Over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite about the acclaimed — and downright legendary — punk act Hot Snakes, and as you may recall the act can trace its origins to when its then-San Diego, CA-based founder Swami John Reis founded the band in 1999: that year, Reis’ primary gig Rocket from the Crypt went on hiatus after longtime drummer Atom Willard left the band. Coincidentally, the band was also in between labels. And as the story goes, while searching for a new label and drummer for Rocket from the Crypt, Reis started his own label Swami Records and began experimenting with other musicians, which eventually led to the formation of two acclaimed side projects — Sultans and Hot Snakes.
Interestingly, Hot Snakes began in earnest when Reis recorded a batch of material with Delta 72′s Jason Kourkounis. Reis then recruited his former Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu bandmate and collaborator Rick Froberg to contribute vocals. Most of the material that they recorded wound up comprising their full-length debut Automatic Midnight. Although Reis and Froberg had collaborated together for years, Hot Snakes proved to be a logical 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. As a result, the members of the band had sporadic and intense recording and touring schedules, which featured Beehive and the Barracudas’, Tanner’s and Fishwife’s Gar Wood on bass.
And while Hot Snakes’ sonically and aesthetically bears some similarities to Reis’ and Froberg’s previous work, the band’s sound leaned towards a more primal, garage rock sound, influenced by Wipers, Suicide, and Michael Yonkers Band. Along with that, the band developed a now, long-held reputation for a completely DIY approach to recording, touring and merchandise — with the band releasing their earliest material through Reis’ Swami Records. (Unsurprisingly, Hot Snakes’ debut Automatic Midnight was the first release through Reis’ label.)
After the release of 2002’s Suicide Invoice and 2004’s Audit in Progress, the band split up in 2005. In 2011, they reunited for a world tour, which eventually set the stage for the band’s fourth album, 2018’s Jericho Sirens, which was coincidentally, their first album in over 14 years. Recorded in short bursts in San Diego and Philadelphia during 2017 and features Reis and Froberg collaborating with Wood and drummers Kourkounis and 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.
Thematically, Jericho Sirens’ material commiserates with the frustration and apathy of our daily lives while pointing out that generally we haven’t had a fucking clue about anything. 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 found the band incorporating some of the most extreme fringes of their sound while staying true to their long standing influences. including AC/DC.
Late last year, the band released “Checkmate,” a decidedly AC/DC-like track, centered around booze-soaked power chords, howled lyrics and a chugging yet forceful rhythm section. Interestingly, while being the first bit of new material from the band after the release of Jericho Sirens, the track was the first of a series of four 7 inch singles that will lead up to the band’s highly-awaited fifth album; so each single is a seasonal release. Hot Snakes begins 2020 with their Spring 7 inch installment, the defiant anti-work/anti-working for the man anthem “I Shall Be Free.” Centered around slashing, face-melting power chords and chugging rhythms, the track continues a run of decidedly AC/DC-like singles with a boozy air.
The recently released video features some trippy, line animation by Swami John Reis’ 13-year-old son Tiger Reis that morphs into stick figures, tanks, rockets, a skeleton and even airplanes that move and undulating to the accompanying music.