December 20, 2006
INTERVIEW WITH: THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES ON DECEMBER 20TH, 2006
Some bands sound exactly like something else you’ve heard. Some bands sound like a revamped and updated version of something else you’ve heard. And some bands, the truly great or innovative ones, sound completely different and grab your attention from the first note. These Arms Are Snakes are one of those bands?°¦at least for me. Everything about TAAS screams originality; from the twisted language of vocalist Steve Snere, to the alternately brutal and dancey rhythms of Brian Cook (bass) and Chris Common (drums), to the spazzed out and riffy grooves of Ryan Fredericksen’s guitar playing, this band is trying something new. I was lucky enough to catch up with all of them when they hit the Beat Kitchen on their headlining tour this past October. Not only did I get to interview some incredibly nice and intelligent guys, but I also got to see one of the most passionate performances of music I have witnessed in a while. If you have not seen this band live, I highly recommend you do so.
You guys wanna go ahead and introduce yourselves first?
Ryan Fredericksen: Ryan, I play guitar.
Chris Common: I’m Chris, I play drums.
Cool. So how’s the tour goin’? You guys are out with Young Widows, Mouth of the Architect...
R: And River City Tan Lines.
How’s the tour been so far?
R: Great. It kinda just started, really, for us. Mouth started a few days ago in Denver but we played with Planes Mistaken for Stars for about a week?°¦it’s kinda weird; the bands kinda shift from region to region, so this kinda actually marks the first full show with the bands.
Cause it’s a four band package for tour?°¦
How long’s the tour for?
R: Six weeks total for us.
How did the Thrice/Planes tour go?
R: It was weird. It was fun. We had a good time. I think a lot of those people didn’t really get us, you know?
C: The Thrice crowd wasn’t necessarily into us, but, I mean?°¦
R: The Thrice guys were fuckin’ great.
C: They were really really awesome dudes.
R: Super cool.
That’s one thing I notice about them is that they seem to take great bands out on tour with them, despite the reactions from their fan base.
R: Yeah, totally.
Is this the first time you guys are tourin’ on the Easter material? Is this the first time you’re playin’ any of it live?
R: We’ve been playin’ it here and there for a while. Before we actually recorded, we did some dates with Isis and tried it out on that?°¦
At this point, bassist Brian Cook snuck up and sat down at the table we were doing the interview at without saying a word.
Who just sat down?
C: Uhh, this is Brian.
Brian Cook: Brian. Sorry, I didn’t?°¦
You wanna introduce yourself? Cause you can talk to, it’s totally cool?°¦
B: I’m Brian. I play bass.
Okay. How’s it been takin’ the Easter stuff out on the road?
R: Awesome so far.
How’s the crowd reaction been to the new stuff?
R: Really good.
C: Really good, yeah. With the new songs, people seem to be into it.
R: Yeah, even before the?°¦we started about a week before the record even came out and people seemed to know a lot of it already.
B: You can thank the internet for that. It leaked like immediately.
Yeah, I’m a culprit.
R: Ohh yeah, me too, I download shit all the time.
You gotta download your own record before it comes out, right?
R: I gotta see how it sounds!! I haven’t heard it yet!!
Do you guys have any favorite spots? Any spots on tour that you really look forward to hittin’ every time you go out?
R: Chicago, for sure.
R: Seriously, I fuckin’ love it.
You guys playin’ the Grog in Cleveland?
R: Yeah. That’s gonna be fun.
B: I’ve actually come to like Detroit, which is really weird.
C: It is really weird.
R: Me and him used to fuckin’ loath San Francisco. Just fuckin’ couldn’t stand to even?°¦the thought of it and now I fucking love San Francisco.
C: Atlanta. The Drunken Unicorn.
R: Yeah, used to hate Atlanta. You just find ways to find endearing things about each city. You meet some great people, so it just kinda works out every time. You know, you see the itinerary and you’re just like, “Ahh?°¦ohh wait, fuckin’ Detroit! We go to fuckin’ CPT! We gotta go to that terrifying fuckin’ house he lives at.”
