These Arms Are Snakes have been breathing a set of lungs that has been fresh with each of their four releases. Composed of members from other late 90's post-hardcore outfits, they certainly show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. With some members even working on other projects (Russian Circles, Narrows), the band has had a relentless touring schedule with a Spring and Fall fling this year. On their Fall headliner, the band took quite a bit of time to talk to us about their career, the industry and just music in general.
[Ed. note: There was a loud hum from somewhere in the green room at the venue that came out on my Dictaphone. I transcribed to the best of my ability, and stand by the most audible of the interview.]
So, first things first, whatever happened to the Minus the Bear split?
Brian Cook: Minus the Bear. Steve Snere: Minus the Bear. They haven't done their song yet. Ours is recorded, ready to go. They've been working on their album at the moment - so - hopefully they'll get it done. When we get home, we're going to ask them. [We'll] tell them people have been asking us. Brian Cook: I mean it was their idea, like, "You guys asked us. Why aren't you doing this?" [Laughs] "Let's get this thing done." Steve Snere: We were supposed to have it for the last tour. Our song is done.
Is it going to be a 7" or a 12"?
Snere: It's a a 7" through Vinyl Collective. It's covers, so we each do a cover. Cook: We do a Lost Sounds cover. I think the problem with the Bear is that they haven't been able to agree upon a song.
Is there any new material in the works besides this split?
Snere: Well, there's a Nirvana cover album coming out that does all of In Utero, where each band does each song, and Robotic Empire is putting that out. We did the awful decision to do "Heart Shaped Box." It took us a couple of tries to get where we were happy with it, but it's cool, we got Ben [Verellen] and Dana [James] from Helms Alee to sing on it. I'm not sure who else is on that? Cook: Daughters. Widows. Jay Reatard. Snere: We pretty much used all of our [other] songs [and b-sides] for the splits. But the idea is that Russian Circles and Narrows are going to be touring [after this tour before any new music].
These Arms Are Snakes switch things up on every release. When you guys get together to write the next record, or work on a new batch of songs, will there be another clean slate, and is there any particular direction you would like to take the next album?
Snere: It's hard to say. I don't know. I don't really know how it's going to go. Me and Brian have discussed some ideas. Thinking, somewhat of a large change-up - it would still sound like These Arms Are Snakes - but just kind of done in a different way. I'd like to change it up a bit. To some degree, we've put out records that are somewhat similar, but to some degree sound different. Cook: I can think, in some ways it's always been the same mission, where it's trying to get, in some ways, more distant in some regards, and more, not so much pop, but a more conventional rock in some ways. Stuff that is very unconventional and stuff that is very traditional. Trying to push that boundary a bit more. Have moments where rock music sounded more like classic rock albums sounded, really new and feared, well, fresh for us. But really, we don't know yet.
For whatever genre of post or post-hardcore you guys fall into, it seems like you've done a lot of that at this point. Do you feel that the next record will be more like a combination of everything done thus far?
Snere: I felt like [Tail Swallower and Dove] was that. I'd like to add something new to the history [on the next album]. Something new, that is ours. A new chapter. I feel a lot of what we've talked about with our last record is a combination of that sound. Are we going to continue putting out records like this now? That's the ultimate goal for the next record.
Do you feel the idea of post-hardcore is dead? There are still bands thriving on that sound, but do you feel they're few and far between coming into the next decade?
Cook: It's definitely something I think about. I feel like one of the nice things about the last decade, compared to the 90's, is everyone is a bit more open minded musically. I feel like some of these people admired in the 90's felt that everything had to be rooted in punk rock somehow, based off this framework that was rooted in the Stooges and led through Minor Threat. Things like classic rock or electronic music wasn't really acceptable then. I feel with this decade, it's all about people discovering everything. At least that's how it looks to me. Snere: I think that also is contributed to the Internet craze.
Do you think it's also contributed to all the reunions out of late?
Snere: I don't know. I think a lot of those bands were somewhat seminal, so to the fact that people have been on their ass for years, like, "Play!" you know? People are discovering it, and their fan base is quadrupling. It definitely seems like people are discovering [older bands] again. I know record stores that are usually carrying [bigger names, have more underground releases now].
Speaking of reunions. I would think you guys hate getting asked about your older bands, so instead of asking if there will ever be a reunion for Kill Sadie or Botch, does it ever get old getting asked that question?
Snere: [The members of Kill Sadie] almost did it once at South by Southwest because we were all here. We were almost going to do it, but it didn't work out. There's no plan. I mean, if those guys wanted to, I'd play. There's no burning desire. Cook: I don't think anyone [in Botch] wants to do it.
Not "wanting to do it," but does it ever get tiring having people come up and asking about it?
