By Emily Corley
VANCOUVER – Hot Snakes’ first new studio album in 14 years was always going to be a tumultuous piss-punk brawl, but Jericho Sirens tempers the band’s trademark raging strut with a brooding awareness of the fragility of human existence. Lyrics such as “It’s all been before // It’s getting late” on spiky opener “I Need A Doctor” point to Rick Froberg’s sentiment that the band’s latest tour is all about “trying to maximize the time we still get to do this kind of thing in our lives.” But there’s no bitterness here. For Froberg and the rest of the band, this album encompasses something along the lines of an acceptance of the inevitable march of time, coupled with a refusal to let that get in the way: “We’re older, time’s moved on, life is what it is.”
In homage to the unyielding grit of a legendary punk partnership, that has endured, in some form since 1986, each short, sharp track on this latest album sounds like a final blind stab into the darkness of a threatened existence.
Froberg is cheerfully nonchalant about Hot Snakes touring new material together again: “Whatever happens will happen along the way. I guess we’re pretty used to it now. But we also don’t go out for six months at a time like a lot of bands do. We won’t do that. It’s just a trip. It’s not a vacation, but it is fun. We don’t beat ourselves to death with it.” After almost twenty years of touring together, and incalculable combined experience of being on the road with other bands, Hot Snakes have got this lifestyle down to a fine art. “We never really stopped touring together. We played sporadically – reunion shows and this and that. So the whole thing is really a lot like how it left off,” Froberg says. “We still genuinely have a lot of fun playing together. When a band is not having fun anymore, that’s when they should stop. We all just like to hang out and we party and have a good time.”
Watching Hot Snakes perform, this genuine enthusiasm for playing together is obvious. Their live set is a frenzy of raucous intensity with an edge of antagonistic rage. For this latest record, their sound seems to be a natural evolution of what Froberg describes as their original ‘operating philosophy’ of Hot Snakes, as compared to the refined complexity of Reis and Froberg’s previous band, Drive Like Jehu: “More simple. More concise. More direct.”
“The things that were different this time around are just about the passage of time. The way people change and what other people bring to it. We were all in different bands in the interim between Hot Snakes records, and we’ve added some things to our tool bags that way. I absolutely think the other bands we’ve played in have had an influence on this new record. It’s just natural that they would.”
Interestingly, both original Hot Snakes drummer Jason Koukournis and his replacement Mario Rubalcaba play on the band’s latest release (and in their live sets). Both are incredible drummers, each bringing their own unique flavour to the songs they play on. Froberg explains that the people in the lineup are equally as important, if not more so, as the music they play: “It’s a pretty self-contained unit. It always pretty much has been. Everyone in the band has their own roles. We break up the labour that way.”
Jericho Sirens is Hot Snakes’ first release on Sub Pop, a label that Froberg describes warmly as “the best I’ve ever been on.” But Froberg confirms the band’s DIY ethic is as strong as ever: “we still take care of stuff ourselves”.
They may have years of punk success behind them, but Hot Snakes are not a band who will ever court mainstream validation.
Hot Snakes perform at the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver) on August 10.