October 14, 2007
THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES [I] INTERVIEW[/I]
The demise of Washington’s Botch and Minnesota’s Kill Sadie gave way to the formation of Minus the Bear, the fivepiece behind one of this summer’s most anticipated releases. Yet the dispersement of these rock bands has yielded far more than mathrock; members of the aforementioned groups went on to form Seattle-based These Arms Are Snakes (TAAS) with members of Nineironspitfire, and release an EP (This is Meant to Hurt You) and two albums (2004’s Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home and 2006’s Easter). Compelling and engaging, the end products are aggressive and brilliant. While aggressive rock has slid into a tired territory of dark imagery and chaos, TAAS has crafted clever and interesting material that manages to explore the genre, fuse the group’s varied backgrounds, and maintain a level of musical sophistication.
What is perhaps most impressive is the group’s ability to present its music to the masses; the live set for TAAS is a private time warp the the late 70s when Iggy Pop reigned the stage; lead singer Steve Snere is as active and engaging without bodily fluids--the remaining band members perform with bravado and without theatrics. TAAS’ set is impressive in a way that audiences should beg the group’s contemporaries for more enthusiasm.
The group recently toured with Mastodon, Against Me!, and Cursive aross the U.S. and spared time for an interview after their opening performance.
HOW’S TOUR WITH MASTODON, CURSIVE, AND AGAINST ME! ?
Ryan: When we play we get quite a few blank stares. I feel like we win people over by the end of the night. I feel like a lot of people just never heard of us before so they gotta take it all in?°¦ ?°»Well, they weren’t terrible?°¦’ I think we’re doing good. We just got back from Europe before this tour started and were there for four and a half weeks and it was really really good. But that tour was fuckin’ awesome. People respond well to us.
We did our own headlining tour in the states for five weeks but even when we played crowds would be like?°¦[makes face]. But we play Europe it’s such a different vibe. People are very appreciative and a lot more receptive to other bands we’re playing with.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BAND TO SOMEONE WHO HAD NEVER HEARD THESE ARMSARE SNAKES?
Brian: Depends on who it is. If it’s a young person our age and actually knows anything about music, it’s going to be very different than some dude. But a younger person, I guess it’s ?°»noisy punk?’
Ryan: When it’s my relatives or something like that I tell them it’s a modern version—more to float my boat than anything else—I tell them it’s Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd but modern day noisy version and they can kind of look at it if they hear it, ?°»Yeah you’re completely you sound nothing like either of those bands.’ [laughs]
Brian: We sound like Dark Side of the Moon if Pink Floyd weren’t a bunch of amateurs.
Ryan: Yeah like Led Zeppelin if they knew what they were doing! If Bonham and Page didn’t suck.
I KNOW, WHAT A BUNCH OF HACKS
Ryan: Guy couldn’t play to save his fucking life!
WHAT IS IT THAT YOU ULTIMATELY WANT TO ACHIEVE WITH THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES?
Ryan: We’re not really trying to accomplish anything. We’re just trying to write music that we life and we can appreciate. I think there’s not a lot of cool shit, you know? There’s a point where I was working two jobs and not happy about anything but music still made me really excited. And when I heard a band that was cool, and resonated, it was ?°»Okay this band is communicating an idea or thought that resonated with me.’ Something a normal conversation doesn’t capture. I want something that this band that makes people say ?°»Fuck! This really resonates for me!’
WHO DOES THAT FOR YOU?
Ryan: It’s ever changing and different for all of us but the influential bands for me are Led Zeppelin.
Wait, actually, it’s going to start getting weird: Doves, and Bjork.
BUT THAT DOES HAS A COMMON THREAD
Ryan: I think they do too. I feel they are musically minded. I don’t feel like they’ve ever gone the way of, ?°»Well this worked for this record so let’s keep doing this. Let’s do that again.’ We write a record and that’s where we were at that point in time. Now, where we are now, we’re going to start writing again soon. We were there before. We wrote Oxeneers. And we don’t need to re-write it. We don’t need to write Easter again. It’s important not to write the same record over and over.
