Circle Jerks

views updated

Circle Jerks

Rock band


Appeared in Repo Man

Re-formed in Wake of Punks Success

Selected discography


The Circle Jerks were one of the original Southern California punk bands of the 1980s. Considered pioneers of a furious style called hardcore, they slogged it out in the punk underground for ten years before giving up the ghost in 1990. But in the mid-1990s two young punk outfits, Green Day and the Offspring, and their radio-friendly melody-intensive sound suddenly made punk rock an extremely lucrative commodity. I was seeing bands that werent that talented gaining a lot of attention, Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris told Entertainment Weeklys Nisid Hajari, and a lot of things we had done being done again. So, in the summer of 1994, Keith Morris reunited with original Circle Jerks guitarist Greg Hetson and longtime members Zander Schloss and Keith Clark, on bass and drums, respectively, and the reconstituted group signed their first major label deal.

When the Circle Jerks first formed in late 1979, Keith Morris was already one of the preeminent frontmen on the punk scene, having been the original singer for the legendary band Black Flag. Black Flag rehearsed in a church where Morris also lived. Hetsons band, Redd Kross, used the same rehearsal space. Together he and Morris started their own outfit, finding then groups name in a friends copy of the American Slang Dictionary its meaning refers to a group sex act generally performed by adolescent boys. We werent really punks. That was the whole thing, Morris told Brian S. Gross in Hits. We were all the guys and girls next door. It wasnt like we wore spiked hair and leather or painted our faces. We were just fed up with the music that was going on around us, except for what was happening in Hollywood. So we embraced them more than they embraced us. Then, once we did start playing they finally came to the realization that we were a force to be reckoned with.


As late as a 1986 interview with Musicians John Leland, in fact, Morris insisted, Were not a punk band. That would be one of the last descriptions that I would want to use. My dad was a punk. [He] was in a motorcycle gang. When he was in high school, he and a couple of his friends would tie the principal to a chair and make himat knife pointsay certain things on the PA system. A lot of the lyrics I write are direct influences from my dad and his friends. But the kids nowadays are not like that. [They] have a bit more intelligence.

The term hardcore is perhaps a better way to describe the Circle Jerks sound. Hardcore could be heavy metal rehabilitated, Melody Maker explained. It becomes once again au fait [up to date] to be swept away

For the Record

Members include Keith Clark (born c. 1960, in IL; joined band c. 1985), drums; Greg Hetson (born c. 1957, in Brooklyn, NY), guitar; Keith Morris (born c. 1955, in Los Angeles, CA), vocals; and Zander Schloss (born c. 1957, in MO; joined band c. 1985), bass. Former members include drummers Keith Lucky Leherer and Chuck Biscuits and bassists Roger Roger-son, Earl Liberty, and Jay Bentley.

Band formed in Hermosa Beach, CA, 1979. Debut album, Group Sex, released on Frontier Records, c. 1980; appeared in cult film Repo Man, 1983; disbanded, 1990; reformed and signed with Mercury Records, 1994; released Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities, 1995.

Addresses: Record company Mercury Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.

by the speed and volume of rock guitar, lose yourself in abrasive noise. Thus the Circle Jerks all spit and nerves a rock band whose glow nears the pristine rush of [metal band] Anthrax, awake to power and texture, a metal chilled out.

Whether called punk or hardcore, the Circle Jerks music is unquestionably aggressive. Melody Makers Dave Thompson described it as a cacaphonic blitzkrieg which demands your attention but offers nothing more than a splitting headache in return. Still, one Melody Maker reviewer found the band erudite, articulate, keen to examine the shock of obliterated noise they make, the leaps of energy they find live.

Appeared in Repo Man

The Circle Jerks first six albums were released on independent labels; they were a cult band with very little media presence. They did gain notice by a larger audience, however, when they made a cameo appearance in Alex Coxs film Repo Man. The Jerks just happened to be one of Coxs favorite bands, so they were awarded the role of a bad lounge act in the film. Both bassist Schloss and drummer Clark joined the group following the making of Repo Man, their addition marking roughly the tenth lineup change for the band.

The Circle Jerks first album with this lineup was called Wonderful. What weve done, Morris told Musicians Leland of the new players, is incorporate a couple of guys that have never played this type of music before. Theyve never seen what goes on at our shows. Nonetheless, Leland did not find that the changes in personnel had changed the bands approach. Wonderful is less a departure than a rehashing of old formulas, like chunky guitar lines and mock-hedonistlyrics, he opined. Creems Dave Segal referred to the Jerks as an LA. punk relic [creeping] ever closer to the heavy metal sound. Lets just say that CJ music lacks nuance. Lyrically, CJ pour on the sarcasm and broad humor. Sometimes its very effective. Attempts at pathos are rare and unsuccessful. Blame it on the utterly unmyste-rious nature of their music and Keith Morriss corrosive voice, which only seems capable of expressing outrage and disgust.

