete. After the recording process and everything, I probably listened to it and heard all the things I wish were different about it at the time when it was current in my head and it still felt like I was having a hard time letting go of it, but I think now I’m happy that it is where it’s at.
It’s funny because I’m currently revisiting the artwork for it right now because we’re doing a repress because it hasn’t been available on vinyl for a long time. It’s like, literally two pressings worth of vinyl are floating around out there, so we just kind of dropped the ball on getting a repress out there over the years. [Laughs] We had some plans for it, we just never really did it. In light of the ten-year thing, it seems kind of ridiculous not to have that out and available so that people who actually want it don’t have to drop too much dime to get a copy. [Laughs]
It’s so tempting to be like, “Oh, I could touch that up there.” I’m looking at the highest resolution files I have of that artwork, which is actually pretty lo-res, and I’m just trying to tweak it so we can do a little bit of a juiced up packaging, but just mildly. I find myself just saying, “Don’t take this too far,” because this is what it was, this is what it’s supposed to be at this point. You want to resist, I guess the cliche now is like the “George Lucas-whatever utilizing hindsight vision” to go in and edit something from the past, and that would be so easy to do.
Yeah, that’s definitely understandable. So it sounds like you would prefer to repress the record on vinyl as it were when it first came out.
Absolutely. In fact, as far as the vinyl itself is in production right now, the record, the musical component. I think Anthony [Stubelek, audio engineer], Kathleen’s [Coppola, bass and vocals] husband who produced the record, recorded it, I think he did very mild touch-ups in the mastering. Like, I don’t think there’s much difference at all, there’s no remixing or anything like that. It is what it was, you know? It’s just a punk rock record from 2004, so there’s no reason to try to clear anything up. [Laughs]
Circles Takes The Square in 2004.
When As The Roots Undo first came out, and arguably even now, there wasn’t really anything else that sounded quite like that record. There were certainly other bands at that time obviously that shared similar elements or aspects, but it’s a very unique combination of different things that came together to make the sound that record has, which is probably why ten years later, we’re still talking about this record, and how it has become immensely influential. Who were some of your biggest influences at the time when you were writing that record?
Let me think about that. We had been playing together for a few years at that point and had done a couple of tours, so I’m trying to remember what was going on then. We were playing shows sometimes with like, Majority Rule and pageninetynine and City Of Caterpillar. Just other bands that I feel like at the time had a unique voice in hardcore. I remember first hearing what I consider to be innovative punk or hardcore music, or DIY music, and it was incorporating a very melodic aspect to it.
Where I was growing up, little things would become niche sounds and would get really popular within a small group of people and we’d share records and get onto what the newest thing we’d discovered was. So, like, extremely intense but extremely not melodic kind of grindy stuff in the late 90s I think was going on. I remember hearing like, I don’t know, Orchid, and His Hero Is Gone too. They had these really dark melodies going on underneath that overtly pretty brutal sound. And honestly, just that little detail I remember being really, really excited about, just recognizing how pretty those melodies were, buried under all that sort of grit and noise.
And I think just that vibe, and then more of the indie stuff. Godspeed for sure, I remember that blowing everybody’s minds for a little while there, and then getting into Modest Mouse and more of these indie bands. I’m not trying to namedrop [laughs] but those were the things that got into my sphere of interest at the time. Built To Spill, maybe. Things that were just a little bit less intense too. All of these things were flowing together and it felt like there was room for moments of all the things we were interested in.
That’s what I brought and the influence I brought to it, but Kathy and Jay (Wynne, ex-drummer), who played drums on that record, they were bringing their own distinct tastes in music. We’d all get in the van and have totally different records that we wanted to listen to. I think it was all of us bringing what we grew up on and whatever we were into at that time and putting it all together and swirling it all around and seeing what happened. That was really long-winded, I wish I could give you a concise list of examples of influences.
I think it was about eight years after As The Roots Undo came out before you released Decompositions.
That is correct. That’s an accurate figure. [Laughs]
What factors were there in particular that went into taking such a long, extended gap between putting out full-lengths?
Plenty of lineup changes following As The Roots Undo’s release, and touring, and just seeing whenever we’d buckle down to start writing and some roadblock would occur. Then we finally got our lineup that appears on Decompositions, including Caleb (Collins), he’s our current drummer, and David (Rabitor, ex-guitarist) who actually has since departed the band. We’re playing as a three-piece now: Caleb, Kathy, and me. Then logistical things came up after a few months of intensely writing the record finally. It just took us a long time to be able to finally do that and find the space for it. Life kind of happened and we all got pulled apart from that being a focus, a concentrated focus.
