Machine Head vocalist-guitarist Robb Flynn describes it as an "anti-Valentine's Day track" saying, "The song is inspired by an acquaintance of mine who returned from Afghanistan only to have his relationship fall apart with his girl. She had messed around on him, then got paranoid about him messing around on her, and drove him crazy. We had a conversation on Valentine's Day and he said to me, 'They were just circling the drain…' The phrase struck me. A few days later, I incorporated it into the song I'd been working on."
The Machine Head leader continues, "It was a strange parallel with my life at the time, having recently had two band members quit, and even more bizarrely, two long-time couple friends of my wife and I, also divorced. It was breakup season, and it played out with friends taking sides, people not being invited to certain events anymore, social and emotional pressure, and all the typical stuff that happens when a relationship goes bad."
"Watching this guy pull through it helped me pull through my own upheaval. The lyrics to 'Circle the Drain' came out of that frustrating time. It's a sad song about relationships gone bad, but accepting that it's over, and making yourself move on. I wrote it in a more metaphorical tone, as I didn't want it to be about my life, but to be about anybody's life who may be going through a rough time like that. It may not be a song that connects with everyone, especially those in a solid relationship. But if the day ever comes when your life goes awry, this song will be a lifeline for you, something to help pull you up out of that dark place. The irony that he and I had the original conversation on Valentine's Day, and we are now releasing it on Valentine's Day isn't lost on me. It really is the anti-Valentine's Day song."