Cook: It's all about the context when it happens. There's times where, [guitarist] Ryan [Fredericksen] and I and Steve [are sitting around, and someone approaches], "I just got to tell you guys something. Botch was great." It's just sort of tacky. It's like, my other bandmates are sitting here, you know? I'm glad people are still buying those records and are interested in it, and it's obviously flattering anytime someone talks about those records. I think sometimes when it gets brought up, I don't think people think about how it comes out when it's asked. It can be a little weird sometimes. I'm not going to be a dick. My first show ever was seeing Fugazi, and all these people were calling out Minor Threat songs.
I think the first time I saw Minus the Bear, my buddy yelled out "C. Thomas Howell as the 'Soul Man'" to Dave Knudson.
Cook: I see it as the fact that people are like, "Hey I understand, and I know the background," and that's cool, but the thing to think about is that we've moved on to other things, and you've got other people to think about and we're trying to play a new thing.
What do you think about what is going on in music presently? What do you think about the success of bands that have been part of the scene shorter than you guys have?
Snere: A lot of that stuff doesn't matter to me. It's not my world. I have no scope on it. I don't pay attention to it. Someone might ask me, "What do you think of this?" and then shows me a YouTube video, and I'll be like, "That sucks!" and I won't like that. Otherwise [a lot of] what's happening in music today, there's good Internet sites and bad Internet sites. I don't really have a good answer on that, I just kind of concentrate on what I am doing, and what I like. I try to not let the other bullshit bother me. Sometimes, like, Pitchfork drives me fucking crazy. [It's crazy] to hear what other people are listening to that I think is just horrible. At the same time, Rolling Stone in the 70's and 80's, that was the same thing, right? Now Rolling Stone ain't worth shit. Who am I to say? Maybe because I'm on tour all the time for the past five or six years. Am I angry? No. Cook: I feel like going on U.S. tours back in 2000 and 1999, I went on tour for a month, and I didn't see any good bands. Every band that opened in every town was bad. There were one or two good bands. We were playing with the same, bad hardcore bands every night. Now, going on tour, we play with a lot of local acts, and I'm not going to say that they're all amazing, but I generally find that I enjoy more bands....Other than that, I genuinely feel the same way Steve does. I don't read a lot of music magazines anymore, and I just click through a lot of websites. Someone asked me about the new Every Time I Die record and someone asked me how I felt about the new Coalesce record, and I haven't heard them. I've never heard Every Time I Die, so I don't know about their new record, or the fact that they're selling five hundred thousand copies of their record.
They're both actually really good.
Snere: We just saw that one hardcore band that does that Postal Service song... Cook: Oh god, yeah. "Such Great Heights" But they do it live, like this screamo version. Snere: It's fucking awful. But you know what? Someone's buying it, so it's your fucking problem. Again, there's a lot of people who don't like broccoli. Broccoli is good. [Everyone laughs] If that's what you want to listen to man, then go for it. Cook: I was thinking about this the other day. There's people who want to be in bands, and there's people who want to play music. It sounds like the same thing, but it's actually totally different. Generally people who want to play music are always searching and trying to find something new - craving for a new kind of experience that kind of re-ignites their [older] experience. If you play music all the time, at some point you kind of know how shit works. I love Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea until I learned how to play the whole record on guitar, and now I just don't listen to it anymore. I want to find something that makes me feel the way that record did. Records that have gotten me excited lately have been very minimal ambient records. In two years, it might be something entirely new. I think it's just about finding new things. Most of the people who take their music seriously are always searching, and not looking too hard at things that are very close to them. If I had to listen to stuff that sounded really close to what we do, there wouldn't be any new ideas.
How do you guys go out with putting it all into your live show every night?
Snere: Booze? [Everyone laughs] I think of it, like when it's time to go on tour, I think about it, like, this is going to hurt. It's kind of awesome, because it makes you feel like a machine of some sort, like you have no choice, you have to [get on stage]. Even if you're sick, you have to go do it. I'm not going to go do it unless it's at the best of my ability. We're entertaining everybody. There's a lot of bands out there. A lot of bands. Matt King [from MM/DD/YY]: It's like why am I here? I could just be at home. Snere: Right. We're going to go out there and put on a show, it's like, "Why am I here?" We chose to come out and play these songs for people. As far as live goes, I want to be this badass live band. Some people may not like it. Some people may think it sucks. I felt like I did what I wanted to. It does get harder [on the body] the older I get.
In a few weeks I'll be seeing The Jesus Lizard at Fun Fun Fun Fest this year. I think about bands like them and Minutemen, who are big influences for you guys, and how they never reached heights of success, but still have a successful following. What do you think of These Arms Are Snakes following suit?