Well, you guys switched drummers last year from Aaron to Chris. What’s the difference been in the switch?
R: Well, for me, personally, it’s much more to my liking. I like his style a lot more. Aaron’s a fuckin’ phenomenal drummer but he [Chris] suits kinda the way the bands sounds a little better. Bigger sounding drums.
B: Aaron was all about never wanting to be in half-time. He wanted everything to be up tempo?°¦
R: Sixteenth notes.
B: Which is cool and is like sorta different for us, but at the same time, we kinda don’t wanna be?°¦
R: A dancey band.
B: Yeah, we don’t wanna?°¦maybe ease off on the high hat a little more, man. But it’s kinda cool, cause it makes you re-think kinda how you’re playing, so it’s kinda like “ohh, we’re kinda taking this band?°¦”
R: And he helped us out a lot writing that record.
And Chris, you produced the new record as well. How was that?
R: It was good.
Cause you worked with Matt Bayles before. How did the process change this time with keeping all the production within the band?
C: Well, first of all, Matt Bayles and I own a recording studio together.
C: So it was very like?°¦there wasn’t any issue. It wasn’t like we decided to go with me instead of him. It was what worked out in our timeframe and for the budget and everything. You know, we could have taken our budget and spent a short period of time in a studio and still have done a great record or we could take that budget, self-produce it and spread it out over almost two months or something. Well, six weeks.
R: Thirty one days total.
C: And we had a week off in the middle. And it was nice. It gave us some time to tie up the ends that weren’t quite tied up when we were done writing, stuff like that, cause we had time to go back. There were also downfalls too, you know. You’re in a band and around a thing so much, especially for myself; there were times where I would just get burned out. But I think, all in all, that turned out really cool.
Well, I noticed that on Oxeneers it seemed kind of like a nice line between riffy guitars and this pounding rhythm section and on the Easter album, it’s even more atmospheric with even less guitar this time around. Did you go into the project with a set idea of where you wanted Easter to head as compared to Oxeneers?
R: I think we had a better idea this time around. I mean, having a real drummer in the band. With Aaron, he helped us write and then he recorded with us, but that was over?°¦we wrote and recorded that record in three months, so it was just blazing through songs just to get done in order to make our deadline to record. And with this record, we had so much more time to write. You know, we wrote it over the course of?°¦
C: A couple months?°¦
R: Yeah, six or seven months.
B: Yeah, we even went in and cranked out songs the first day we were in the studio that we wrote on the spot. This time it was a lot more, going in and instead of feeling like we have to go in and lay down all the tracks in a short amount of time, we were able to just feel things out and kind of see what works and what doesn’t. I feel like it was a bit more of an organic process in the studio as opposed to just?°¦
R: Write. Get it done.
C: Yeah. Also, on the production side, I went in not wanting everything to be like perfect and crisp and clear and like, you know, a modern studio recording. I wanted to do?°¦I wanted the drums to be like boxier and roomier and a little less of things here and there and there were times where I thought the bass and drums should really drive and the guitars are awesome and they set in where they need to set in and there were other times where the guitars needed to be up in there. So, I don’t know; every song had different guitar sounds and bass sounds and it was just kind of like a little more experimental, I guess, like the process.
B: It’s definitely one of those things where we were done with the record and it was like, we’re gonna have to relearn how to play all these songs because it was all written, but when you record, it’s like “well that doesn’t sound right, let me try doing it this way.” I don’t know. There are songs that got so changed around in terms of?°¦what kind of effects are being used?°¦
C: Subtle Body?°¦
R: Subtle Body was insane.
C: I recorded that song by myself and actually changed a part in the song by myself. The end part, but uhh, I mean, we actually lost the first take of it, unfortunately, so I had to lose my mind and we did it again, but it came out for the best I think.
C: I think it’s one of the highlights of the record.
R: It’s one of my favorite songs.
When you guys play live, do you try and emulate the record, or is there more left up to the performance?