When Segal asked Morris if punk hadnt turned into the same kind of cartoon ritual that heavy metal was becoming at the time, and whether it hadnt become just as conformist, Morris replied, Punk started as anti-establishment, anti-fashionbut youre right, it has become a fashion. As you can see, were not a part of that. We have a lot of heavy metal people that come to our shows, a lot of straight, intellectual-type people. Thats what we want. Concerns about punks allegiance to its roots didnt matter to some reviewers, however, including one who wrote in Guitar Player, Spewing the energy of a hyper-charged AC/DC on punk, the Jerks shake to the relentless right-hand rhythms of guitarist Greg Hetson. With nary a ballad in sight, this music calls for crunch distortion, slim, knife-blade solos, and an occasional punch in the face.

Re-formed in Wake of Punks Success

Like most of their contemporaries, the Circle Jerks toured a lot, sold very little, and eventually faded out with the era, as Los Angles Times writer Chris Riemen-schneider put it. According to drummer Clark in Billboard, drug problems and side projects led to the bands temporary split around 1990. But when the mainstreaming of grunge rockers like Nirvana opened the floodgates to the new punk era of G reen Day and the Offspring in 1994, life as a band once again seemed attractive to members of the Circle Jerks. I came to realize, Morris said in the Los Angeles Times, that we could put the band back together and the worst-case scenario was we could do it and have at least the same popularity we had before. And we could have more. By this time Schloss had kicked a heroin addiction and Morris, a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict, had been clean and sober for ten years.

A chance encounter at a rehearsal studio gave Morris the opportunity to pass a demo tape to a Mercury Records talent scout. With all the money suddenly to be had in punk rock, these forefathers of the genre were quickly signed. Of his motivation in arranging the deal, Morris told Entertainment Weeklys Hajari, For years, we played every hole-in-the-wall to 20 people, so I would like there to be a reward.

The Circle Jerks released Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities, their seventh album and major label debut, in 1995, 15 years after they first formed. Adrianne Stone reported in Huh, Keith Morris vocals still have that [Sex] Pistols-esque English brat accent, as he sings antisocial ditties that are more fun than nihilistic. But time has molded this band into a more upbeat and melodic version of its earliest versiona great improvement in my book. Los Angeles Times contributor Sandy Masuo remarked that the record was not terribly innovative, but she added the disclaimer which isnt really the point anyway, conceding, they do capture the spirit and drive of punk rockold and new. The disc was also notable in that one cut, a cover version of the Soft Boys I Wanna Destroy You, featured backup vocals from former pop teen queen Debbie Gibson.

Before and during the Circle Jerks reunion, the band-members engaged in a variety of other artistic pursuits. Hetson had been playing with the ascendant Bad Religion; Schloss appeared on former Minuteman Mike Watts solo album, played with The Magnificent Bastards (a side project of Stone Temple Pilots frontman Weiland) and the Sweet n Low Orchestra, scored several soundtracks, and did some acting. By late 1995 it looked as if these independent endeavors would be key to the bandmembers creative careers: BAM magazine revealed in November that the Circle Jerks had once again broken up. Morris was reportedly hoping to a do a solo album for Mercury.

Selected discography

Group Sex, Frontier, c. 1980.

Wild in the Streets, I.R.S., c. 1981.

Golden Shower of Hits, Allegiance, 1983.

Wonderful, Relativity, 1985.

VI, Relativity, 1988.

Gig, Relativity, c. 1990.

Oddities, Abnormalities and Curiosities, Mercury, 1995.


BAM, November 3, 1995.

Billboard, July 8, 1995.

Creem, October 1982; September 1986.

Entertainment Weekly, November 18, 1994; February 17, 1995.

Guitar Player, April 1988.

Hits, July 24, 1995.

Huh, July 1995.

Los Angles Times, July 25, 1995.

Melody Maker, June 19, 1982; December 14, 1985; December 19, 1987; November 21, 1987.

Musician, April 1986.

Village Voice, April 27, 1982.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Mercury Records publicity materials, 1995, and an interview with Keith Morris, September 1995.

Joanna Rubiner