Circle Takes the Square's Drew Speziale: Our process is not formulaic at all

Danin Drahos

Circle Takes the Square has long been steeped in mystery. The band emerged from Savannah, Georgia, in 2001, revolutionizing the screamo genre and providing a starting point for a generation of emotional post-hardcore musicians. Yet after the release of their acclaimed first full length As the Roots Undo in 2004, CTTS disappeared from the public eye for eight years, leaving fans to wonder.

Then in late 2012, the band reemerged suddenly from obscurity with their second full length, Decompositions. The album is a testament to the unique roots that CTTS planted in the screamo genre so many years ago. A generation of kids who survived adolescence listening to CTTS, now adults, could finally stop guessing.

Now, the band is embarking on their first tour in years. Monday at the Triple Rock will mark their first ever Minneapolis performance. Gimme Noise chatted with guitarist/vocalist/artist Drew Speziale about punk, their long hiatus, and the much anticipated Decompositions as CTTS prepares to hit the road.

Gimme Noise: Do you have a connection with Minneapolis music scene?

I grew up on a lot of music that was from out there, but I guess it was just a slight understanding of what was current. It was weird. We would dig through catalogues, like Profane Existence. In the late '90s, that was the shit that my friends and I were all doing mail order from, getting our records, and just freaking out.

How did you find that?

From bands that came through. We would go to shows in D.C. and Richmond, and once in a while there would be touring bands, and we were just so into it... We'd just dig through the ads in various 'zines and be like, oh I like the font of whatever, that record looks crusty, let's get that. It was this really weird, stab in the dark hoping that you'd find something cool, but really not having a sense of what it was or who these people were that were making the music, or anything really.

The music completely spoke for itself, and it had a really strong impact on us. That's my connection to Minneapolis, is always thinking about that as like, the crust capital.

Do you remember any of those bands in particular?

Oh man. There's a seven-inch by this band Civil Disobedience that blew my mind when I was a kid. That band was rad. State of Fear, that was a great band that I liked a lot too.

How did you get into playing music yourself?

Way, way back, I had an interest in playing guitar, but not in any particular context. I didn't have a musical preference. I think I just wanted to play guitar before I actually got into music. Eventually in high school I started listening to punk rock, and it was a good thing to get into, because there was such a prevalent outlet for punk music. You don't necessarily have to have talent, and you can like, instantly form a band and play wherever, to kids your age that are also in equally terrible bands. It's very supportive and encouraging.

How did CTTS begin?

We started in Savannah, Georgia. I moved there from Virginia to go to college and met our original drummer there, and met Kathy, who is our bass player, through mutual friends. By default we ended up jamming together, because we all had some gear with us. We at least shared an interest in heavy music in general, but not any specific genre. We weren't all into the same bands. It was like, oh, we've all got instruments, let's go for it. So, we got together and wrote a few songs, and that was kind of the impetus of CTTS.

I think it got more focused after we figured out a context for ourselves. We had ties to the hardcore punk rock scene, I guess, from our own personal experiences in that growing up. That scene, the DIY music scene at that time, was very welcoming.

Drew Speziale of Circle Takes the Square
Drew Speziale of Circle Takes the Square
Reid Haithcock

What is the concept behind the name Circle Takes the Square?

That is top secret. It's a perfectly valid question... I will say that it's taken on more significant meaning to me in my life as time has gone on. I think the original meaning and the meaning now have definitely evolved. At the same time, I'm sorry to say, I can't tell you any more about it. It's more interesting as a non-definitive thing, I think, so we'll leave it at that.

How does it feel for you to know that you influenced such a broad audience?

I feel pretty grateful to have had that connection with some people, but I'm only aware of it when people tell me that. It's not something that I think about even when we're making music really. So, when it happens, it's awesome, but it's not our motivation.

Why did you decide to put CTTS on hold for a while?

That's another thing where from an objective point of view it might seem like a huge thing, but honestly it just happened naturally. We just kind of knew, okay, it's time to stop pursuing this right now. There were lots of things that were indicating that that was the case. Things were happening in our lives. It pulled us all in other directions.