R: We try to do it as well as we can by stickin’ to the record, but I think playing live is such a different process in itself; it’s such a different beast. You can’t get away with controlling the sound as much as in the studio so I think live, we just try to have fun. Get close?°¦
C: If a sample gets off, a sample gets off, which?°¦
I actually saw you guys at the House of Blues on the Underoath/Hopesfall tour?°¦
[laughter from everyone]
C: I wasn’t playing then!
I know you weren’t. And I watched you guys and you were freakin’ out cause you had huge equipment fuck-ups on stage like power outages and the bass cut out in the middle of a song and all these people were just like, “who the fuck are these guys?” And I just wanted everything to work!
R: Yeah, that was rough. That was the first show of that tour.
Yeah, that’s right, cause you guys over lapped cause Fear Before the March of Flames was on that bill too?°¦there was like five bands on the bill.
C: Glad I missed that one.
B: It was?°¦like my head rush cut out in Angela’s [Secret], which is like all I use on that song for doing loops?°¦I think it fucked up in Idaho too.
Yeah, I was sitting upstairs in the House of Blues upstairs bar and there were literally like three people up there. You look down and it’s just a sea of sixteen year olds and I thought, “man, this is gonna be bad.”
R: Yeah, it was pretty bad.
Anyway, so where does the title for the new record come from?
B: Well, titles always seem to be a very last minute thing, I mean we were actually sorta having to come up with a title on the spot. We had done the record and there was no title and we were in mastering and we had to do it on the fly and we were throwing ideas around. And Steve [Snere] had been like, “well there’s a lot of talk about ghosts and the weird spiritual realm of things.” And he was throwing out all these ideas about ghosts and at one point, I think I was just like, “we recorded it over Easter and we want something about ghosts and rising from the dead, let’s just name it Easter.” Which was kind of ridiculous and we all sorta chuckled and were like, “that’s stupid.” Easter bunnies and pastel colors and I was like, “that’s actually kinda?°¦”
You guys are murdering the Christian ideal?°¦
B: Yeah! And it kinda sticks in some weird way and your kinda like, “actually, it kinda makes sense.” Cause this whole record kinda revolves around the idea of why, like, I don’t know. Like, the whole existence of the band in a lyrical form is, “why do we live this way?” Oxeneers is all about working and why we work shit jobs and this record is sort of about why we’re even here and like, do people really believe in these religions that we toss around and why we drive around and live these suburban lives and all this shit and I think it all kind of stems back from fuckin’ Easter in some weird way anyway. It’s all about western civilization and the way it sort of evolved in the last two thousand years to being this thing that we’re living in now and it all revolves around western culture and western civilization revolves around Christianity in some weird, convoluted way. So I just sort of see that as a starting point for where we’re at now and?°¦
You just took my next question right out of my mouth?°¦cause it seems to me, every time I listen to Oxeneers, there are a lot of references to American financial culture?°¦
R: Yeah yeah.
Which is great, but then it was nice to hear, on this record, a complete shift to something almost even bigger. Oxeneers seemed a little bit more personal, lyrically, to me, and then the new record seemed a little bit more, like you were saying, larger and about larger ideas, about how people seem to fall into lines almost?°¦
B: Yeah. I mean, I don’t wanna speak for Steve too much on his lyrics, but I know Oxeneers was definitely about being in your 20s and being a financially independent adult and just being like, “this is it? This is, fuckin’, the rest of my life? This is pretty miserable.” I think with this record, it’s stepping out even beyond that and being like, “why do we do any of this stuff? What’s the point of jumping through all these hoops?” And I don’t think you can ask questions that large without having some sort of weird, spiritual identity crisis and being like, “am I here for a reason? Is there a god?” And I think the most common, cultural answer to that is really sort of depressing. It’s like, “yeah, there is this big bearded man in the sky and if you do the right things, then you’ll wind up driving a car through the pearly gates.” And I’m just like, “really? I don’t know.” I don’t wanna just live life here on earth in hopes that I’ll have all the riches that I don’t have here on earth in some cloud city?°¦it’s a little too Star Wars.
Well, are the lyrics strictly Steve’s realm? It’s all pretty much him?
R: Well he [Brian] wrote?°¦
B: Yeah, I did “Perpetual Bris” for the record. I think that’s the only time that’s ever happened, everything else is always Steve.