Brian: I think it’s weird when you are a musician and in a band, surrounded by music all the time, listening four hours every night at the show, driving in the band, walking into the mall, and it’s so easy to swallow things and listen all the time. There’s this barrage of music all the time. I know for me the things I’ve been in to has completely changed. What I was liked three years ago doesn’t apply to what I like now.
It’s an ADD culture you’re constantly barraged by new things so you’re constantly searching what’s new, and visceral, and exciting. What I like now might be different six months from now.
It’s kind of depressing in a way. I hope what we do now is completely different but something people can latch onto.
HOW DOES THE WRITING PROCESS WORK FOR THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES?
Ryan: It used to take us a month, month and a half to write a song and then we switched drummers. We had a very good friend of ours fill in and write Oxeneers and we had to do it as fast as humanly possible just because we had a deadline for ourselves.
And then after that record we toured on that for a while and Chris [Common, drums] joined the band and we had more time?°¦We said ?°»We’re going to write for the next three months.’ We spent a lot of time writing and slowly trying to refine everything. We’d go ?°»This doesn’t work.’ Some shit would work out and some didn’t. Some got completely reworked after we demo’d them and now we’re getting to the point where we like to spend time on a song.
We want it to be more organic and spontaneous.
Brian: I don’t think there’s a writing process. It’s just the nature of this band.
Ryan: It was just a bunch of guys who liked hanging out.
Brian: It’s just whatever we kind of feel like doing.
TELL ME ABOUT ALBUM YOU’VE ALREADY HINTED AT, WHAT IS NEXT FROM THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES?
Ryan: Basically we’re getting ready to go in and start writing the new record. We’ve been on tour a long time with very few days off. We’ve started talking about getting ready and put it out next spring. When we get home from this tour it’s all out writing. One more short European tour, but that’s it. We’re cutting ourselves off from touring.
Brian: It’s hard on being in a band because you have this momentum to keep going?°¦I feel like as long as we’re on tour we can sustain ourselves. We need to do another record, but if we do another record we have to start settling in again and it’s a weird dichotomy to put yourself into. It’s very easy to settle in this lifestyle. It’s all or nothing, it’s very tricky.
Ryan: It would be nice to have just one lifestyle. I’m interested to see how other bands do things. We have our way, and it sort of works, and you look at other bands?°¦and how does a band like Shellac put out a record every four years, tour for a month, and keep people interested. Godspeed hasn’t put out a record in seven years but they seem more popular than they were seven years ago.
?°¦It’s a shitty position to be in.
Ultimately this is what I want to do, so I don’t see it as disadvantages.
Brian: I think our whole generation is in this point where it’s like meaningful work is really hard to come by. Especially meaningful work that pays well. I have friends in the non-profit who are like, ?°»Well I’m doing something good but I can hardly pay my rent.’ Then you have people who that make really good money doing something irrelevant and it’s, ?°»Good I can buy a car, but, what am I going to do with a car? Look back on my twenties and think I wasted my life?’ It’s a sign.
Ryan: It’s a selfish generation. Not in the sense that?°¦
Brian: We’re at a crossroads. I just want to do something cool. I don’t want to work at a dot com, I don’t want to be a salesman.
Ryan: There’s mean to an end. You can do whatever you want, you can work for six months and say, ?°»I’ll be on tour for a year and a half, see ya.’
Brian: I don’t think it works that way.
Ryan: Some can?°¦You have a resume and ?°»I work at Amazon for a year and a half,’ and obviously they’re not going bankrupt. And if they do, it’s not your fault.
SO IS THAT WHAT THE RECORDING AND TOURING CYCLE IS LIKE FOR YOU?
Ryan: That’s the cycle. You write a record, record it, wait four months for it to come out, and by then it’s old to you. And then you tour on those songs you’ve known forever for a year, two years—it depends. For Oxeneers we never said no to a tour. Then we realized we had to stop doing this and write another record and it took us a long time for us to know what we wanted to do. This time around we’re cognizant of what we want to do. We just want to do this amount of touring and cut it off and write, and give ourselves another deadline. If we don’t make it, we’ll say, ?°»We’ll give this record another day.’
Katherine M. Hill
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