(This first appeared in Dig Magazine issue #43.)
There’s a moment in the movie ‘Back to the Future,’ when Marty McFly grabs the guitar at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, and starts rocking out to the tune ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ The music and the energy it created had not yet been experienced by the masses in Marty’s re-created version of 1955. Rock and roll simply hadn’t arrived yet. Chuck Berry’s cousin Marvin hears the commotion being played, and grabs a phone. He gets Chuck on the phone and says, “Chuck! Chuck! It’s Marvin — your cousin, Marvin BERRY. You know that new sound you’re looking for? Well, listen to this!” And Marvin points the phone in the direction of the music.
Though this may seem like a loaded introduction for a band with a loaded name and an even more loaded first album title, there’s a point to it all. When I first began immersing myself in the new These Arms Are Snakes album ‘Oxeneers, or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home,’ I experienced a reaction somewhat similar to Marvin Berry’s in Back To The Future. I started forcing the album down anyone’s ears that would listen. I wasn’t looking for the new sound that Chuck Berry was looking for, but I sure found it, and I wanted everyone near me to hear it.
‘Oxeneers…’ hit stores this past September. It’s pretty damn epic, full of huge guitar sound, scathing social commentary and concentrated aggression. Somewhere amid a loaded east coast tour, bassist Brian Cook took the time to answer some loaded and not-so-loaded questions for Dig. If you want in on the new sound of These Arms Are Snakes, samples can be heard at www.thesearmsaresnakes.org and www.jadetree.com. But don’t expect to see Marty McFly on stage with them….
What does the album ‘Oxeneers, or the Lion Sleeps When its Antelope Go Home’ mean to the band? What was the impetus behind it and what did you hope to achieve with the production of it?
Both titles refer to the general theme of the album. The whole record revolves around working shit jobs, doing the day to day routine, and trying to get by in the modern age. ‘Oxeneers’ is just some word we made up, mixing the idea of an auctioneer selling off his time, and an ox (or some other beast of burden). The second title comes from the lyrics to the last song on the album, and is a reference to the employee/employer relationship. We hoped that these titles would work together to create a somewhat basic depiction of the nature of man displaced into the current system of division of labor.
Thematically, someone in the band doesn’t like their current or former “day job,” as evidenced on ‘Big News’ and ‘Idaho.’ I was curious what jobs the band as a whole has had in the past and what was wrong with them, what the band currently does to pay the bills (if the band is not a fulltime job yet) and what the band thinks about channeling energy into a job that you may not believe in to pay the bills? And finally, what would your ideal job be?
We’ve all worked shit jobs before. Steve, our singer and the guy responsible for the lyrics, works at a check cashing/pay day loans place. It’s obviously not the most rewarding or lucrative career, and I think it also gives him a lot of inside perspective on other people who live with minimal incomes. I currently work part time at a teen center, and Ryan does freelance graphic design. Ideally, I think we would all love to make enough money off our music to not have to work, but we’re not even close to that point. I also think that we’re probably a bit too stubborn and obsessed with maintaining artistic control to cash in on the band. But… it would be way cooler to dedicate my time to the band, instead of some dumb ass job. But whatever you gotta do to get by is what you gotta do. If you have to cash checks for a living, what else are you gonna do?
OK, we’ll go from an overloaded question to a quick one now. Where did the band name arise from? And the album name?
The band name doesn’t mean anything. It’s a long, ridiculous name that we figured would stick in people’s heads. I figure, every band name is kinda stupid, so you might as well have a completely ridiculous one that sticks out.
How has the switch from 5 down to 3 fulltime band members affected the songwriting process, the live show and the touring process?
It hasn’t really had any effect on songwriting, because the three of us have been the creative force behind the band from the beginning. It just, sort of, makes everything easier to have fewer cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. It also makes touring and playing way easier. There’s less shit on stage to trip over, and there’s more money to split up. I don’t know how the Polyphonic Spree does it.
I did a search on TAAS and found a bevy of descriptions ranging from the old standby of post-hardcore, onto slithering post hardcore, and all the way up to metalcore fantasy rock. What’s the wackiest description the band has heard to describe the sound of TAAS? And if you were asked to describe the music and focus of TAAS, how would you?
Man, all descriptions are kinda embarassing. Post hardcore makes sense, I guess, because we’re all old hardcore kids, but I don’t know if we fall under the banner of hardcore anymore. Metal core fantasy rock just seems stupid. We don’t have any metal parts, unless of course, you consider Zeppelin to be metal core fantasy rock. Then we’re all about it. I usually tell people, “We’re just a loud, noisy rock band.” Or if the person I’m talking to is a little more hip or up to date on music, then, “We’re a loud, noisy indie band.”
Alright, so I’m watching the ‘Real World: Philadelphia’ on MTV, and the opening chords of ‘Gadget Arms’ come on when one roommate hears another roommate tell yet another roommate that the latter roommate spent $150.00 on a pair of jeans in disbelief. Said opening chords are ominous and demanding, but I can’t help but feel that they would hopefully elicit more emotion than that of roommate pettiness and jealousy. How does TAAS feel about being included within such a situation?
I just wish our music was played when the two dudes were hooking up in the shower. That way, whenever anyone hears the song, they’ll feel a strange stirring in their loins.
Finally, has anyone in the band ever ridden BMX?
No. I’m not coordinated at all. I once went to the emergency room after I ollied up a curb. The board flipped up and hit me in the head….