Okay. How does writing work for you guys? How do songs develop?
R: I’d say it’s Brian and I that kinda come up with ideas and he’ll [Chris] put his two cents in on it; “Maybe you should do this instead and if I do this overtop?°¦” It just usually stems from one idea, you know, one riff and then we just expand upon it and do what we can to make it work or, sometimes it doesn’t work. “Subtle Body” is the biggest example of?°¦
C: That was Brian and I basically?°¦
R: It took forever to make that song work. None of the stuff that I was doing for that was working at all. These guys came up with most of it and then when I?°¦he actually changed a bass line in the song while we were recording and the one thing I liked the most out of everything I did didn’t fit anymore?°¦
R: And what I ended up doing I liked a lot more, with the slide.
B: Yeah, we kinda write in pairs almost. When we’re all in one room and trying to do something, it’s just noise and it doesn’t really work, but when there’s two of us, it’s like, “alright, I’m gonna do this and you’re gonna do this and we’re gonna fuckin’ figure it out.” And everyone else is kinda like, “okay, I’m getting a feel for this.” But that dynamic is always different; it’s never just like me and Chris or Ryan and Chris or anything. It’s always just?°¦
R: It helps. Just that concentration where two people are feelin’ it and are like, “ohh, we’re gonna do this.” “Horse Girl” is the best example?°¦you and me went to town on that song.
C: Well even the day we were tracking and you were getting your guitar tuned and you were playing a very simple thing and we just jammed on it and I was like, “that could be a part.” Somehow it can sometimes just pop out of the most simple riffs and end up turning into really interesting pieces of music.
Was the record mostly written before you went into the studio?
R: Most of it was done. There was a lot of tweaking, but I think?°¦well, I guess there were a couple songs?°¦
C: Structurally there wasn’t much tweaking. It was mainly just having to modify a guitar part, modify a bass part or change a drum part I couldn’t play.
B: Yeah, there was that. The more kind of stuff where we like, “we need something right here.” I mean there was stuff done in the studio that was definitely geared to making a more listenable album as opposed to just a collection of songs that we play live.
C: “Desert Ghost” was originally spawned from a keyboard that I lost my mind on and was like, “guys, check this out” after being in the studio for like forty hours straight.
B: Yeah, he got all flustered and was like, “I needed some time to sort of express myself with sound.” And we were like, “okay?°¦” and he goes, “check it out!” And it’s all like [makes bizarre, high pitched squealing noises]. And it’s all these weird sort of bending noises and it was probably the most unnerving thing I think I’ve ever heard. And we were like, “that’s amazing, that makes my skin crawl.”
The big thing I wanted ask you guys about is the independent music scene today because you guys seem to be able to cross over the two more popular scenes. Independent music is the “hot” thing right now and you’ve seen both sides of that popularity. You’ve seen the Hopsefall/Underoath side and you’ve seen the Isis side. You’ve seen the thirty year old metal heads and you’ve seen the sixteen year old kids?°¦
R: It’s a blessing and a curse really. Yeah, this comes up quite a bit. It’s nice that we can play with Isis and then Minus the Bear the next tour whereas those bands could never tour together. But a lot of times, people just don’t know what to think of us at all, they just kind of stare at us and go, “they don’t really sound like Minus the Bear?°¦they’re too hard for me.” And then we play with Isis and they’re like, “ehh, those guys are gay?°¦those guys are fags.” And so it’s kinda hard, cause we teeter on that line and it makes it hard for?°¦you know, that’s actually why we’re doing this headlining tour, to get away from that and just kinda do our own thing and be like, “look, we’re our own band, we can headline our own tour.” And if there are thirty people there or three hundred people there we’re gonna be happy either way, so?°¦
B: We were talking and, you know, if we were like a Christian band or a straight-edge band?°¦
R: Built in audience?°¦
B: Or had scary, fuckin’ drippy band logos where someone’s like, “ahh, I totally get it, I know what they’re goin’ for.” Like, they’re X band. Then I feel like you immediately have a core, like a built in audience who will buy anything that’s straight-edge or anything that’s Christian or anything that’s fuckin’?°¦
C: Very fashionable?°¦
B: Yeah, fashionable! Or even if we’re a fuckin’ hardcore band. But we’re not?°¦
R: Unfortunately, we don’t wear make-up, we’re not Christians and?°¦
C: We’re definitely not straight-edge.
