I don’t go to record shows often. I spent a lot of time “on the other side of the table” at sports memorabilia shows over the years selling stuff, and that gives you a certain insulation from the crowds and the inevitable frustration of waiting around to try to get into the box that someone else is flipping through. But a few weeks back, against my better judgement, I went to one in Seattle. While waiting around for yet another person to finish flipping through a bin I decided to kill time looking at stuff in a box on the floor next to the table, and that’s where I came across Circle Seven’s Suburban Hope. I’d never heard of them before, but it turns out they were from Seattle (in fact two of the three members are from Montana but had recently moved to Seattle…) so for a fiver I figured why not.
I was pleasantly surprised when I put Suburban Hope on the turntable, so much so that I wanted to find out more about the band. Fortunately guitarist/singer Randy Pepprock has a pretty unique (and rock related) name that made him fairly easy to track down, and he graciously agreed to do an email interview. He also sent along an article about his punk band Who Killed Society (WKS) and the early scene in, of all places, Missoula, Montana. I encourage you to check it out HERE, as I can’t add anything to this well-researched piece. It was Jeff Ament’s connection with Missoula that eventually allowed for the release of WKS’ Before Everything Got Broken 37 years after it was recorded (by none other than a young Steve Albini), an album that contributed songs to Circle Seven’s first (and only) record.
Randy, WKS broke up in 1981. What prompted you to move to Seattle after that happened?
We used to drive over to Seattle from Montana for punk shows, so when it was time to leave Montana it was a natural choice. I had a friend (Lya) that lived there that got me a job at a restaurant & put me up for a week or so to get me started. Later on I extended the same favor to Jeff Ament & Sergio Avenia from Deranged Diction, who were also from Missoula.
How did you connect with Sabina Miller and Danielle Elliott to form Circle Seven?
Sabina was the bass player for WKS, and my girlfriend at the time. I think we meet Danielle through an ad in The Rocket. (♠)
Four of the six tracks on “Suburban Hope” also appeared on the at-that-time un-released 1981 WKS album. They definitely changed character – not only are they longer, but sonically there’s an overall post-punk feel to all the Circle Seven songs and the vocals are very prominently featured. You indicated in a previous interview that you weren’t thrilled with the sound of Suburban Hope. What are your recollections of the recording sessions, and what do you think you should have done differently?
I take full responsibility for how the Circle Seven EP ended up sounding I should have been more assertive & spoken up at the time. WKS was an abrasive, post-punkish band with short, minimalist songs & I think Circle Seven was an extension of that. Very spartan. A friend of Danielle’s, Mark from 3 Swimmers, helped us engineer the EP & he was just coming from an entirely different space. I had this guitar that sounded like a dump truck crashing & when we first started recording he’s like, “Oh my god, that guitar sounds like shit.” So we cleaned everything up and took all of the rust & piss out of it. Prettier, but not nearly as authentic IMO. You know, we were a young band in a nice studio for the first time & perhaps intimidated by the whole process. Whatever, that’s on no one but me.
What was your perception of the Seattle music scene during that period? How did Circle Seven fit (or not fit) into it?
Loved it. I saw so many great bands then. I think at that time everyone just did whatever the hell they wanted because NO ONE thought that it mattered or thought it would ever lead to anything. Later, when I moved to Hollywood, I became aware that everyone was thinking, in the back of their minds, that “Hey, we could get a record deal & become rock stars.” No one thought that in Seattle in the early 80’s. We left right before that happened. Bad timing I guess. 🙂 Not sure we really fit in. I think we kind of fell in-between the cracks and were kind of hard to classify. Not a hardcore or punk band. Not too arty or intellectual (too many rough edges). It was OK, we did our thing anyway.
What are you listening to these days?
I don’t follow most new bands, there’s too much out there. I was listening to Patti Smith the other day, Motorhead, the Velvet Underground. Lucinda Williams. I like Elle King. Always a Stooges fan. In fact, a year or so ago I was playing “Funhouse” in the car & giving my 17 year old daughter a music history lesson about the band & why they were so important. A few months later we were at the theater watching the most recent King Kong & “Down in the street” comes on and I leaned over to tell her, “Hey, it’s the Stooges!” & she looks at me like, “Shut up dad, I know.”
Once I learned that many of Suburban Hope‘s songs were originally recorded by WKS, I decided to pick up a copy of Before Everything Got Broken to do a little side-by-side comparison and see how they changed over the course of just a few years. It turns out the answer is quite a bit, actually.
Who Killed Society – Before Everything Got Broken (1981 / 2018)
Originally recorded in 1981 with none other than a young Steve Albini at the studio controls Before Everything Got Broken didn’t see the light of day until 2018 when it came into the orbit of former Montana punk scene musician and current Pearl Jam member Jeff Ament, who helped get it dusted off and released, including selling it via the PJ website. At seven songs and 13 minutes, it’s very punk rock.
After opening with the instrumental “Distant” we’re introduced to “Cover Up”, a decidedly post-punk jam full of raw gloominess and alienation, the guitars coming at you like rusty razorblades and the vocals speaking to the kind of societal rejection that only the young can truly express unironically. “Say One Thing” is more of a standard rock song, though one with some definite new wave elements. The A side closes out with “Don’t You Dare”, it’s rapid-fire drumming giving the tune a jungle beat, the guitars again slicing through the low end with complete and utter disregard.
The flip side opens with “Suburban Hope”, what would later become the title track of Circle Seven’s album of the same name a few years later. This version is stripped down and back to that post-punk vibe, the military-march-like snare rolls at odds with the anti-society message of the vocals. “Just Turned 20” is the first 100% punk song on Before Everything Got Broken, a blistering fast proto-hardcore number that’s over almost before it starts. “Brave New World” takes us back in a post-punk direction and is my favorite track on the album, the incessant beat creating a sense of angst and pressure that mirrors the stress of day-to-day life.
The sound quality of Before Everything Got Broken is excellent. There were a few spots where it felt like the master might have had a blemish, but it doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the album. If you’re interested, it’s available on the Pearl Jam website HERE.
Circle Seven – Suburban Hope (2013)
Four of Suburban Hope‘s six songs originally appeared on Before Everything Got Broken, rounded out with two new tracks. It opens with the title track, one of the four Before Everything Got Broken tunes on the record. This new incarnation brings a much more new wave sound to the music while also moving the vocals to the forefront, placing the lyrics and message into the prominent position.
Down to the office,
Smile at the boss,
Never realizing just how much you have lost.
It’s a longer and more fully realized song than the original, though at the expense of a certain honest rawness. It’s a style that carries through all of Suburban Hope‘s compositions – pre-synthesizer new wave, sonically well-balanced and with emphasis on the vocals. Something in it speaks to me in a way that resonates, perhaps because it forces me to look at my own middle class suburban life. I know Randy isn’t a huge fan of how it sounds… but I really enjoy it.
Big thanks to Randy for answering some questions and a shout-out to Jeff Ament (as if he needs one from me…) for contributing to Before Everything Got Broken‘s release. I wonder how many other solid albums are out there on tape just waiting for someone to dust them off and put them out. I prefer not to think about how many were destroyed or simply thrown away.
(♠) The Rocket was THE Seattle alternative music scene bible back in the 1980s and into the 90s. Originally monthly, later biweekly, the free paper eventually grew its circulation to 50,000 copies per issue. I used to pick it up a whatever record store I happened to be in at the time.