Circle Takes the Square's Drew Speziale: Our process is not formulaic at all
Courtesy of the artist

While you were on this "break," were you still writing music with each other? Did you ever get together and practice?

Yes, we did. I went to Canada a couple of times, where our drummer lives, and jammed with him. We had generated a lot of material when most of us were living in Georgia. The majority of that is what ended up being on Decompositions Volume I.

We'd written most of it, and then got pulled away from that focal point in our lives, but we never said that we weren't going to do it or that we weren't going to get together and finish what we'd started. We all knew we would. It was a matter of letting our material evolve at its own pace without forcing anything, while chipping away at it here and there, letting it come into its own.

Do you write poetry and then pick phrases from that to use in your lyrics, or start from scratch?

I tend to collect little phrases. I don't write any complete thing, but I will very frequently write down manners of speech, expressions that you don't think about that people say sometimes. I'm collecting little ideas and little phrases a lot of the time, and then when it's time to write the finished lyrics to something I'll have a lot of things to draw from.

Sometimes that even makes it harder. I had a ton of stuff going into writing the Decompositions material, a lot of collected lyrics ideas from many years. I scrapped most of it, because it was harder to fit something old to some newly finished music than it was to dig into the music and start writing fresh.

It's kind of like a collage, in a way. It's trial and error, and it took a lot of repeat listening to parts and trying to formulate an idea for what I want the part to be, the ideas that I want to express. It's hard to find the right way of putting it sometimes so that it does fit the music. It's like jamming a square, whatever that expression is about a round peg into a square hole.

Do you and Kathy write a lot of it together?

I write all of the lyrics, but getting into the studio is the next part of the process. On this record we have four potential voices - four of us singing at any given time. When we get into the studio it's like, I've got the script with me, and then we have to figure out how to make it feel balanced. I think our music is pretty overwhelming vocally. You've got to embrace that.

I came to think of it more as a weird form of opera, where the vocals are an important part of it. Finding the balance between voices was the biggest challenge -- knowing what each of us sounds like, and arranging that in a way that fits well and feels anchored in the music itself. Sometimes we'd do vocal takes and we'd be like, that's not the right way to say that line, and then we would just experiment a lot. Everybody is involved at that stage.

I'm not saying we succeed all the time, but we get it to where we feel like we can't work more on it. Our process is not formulaic at all. We haven't figured out a formula to do what we want to do, and that's what keeps it fun for us. We've been doing this for a long time. It happened fast. We have continued to challenge ourselves. It hasn't ever gotten easy. It's fun, but it's kind of a weird obsession.

Can you talk a bit about your artwork?

Similarly to creating the music, making the visual art is usually a pretty intense process for me. It takes me a long time, just like the music takes us a long time. It seems really important. It's not a separate aspect. For our band, it's part of the music. It tells another part of the story that's just as integral to the whole as the music and the lyrics.

Album cover art for Decompositions
Album cover art for Decompositions
Drew Speziale

Is the band working on new material now?

Yes, individually. We haven't gotten in the same room yet. Before this tour, I'm definitely not going to let us leave until we've jammed on some of the ideas that I've been working on. A lot of getting ready for a tour is backpedaling and making sure we're up to speed with the material we're going to be playing out, but we're definitely working on a lot of ideas. I've been playing a lot of music this year. Our intention is to get something done in the not-too-distant future.

Do you have anything that would want to say to your fans, who have remained loyal for a long time and are maybe a bit upset at you for disappearing for so long?

I'd say, well, fuck, dude. I don't know. Have a good day. Enjoy yourself. Make some room in your life for something that you like to do. I think that's important. I don't know what else to say. I don't think I'd apologize for not being in my band publicly, out in the public sphere for a little while.

We make our records. I really feel like that's the voice of our band. We made that last record, and that's the voice of this entity that is Circle Takes the Square. Anything else is irrelevant to the people that like our music.

But that's not to say that I'm not grateful that there are people who actually care that we disappeared for a while. Wow, that blows my mind, and that's really humbling.

Circle Takes the Square performs this Monday, April 14 at the Triple Rock with Gay Witch Abortion and Lungs. 8 PM, 18+, $10

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