R: Definitely not straight-edge.
B: We get people who are like, “I don’t get what they’re goin’ for?°¦”
C: “Where’s the makeup?”
B: They’re clothes aren’t telling me anything, they’re just wearing jeans and t-shirts. I can’t get this”?°¦it’s just weird, you know; we sorta fit in everywhere and we sorta don’t fit in anywhere. It means that throughout the whole existence of the band, we’ve always sorta done pretty well but I still don’t think we’ve found our niche yet.
C: We’ve kinda fallin’ into the popularity crack, where you’re either on this end or this end and we’re kinda right in the middle there and there’s not too many cross-over audiences?°¦
R: Well, the International Noise [Conspiracy] tour?°¦
Well it seems to me that a lot of the people that like you guys are big on things like the Dischord back catalogue and stuff like that?°¦
Stuff that’s noisy, but psychedelic at the same time?°¦
R: Yeah, this band French Toast, they’re from DC?°¦
Well, who’s the Botch alum?
B: That would be me.
I did want to ask you about the Botch re-issues cause right now there seems to be a LOT of attention being paid to the Botch back catalogue.
B: Yeah, it’s weird. Botch would go on tour and we would sell two hundred dollars in merch a night and there would be like forty people at the shows. And those people were into it and it was cool. And like towards the very end when we started touring with like the Murder City Devils and stuff and things kinda picked up. But for the most part, we worked hard without a lot of rewards, but we were always like, “well, but we wanna make something that’s cool and we wanna make something that feels like it has a shelf-life longer than six months.” Now I look back on it and it’s cool because people are still into it and the band’s been broken up for several years. I guess we did what we wanted to do, but the band sort of outlived its life, you know? It’s weird, cause that band fuckin’ broke up four years ago. And now I’m in a new band and I’m like, “you wanna check this one out? C’mon?°¦”
R: I think Norma Jean?°¦there are so many bands that fuckin’?°¦
R: Rip Botch off blatantly and are fuckin’ making a killing off of it and I think that they always refer back to Botch as their biggest inspiration.
Well that’s what struck me as weird is that you have these bands regurgitating past bands and blatantly coat-tailing?°¦and now Hydrahead [Records] is putting out four Botch re-issues in the next year?°¦
B: Yeah, but a lot of it is correcting past mistakes. We just re-mixed [American] Nervoso cause everyone’s always been sorta unhappy with the way it sounded. And it was recorded really well, we just rushed through the mix, so it’s gonna come out and it’s actually gonna sound good so?°¦
Not to draw attention away from your current project?°¦
B: No, I mean, it’s kinda relevant. To me, so much of what happened with that band kind of mirrors this one, where it’s just like workin’ really hard and fuckin’ touring a bunch and fuckin’ doing the same shit and trying something that’s interesting and is it’s own, unique entity that doesn’t necessarily fit in a box. And people are sorta getting into it and being like, “I guess I like this.” But, you know, not necessarily blowing up and selling out venues across the country or anything like that. And I just wonder if there’s like a pattern to what I’m doing?°¦like, no one appreciates it when it’s around, but when we break up?°¦
You’re the kiss of death for every band you’re in?°¦
B: Yeah yeah!!
B: We’ll start getting fuckin’ royalty checks when we’re no longer a band.
At this point, the interview wound off into some tour talk about Australia and which Australian marsupials were stoned all the time because they ate Eucalyptus. Also, singer Steve Snere arrived to see how the interview was going. Eventually we got back on course.
Yeah, this is so much better than five minutes of, “what’s your record, who did it?...okay, bye!”
B: Thank god, like thanks for knowing and having interesting questions.
C: As opposed to?°¦
R: We’ve had two fuckin’ zingers recently?°¦
B: Yeah, like “I need a quote. I’m not recording anything or writing anything down, I’m just gonna do it off of memory.”