Snere: I think we're here. I think early on in bands, I was hoping for more. Then touring more, it was really humbling to me. I was fighting inside, "This isn't a job. I'm doing it because I want to do it." I'm perfectly happy where were at. I think we're successful. There's always more, but I'm not really concerned with that. Cook: I made this point before where it's like, "Oh, well if it's career, it's kind of a failure of a career, so it has to be a passion." You have to want to do it. In some ways, it would be nice to have more money on tour, and not have to worry about shit like that, but at the same time, anyone of us could leave at any point in time. Then it's like, all the people who work for us, what are they going to do? The Grateful Dead basically toured as long as they did because they employed all their friends...I feel like a lot of times bands stick around because of obligation, because it's their career. They don't know anything else. We could stop being a band and do other things, but we just play.
[At this point, guitarist Ryan Fredericksen walks in, and I ask him the same question.]
Fredericksen: We probably reached our pinnacle. [Laughs] That's a tough question. I don't know. Cook: I do remember on our second tour when Joe [Preston] was leaving the band, and [Ryan] just laid into him, "You're never going to have any money. This isn't about making money. This is about only having enough money to have a bagel a day. You need to get over it and be in a fucking band." It's like you had a pretty good handle on the situation back then... Fredericksen: Yeah. I don't really know how to answer it. There's different levels of success. While the Jesus Lizard didn't breakout next to Nirvana, or anything like that, they've still maintained a level of success. Snere: Nowadays they're playing and people are like, "I never saw them, but I've heard about them." So they see them. It's revered. Cook: Then people see them, and are like, "Eh, I saw them."
[There's an off the cuff, inappropriate discussion at this point about whether The Jesus Lizard still expose themselves on stage like they were said to do back in the day...]
Going back to the question of success, what do you think about bands these days using quick technology to shape their sound more, and the success that may or may not lead to?
Fredericksen: Both good and bad. Any kid can program a laptop to use ProTools and Garageband. It's both a blessing and a curse. [It's hard to think about] every douchbag kid that can hit the record button is going to start putting music out, not understanding all the set ways of how it's going to work, how a band is supposed to work...You have these kids that can do it all by themselves, just another MySpace sensation. Snere: There's bands that I listen to that use a digital 8-track to record their albums and it's awesome....With technology, there's responsibility. With all this shit, there's a responsibility of using it. Like science, there's a responsibility with science. You said something in there about success?
What do you think about these bands that are "flavor of the weeks," compared to the work that you guys have put in over the years of every band you've been in and every other project - Narrows, Russian Circles...
Snere: Isn't that way cooler?! I think about these bands that put one record out and become like these huge Internet sensations. What is that? Then I'm like, those bands are done. Nobody cares about them. They put out one record that everyone liked. Like Vampire Weekend. Nobody's going to listen to their next record, or maybe they will. Maybe that's not the best example. They have their one moment...So it's, "I've been in [These Arms Are Snakes] for seven years, and I've been playing music forever." This is where I'm at. This is the most popular we've ever been. There's a bit of pride to that. Fredericksen: The media plays a lot into it. The whole Pitchfork thing that makes or breaks bands. I don't know where they kind of grabbed that. With the Black Kids, they loved their first EP, said they were going to be the next big thing, and then [didn't get a good review] on the LP. That was it. Snere: I heard that they were going to break-up somewhere. Why? Because you didn't get what you wanted, so now you're going to quit? Well, see you later. Cook: The Internet has just accelerated everything. "You're huge, oh wait, I've discovered somebody else, nevermind." Snere: I feel like we're successful. We sell a lot of records. I feel like people who buy records, buy it to have it. They buy the vinyl. I feel like those people will keep coming back. Fredericksen: The only way to gauge success is through longevity. Cook: I kind of like that. I like finding out about a new band, and being like, "Oh, it's this new thing. They put one record out, and everyone's talking about it." There's tons of those. [Then] when you hear about a band and there's sixteen albums, I'm like, "I've never fucking heard of this band!"...Brian Eno has this whole catalog and it's fucking amazing. It's more excited to me then hearing, "Oh my god! There's this guy called Wavves!"
Yeah. I'd say the Talking Heads catalog is a good measure. But that's something that's been talked about, all these short lived bands breaking up, while bands like Pavement, My Bloody Valentine and Sunny Day Real Estate are getting back together...
Snere: There's always bands like that. These bands will go away. That's fine, we'll still be here, maybe. Will things change? I don't know. There are bands playing into indie shit, and they're fucking it up for us, so now we can't go on tour because they're booking every club, so now we have to book seven months in advance for a fucking tour. It's like, go away. Will you just go away so I can do my thing, you're fucking up my M.O.
I've seen a report on bands booking that far in advance. That the later winter months of January/February of 2010 are going to be the most booked, and not everyone is going to afford to go to every show...anyway, any final words since this was, wow, 40 minutes!
Cook: We were talking about this the other day. We never have anything to say, and some girl asked us for the first time.
[Band discusses, can't remember what they were going to say.] Cook: Free Wi-Fi. Somebody should let her out.