Hot Snakes Bite Back On Third Album
The Hot Snakes have only played live a handful of times in the past two-and-a-half-years, but you'd never know it watching the quartet absolutely slay the beyond sold-out crowd Oct. 10 at New York's vThe Hot Snakes have only played live a handful of times in the past two-and-a-half-years, but you'd never know it watching the quartet absolutely slay the beyond sold-out crowd Oct. 10 at New York's venerable Knitting Factory. And just five days after its release, the Snakes' third Swami album, "Audit in Progress," has already sold out at the city's top indie retailers.
This swath of good fortune surprises nobody more than guitarist John Reis, who doubles as the leader of Rocket From The Crypt and is reteamed in Hot Snakes with vocalist/guitarist Rick Froberg, his former colleague in seminal underground rock act Drive Like Jehu. Bassist Gar Wood and drummer Mario Rubalcaba round out the group.
"We really like to do Hot Snakes, so we make the time," Reis says over kung pao shrimp and ribs in Chinatown before the Knitting Factory show. "We didn't play for a couple of years, but not by design. It was literally one of those things where time went by, and the next thing we knew, it was like, s***, we haven't done this in a year. By the time we were able to do a week of practices here, a week of practices there, it was two years."
The band's desire to creatively focus and work within tight time and budgetary constraints undercuts "Audit in Progress" with even more of a visceral rush than its superb 2002 predecessor, "Suicide Invoice." Reis' masterful riffs fly fast and furious throughout the 12-song set, propelled by the relentless rhythm section and Froberg's biting lyrical barbs. Highlights include the slashing, ominous "Lovebirds" and the frenetic "Hi-Lites" and "Hatchet Job," which explodes into a nirvana-inducing jam at its conclusion.
"Sinister! More sinister and throbbing. Those are adjectives I hear," Reis says when asked to articulate the evolution of the Hot Snakes' sound. "It's a little bit more dramatic, and rhythmically more turbulent."
While 3/4th of the Snakes are based in San Diego, Froberg works a graphic artist in Brooklyn, and as such, his bandmates often do not hear his lyrics for a given song until it has already been recorded. That sense of mystery for both band and listener is not lost on Reis, who says he is relishing the opportunity to be collaborating with Froberg again.
"Rick's delivery is really powerful," he says. "And I think people sometimes overlook his sense of humor and sarcasm, because the delivery is so balls-out. But that's not to say he's entirely being funny or he's not genuinely pissed off. A lot of the times he's writing lyrics, he's trying to put words to music that already exists. I'd like to think he's looking for words, moods and ideas that fit the music. A lot of what I like about his lyrics is that he expresses something I feel, and in a way that is better than I could ever express it."
In true punk rock fashion, Reis eschews pedals and effects in generating his signature riffs. "It's nice to come up with sounds that really excite you and capture your own imagination," he says. "It's almost like you put restrictions on yourself, to confine yourself and see what you can do within that small area. Sometimes it causes you to be really resourceful and look at things differently. That's what I got from punk rock music specifically -- that resourcefulness and making do with little and trying to turn it into a lot.
Reis is also not taking for granted the fact that fans have stuck by he and his bandmates through more than a decade's worth of projects and long breaks between releases.
"A lot of people that liked Drive Like Jehu didn't get to see the band play -- more people have heard of us since the band broke up," he points out. "We did a tour and there was hardly anybody at the shows. Nobody knew who we were, but now, we find that a lot of people are coming out due to their enthusiasm for Jehu and Rocket From The Crypt."
"We're far from a supergroup, but we've all been making music in different forms for awhile," he continues. "Right when we first started, there were people interested in seeing the band, which is really a privilege. We were able to go on tour and have people there to see us. It wasn't like we were completely starting all over again, although musically we were. It has grown, just because we have put out more records than Jehu, which is kind of hard to believe!"