Headline Act: Circus 66

Leigh Holley, drummer for Circus 66, has put down his sticks and tapped rhythmically (but hopefully not as ferociously) on his keyboard to answer our Headline Act questions…

Simple things first – where are you guys from?

We’re based around the South East of England, hailing from Farnborough, Maidenhead and sunny High Wycombe!

How did you meet?

Well… we all met at different times really, but the gist of it is that we all met through Matt (guitar) – the band started as a “uni side-project” 7/8 years ago (or so I’m told!) and has morphed into something a bit more serious these days. I’d been away from the music scene a few years and joined what my wife calls “tinder for bands”! I set up a profile and I think it was the next day I received a message from Matt wanting to hook up for a jam (he didn’t even buy me a drink first), it all went from there really. It’s a similar story with Annabelle (vocals) and Mustard (bass), although they probably have a far less elaborate weird cult recruitment version.

How long have you been playing as a band?

Besides Matt’s uni project as mentioned, the line up, the new sound, the Circus 66 you’re hearing today have been going since Jan 2019.

Before you get sick of being asked…where does the band name come from?

This always makes me laugh as you’re right, it’s a common question. Not only that, I have to use Matt’s answer as the name was set in stone before I joined! Matt always says there’s a long and short answer to this… but honestly… they have the same answer: the “66” comes from Route 66, in the early days (and you can hear on our EP Showtime there was a lot of southern-rock influence, so they liked the idea of using the number…. The “Circus” is because he liked the word! Yep… I think it was more because just being called “66” may have been a bit odd, but he wanted 69 originally!

What are your influences?

As a drummer, it’s expected that you reel off your “top 10 all time drummers” that influenced your playing, so I like to answer about my general music influences to be honest, no one famous influenced me to pick up the sticks! Musically and creatively it probably stems back to when I was a kid, my Dad’s a guitar and keys player so he’d teach me songs and show me music etc., that’s where it started.

From there I listened to what he loved growing up, Bowie, Deep Purple, Queen, etc., then as I went through my teens and college years, I was in to loads of mixed punk-rock/nu-metal genres so Blink 182, Rammstein, Soilwork, Clutch, Slipknot, Korn, Bizkit, Papa Roach, etc. That’s my era though and I loved it all and I’m notoriously known for still cranking Chocolate Starfish at any given opportunity! It’s never nostalgia if you play it every day!

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Describe your music. What makes you unique?

This is the question musicians have fun answering. It’s that one interview question you can’t escape from, no matter your job! We’re a big old mashup of influences, and I’m actually not into a lot of what the others listen to… this does many things when we’re writing. It’s a bit like the 50/50, half and half pizzas you can order, it’s best described like getting a pepperoni on your vegan slice! So I bring a lot of the heavy influence as opposed to the classic rock stuff, and I think they bring out a lot of my classic rock influence too. Promoters never know whether to put us on a metal or rock line-up, it’s hilarious.

So really, you’re not sure whether you’re actually a vegan or you’re just dipping your toe in and trying something new. I’ve talked about pizza for far too long, but in a nutshell, a mashup of a classic rock sound with some serious girth.

Do you have any particular lyrical themes?

Absolutely. If I cracked out my emo fringe, skinnys and eyeliner our lyrics would fit right in on a 00’s MTV hit. It’s all a big interpretation thing though – our lyrics are pretty deep on our new tracks. We touch a lot on mental health and our own experiences and there’s a track that we’ve all connected to which is written about someone (in first person) fighting their battle with cancer. It’s based on a real experience where the main subject is talking about his whole family and friends network mourning his death whilst he’s still alive, he’s comforting them for something that hasn’t happened yet – we’re excited to release that one.

What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?

Well doing the maths, as we’ve been in this line-up we’ve only really hit stages as the current 4-piece in 2019! We worked incredibly hard to put a set together for some cool festivals in a short space of time. We finalised the sound pretty quickly so it may sound like not a long time, but we’re the finished product and we were taking names! Since the world has been a weird place recently, it’s been a heavy focus on writing, mixing and networking.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?

It seems to be a theme, but I’ve lent backwards on the backdrop of the stage on what I thought was a wall, but was in fact a curtain… I fell about 4 feet onto the ground! It was the end of the set, and it purely looked like I vanished into thin air so I’m told! Not quite a Dave Grohl beer moment, but I’m also told the previous Circus 66 drummer fell off stage too… now who says drummers aren’t professionals?

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What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?

I’m glad I got to do this interview, because if Matt was answering about his guitars you’d be here forever! He speaks a lot about them, but he loves Gibson/Fender and uses Cornford MK50 amps. I use Mapex, Zildjian, Paiste and Solobeat drumsticks. Our bass player has a fair collection, including Darkglass amps, Line 6 Helix but always has a soft (flaccid) spot for the P-Basses. We all use Lo-Vibes ear protection – look after your ears, kids!

What, if anything, are you plugging/promoting at the moment?

Drum roll please! We’ve hit the release button with SaN PR on our latest and final single, number 3! It’s titled “Jekyll or Hyde” and we’ve had loads of fun with this one! It’s different from the first two singles and much more fast paced. It’s got everything, punky drums, massive vocals, low bass and a proper Tom Morello-esque guitar solo. It’s officially released on 5th February with a massive cinematic video to compliment it. This is the perfect track as the trailer to our un-released debut album Follow The Black Crow.

What are your plans for the next 6 months or so?

We’re currently working hard with our management team over at Forge to put together the release of Follow The Black Crow. We’ve finished recording it now, so it’s really all about the final touches and art etc. We’ve got some plans to get back on the stage and hopefully set up a mini album release tour for it. We can’t give any details as things are being postponed daily on the scene, understandably.

If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you? A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before! 

Love this! Bands to check out you may not know is how our community rolls, we’re a massive family. I’d go for The Hot Damn and The Dust Coda… we’ll let you decide the order, it would all work well!

Check out this month’s Headline Act Playlist on Spotify and YouTube

Circus 66: facebook | instagram | spotify | youtube

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