We really didn’t want to be a band that put out a record that felt too rushed or forced, so we let it slowly brew. And when it finally felt like it reached that tipping point of being more finished than unfinished, we said, “It is time. We can all justify making space for this in our lives now.” Because for a while, it just felt like we were treading water and making some progress but ultimately putting too many actually seriously important things, like our personal lives on the backburner to tread water creatively and those just weren’t good conditions for letting the inspiration really flow that was required to finish the material.
It was a pretty natural process of determining that there were other things we needed to address for a little while. We never thought that we would not get back to it, and then we worked in stops and starts whenever we could in whatever combinations of people, like two at a time usually just getting together and working out little bits here and there. Then finally it was like, “Cool, we can do this now, we can go record.” That’s the long and short of it.
Were you ever concerned that there was a possibility that your audience would have moved on in the interim between albums? Have you been at all surprised by the reaction that you’ve gotten to your newer material and your shows on your more recent tours?
Yeah, that’s a good question too. Honestly, because we were writing that record very much in a vacuum when we were working on it over the years, we were definitely out of touch with any potential audience or people who were fans of As The Roots Undo<, for sure. But because of that, I think we were pretty strong in our resolve to just make a record that made us happy and that challenged us musically and felt like it was progress from a musical and creative perspective. So, that was our focus, completely and entirely.
It’s funny because I remember the night that we put it out digitally initially and I was still getting some of the artwork material done. So we put it out digitally, and it came with all the artwork but I still needed to submit it for pressing and stuff, but I remember it was just such a mad dash to get that all prepared to roll. I remember when it launched it was a particular time that it went up on our Bandcamp site and then realizing, “Oh shit, people are going to be listening to this now.” It was the weirdest feeling because my relationship to that material was so personal and it had completely been insular between us as members of the band and the subject matter on the record and the whole process, I remember just having that realization of the most obvious truth.
So, the first half of your question was were we concerned our audience had moved on. We were almost for sure they had and I think that it didn’t scare us. As much as we appreciated whatever fanbase as small as it was and is that we had generated from touring and putting out our previous material, I think we were like, “OK, this band is obviously at this point not about pleasing the people that have been around and in attendance at our shows.” As much as it would be awesome to please them, if we can please ourselves and please them too then that’s wonderful, but it just wasn’t at the fore of our thoughts. We were just trying to make a piece of art among ourselves and then that was released, and again, as with As The Roots Undo, that’s the end of that process for us. Now it’s out there, and whatever the reaction is, is the reaction.
On the upcoming tour that you’re going to be doing across the US, you’re going to be hitting up a pretty good portion of the midwest and the western US, and maybe get a little bit into the south, and getting up to Pennsylvania.
Somewhere up there, yeah.
Are there any places or cities in particular that you’re really excited to get back to, or are there any particular locations that bring back any favorite memories from past tours?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think just getting out west and that whole route out there and back is going to be really cool because its been a long time. Like I said, we’ve done some touring in the past couple years since the release of Decompositions, but we haven’t brought us out west yet. I don’t think any farther west of Louisville, Kentucky or something. This will be a first for us in a while, and definitely excited for the whole thing. I’m really excited to see that part of the country again and drive through it and have that whole experience. It’s going to be cool.
There’s some fun memories of California for sure. We played Gilman one time a long time ago, but we opened for Terror, I’m pretty sure it was Terror, but it wasn’t a tour. It was just an accidental weird thing where we ended up on a bill, so we played first to a crowd that obviously had no … it was a long time ago and they clearly weren’t into whatever it was we were doing. So, it’ll be cool to play a proper show at Gilman, and I’m pretty excited about that. [Laughs] Because it’s pretty classic. And San Diego, we’re playing Che Cafe, which we’ve played a couple of times. Maybe two or three times before, but it was ages ago, so I think that’ll be really fun to get back there.
Circle Takes The Square in 2013.
Is it too early to start talking about the possibility of new Circle Takes The Square material in the future?
We’ve definitely screwed ourselves over in that way in the past. [Laughs] I’ll be the first to admit we’ve shot our mouths off a little prematurely, so I’m gonna plead the fifth. I’ve been working on a lot of stuff in our downtime since the last tour and we are all spread out so we haven’t all gotten together in the same room and jammed too much, but we have a little bit when we’ve been preparing for the last tour. We jammed on some new riffs, but haven’t had a concentrated amount of time to dig in but I’m excited to get together in preparation for this coming tour which is gonna happen very soon mainly so I can see what these tunes sound like when we all try them out. Nothing will probably be ready for the tour unfortunately, but it’s in the works.
We learned our lesson from the time preceding the last release to just be cautious. It takes us a while, it does take us a long time. We’re like an old-growth forest. We’re like, very dense, hard wood before we grow into maturity, but it’s on our minds, definitely.
Ben Sailer is on Twitter - @bensailer