The acclaimed punk act Hot Snakes can trace its origins to when its then- San Diego, CA-based Swami John Reis founded the band back in 1999. That year Reis’ primary gig Rocket from the Crypt had gone on hiatus after their longtime Atom Willard left the band — and coincidentally the band was in between labels. As the story goes. while searching for a new label and drummer for Rocket from the Crypt, Reis founded his own label Swami Records and began experimenting with other musicians, which eventually resulted in the formation of two side projects — Sultans and Hot Snakes, which began in earnest when Reis recorded a batch of material with Delta 72′s Jason Kourkounis. Reis then recruited his former bandmate and collaborator Froberg to contribute vocals — with most of the material they recorded, eventually comprising their full-length debut Automatic Midnight.
Although Reis and Froberg collaborated together in Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes proved to be a logistical challenge: Reis was in San Diego, Froberg had relocated in New York to start a career as a visual artist and illustrator, and Kourkounis was based in Philadelphia. This resulted in sporadic and intense recording and touring schedules that frequently included bassist Gar Wood, best known for his work in Beehive and the Barracudas, Tanner and Fishwife. And while Hot Snakes shares some obvious musical similarities to Reis’ and Froberg’s previous projects, their sound was more primal, garage rock-based one, influenced by Wipers, Suicide, and Michael Yonkers Band — and for a completely DIY approach to recording, touring and merchandise with the band releasing material through Reis’ Swami Records. (Unsurprisingly, Hot Snakes’ debut Automatic Midnight was the first release through Reis’ label.)
After releasing two more full-length albums, 2002’s Suicide Invoice and 2004’s Audit in Progress, the band split up in 2005. But in 2011, they reunited for a world tour, which reportedly set the stage fr the band’s fourth, full-length album, last year’s Jericho Sirens, which was coincidentally the band’s first album in over 14 years.
Recorded in short bursts over the past year in San Diego and Philadelphia, the album features Reis and Froberg collaborating with Wood and drummers Kourkounis and Mario Rubalcaba — both of whom have been on prior Hot Snakes albums but never on the same one until now. And as Reis explained in press notes for the album, one of the most rewarding aspects was continuing his collaboration and creative partnership with Froberg. “Our perspectives are similar. Our tastes are similar. He is my family. And what more is there to say? My favorite part of making this record was hearing him find his voice and direction for this record. I came hard,” Reis says.
The material thematically commiserates with the frustration and apathy of our daily lives while pointing out that generally we haven’t had a fucking clue. As the band’s Froberg said at the time, “Songs like ‘Death Camp Fantasy’ and ‘Jericho Sirens’ are about that. No matter where you look, there’re always people saying the world’s about to end. Every movie is a disaster movie. I’m super fascinated by it. It is hysterical, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It snowballs, like feedback, or my balls on the windshield.” Sonically, the album reportedly finds the band incorporating some of the most extreme fringes of their sound while staying true to their long standing influences — but interestingly, some songs feature nods to AC/DC and others. As Reis says in press notes, “It sounds like panic and chaos. Restlessness and unease. That’s a sound that I would ask for. I want that record. The inspiration would be simple, maybe even kind of straightforward. Very early rock ‘n’ roll DNA with lots of rules. I would find some note or rhythm in it that captivated me and I dwelled on it and bent it. That’s where I found dissonance. Bending and rubbing against each other uncomfortably. Marinate and refine. A lot of the other Hot Snakes records always had tension and release, but this one is mainly just tension.”
Just before they were about to embark on a 12 dat UK and Ireland tour during December, the band released “Checkmate,” a blistering, AC/DC-like track centered around booze-soaked power chords, howled lyrics and a chugging yet forceful rhythm section. As the band’s Rick Froberg said in press notes, “‘Checkmate’ is big, fatty content freshly extruded from the Hot Snakes sausage machine. Same ingredients, new flav.” The single is available through all the digital service provides but it’ll also be available directly from the band as an extremely limited physical 7″ vinyl with the exclusive b-side “Not in Time.”
Co-directed by the band’s John Reis and the band’s longtime friend John Oliver, the recently released video follows digital representations of the band invading and infesting a house, making the video a sly and mischievous commentary on the proliferation of screens and digital content in our daily lives. (Essentially, you can’t take a leak without a screen popping up somewhere!)