C: She actually said she was gonna BS it. And we were just like, “then why the fuck are you asking us questions?”
R: “You’re gonna go far in journalism, lady!”
I did an interview with Limbeck recently and they were saying the same thing. Some girl asked them like three questions?°¦
R: I wonder if it’s the same girl!!
C: I read the magazine she wrote for and some of them are like four questions, like “How’d you get your band name? Do you have any quotes?”
R: “Do you have any quotes?” “Ehh, uhh?°¦dick? How bout that!? Quote me on that!!”
“Thanks for the badass interview?°¦”
C: The whole time we were kinda just like messin’ with her to. Like talkin’ about just bein’ drunks and she’s like, “well I’m not gonna write about you guys bein’ drunks.”
That’s the meat of an interview!
Steve Snere: I kept trying to egg her on so that at least she would be interesting and then she’d just get really uncomfortable and be like, “I don’t think I’m gonna put that in there.” And we were just like, “ahh, what the fuck are you doing?!”
So what’s your guys’ relationship with Jade tree like cause that seems sort of an odd label to choose?°¦
R: I think the reason we went with them is because they are so eclectic. When we first started talking to different labels and what-not, those guys seemed to be the most interested in us. And they flew out to come see us and hang out with us and took us out to dinner and shit like that. They just seemed like they had our backs the most and were the most interested in us. You know, it’s bittersweet. There are some times where it gets shitty and we get in arguments with them, but it’s more like a brotherly thing where they’re lookin’ out for our best interests while we’re goin, “what the fuck are you talkin’ about, that doesn’t make any sense?!” When it all comes down to it though, they are lookin’ out for our best interests and you can’t have anything better than that. And they’re super cool dudes, so?°¦
B: I think we all wanted to work with someone who was gonna be professional enough to send out statements and make sure the record stayed in print and make sure that it got into stores so that if you go anywhere, you can find your record. But it was still kind of a punk label, where it’s not?°¦and, I mean, you don’t wanna sign a contract like you would with Vagrant or something like that; you sign away your life basically. You don’t own your publishing, they can mix your record for you. I mean people always make jokes, like when Dashboard’s [Confessional] career ends, which I think it probably will very shortly, he’s gonna realize that he doesn’t actually have any money because he doesn’t actually own any of the songs. So with us, we don’t get tour support really and we don’t have big budgets for our records or anything like that, but we kinda call the shots. We make the records we wanna make, Jade Tree puts them out and if they decide they don’t like it, then they don’t have to put it out. It’s nice because it’s as professional as it needs to be and no more, you know? It’s kinda nice?°¦and those dudes kind of come from the same background?°¦
Well what do you guys see for the future of the band?
B: I don’t know?°¦
C: That’s a good question?°¦
R: I think we’re thinkin’ in terms of the next six months rather than?°¦that’s about as far ahead as we get. I mean, it’s based around writing a record, waiting for it to come out, touring on it, and then plotting out the tours for the next year?°¦and so I don’t think we’ve gotten too far.
B: I think a lot of what we do, a lot of the choices that we make are based on securing the longevity of the band. We haven’t done anything that’s the short, cash-out plan. We’re gonna make records that hopefully people like and if they don’t, that sucks, but we’re gonna put it out and we’re gonna tour on it and we’re gonna do it for really cheap so that we get fuckin’ royalties so that we can fuckin’ know that we can actually make a living?°¦
C: To tour without it actually having to come out of our pockets. It’s not a major thing to try and tour and to sell records to buy cars and shit, that’s ridiculous. But if, ideally, we can keep going and doing what we’re doing?°¦
B: We’re not writing music for teenagers, there’s not fuckin’ pop-core and parts for me to do windmills. You’re either gonna like it or you won’t, and?°¦I don’t know?°¦
C: I did a stick-twirl once and I dropped it, I remember doin’ it. That’s the last time I try to show-off.
I’d like to thank Ryan, Chris, Brian and Steve for their time. I would also like to thank David Lewis at Riot Act Media for setting the interview up.
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