Formed from the ashes of Tacoma’s Botch and Minneapolis’ Kill Sadie, Seattle’s These Arms Are Snakes have come a hell of a long way in a very short amount of time, with veterans Jade Tree Records stepping up to the plate to release the band’s debut EP, This Is Meant to Hurt You.
Andy Foote interviewed vocalist, Little Steve, and drummer, Joe, at Portland, Oregon’s Meow Meow on August 26, 2003.
The first time I heard the title of the record, This Is Meant to Hurt You, I thought it had kind of an ominous tone to it. Why is it that you thought that it would be an appropriate title for the record?
Steve: I think it came about, in a weird way, a while ago. I think it ties into the lyrics a little bit, and the idea of the record, the layout of the record, and there’s a little spiel in there. It just kind of tied in with… it’s a downer basically, I guess, about life. Sometimes I tend to gravitate more to that part of life than the good shit. It’s just the way I am, I guess.
Joe: More melancholy?
Steve: Yeah. Kind of.
How did the art tie into that?
Steve: The art came about, actually, from our friend who came on tour with us, Robin. She does redhedpictures.com. She’s a photographer. Me and her did it together a while ago, just kind of as a project. We thought it’d be really good to use for the layout.
Joe: All of the pictures are all cropped out, so it’s like you can see stuff going on, and then it’s like there’s this whole other world outside of the actual layout. It’s all supposed to make you think: the music, the lyrics, the layout, it’s all one big package. Without one it’s not complete. It makes you think, it makes you wonder. "What the fuck is going on here? What’s this?"
Steve: It all kind of ties in together.
Maybe I could be kind of off on this, but, a lot of the lyrics have kind of a spiritual tone — not in the sense of spiritual being a synonym for religious, but in the sense of finding ways to maximize personal satisfaction in life, and a sense of interconnectedness.
Steve: With the lyrics, I was at kind of a weird point in my life when I wrote a lot of that shit, so I can see what you’re saying because a lot of the lyrics are kind of darker, and maybe a little bit melancholy or whatever, but there’s also the aspect of not wanting that, and trying to figure out how to get out of that, so I can see what you’re saying with that. They’re spiritual in the way of trying to deal with everyday shit, trying to believe what you want to believe and trying to make that happen.
Is there a conscious idea of what you want to convey with the band?
Steve: It wasn’t a conscious thing, it was always like about what was going on at the time. I try not to have like a conceptual thing.
Something I thought was interesting was the use of lights. Is there anything in doing the lights that helps to enhance something that you are trying to convey to your audience?
Steve: I’ve always been into it. In my last band we did it; it was nothing quite as extravagant, but we had lights. It’s more for setting a mood. Having stage lights, for me… it makes me a bit uncomfortable to not have lights, so it’s like standing more in the spotlight, whereas, if you set a mood with them…
Joe: Like when you’re with your lady, and you put on the Marvin Gaye, and you turn down the lights. (laughs)
Steve: Basically, it’s the same situation: whatever you’re trying to get out of it, like a reaction out of people. And we do that because have full control over how we want you to see us at that time. We have full control over it. It’s a conceptual thing. That’s just how it came about. We wanted to make sure that we could set our own mood.
I think the idea is that they’re going to constantly be changing. We changed them up two months ago to the way they are now. Before they were a different way. I think we’re going to keep changing them. Maybe we might not have them.
Kind of whatever you feel like doing at the time.
Steve: Yeah. We don’t want anything to be expected. We don’t want it to be like, "They’re the band with the lights," like it’s something we need.
Why did the band decide to leave the lyrics out of the insert? Did it help to focus more on the art? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this decision?
Joe: It was the sort of thing where like, the pictures are so fucking awesome that having all of the lyrics in there would just totally take away from it. It’s like we said before, we want everything to tie into each other. The lyrics are on the website, so they’re available for people who want them.
Steve: As far as me actually writing them, it was kind of cool that we didn’t have to do that. At the same time, I guess people want to read them, but I think a lot of what the record was is a bit of mystery that we wanted to have with it. The thing I wrote in it is all lyrics from the songs put together, but I kind of dig that it’s not in there because I think it added a cool bit of mystery to it.
These Arms Are Snakes has a bunch of different elements in what you do musically, how you present yourselves, and ultimately, what someone who hears you and sees you play will end up getting. What does each member bring to the table, and how is each person represented in what you do?
(Ryan, These Arms Are Snakes’ guitar player, enters the room)
Joe: I write everything, and I taught Ryan how to play guitar… oh, hey, what’s up, dude? (laughs)
Steve: I think we all come from different areas, but we all have a good idea of what we want to be doing. Each person brings their aspects for sure. It’s definitely like a loud, hard, rock band. It’s not quite "hardcore" but there’s elements of that, and I think that comes with the past and previous bands we were in. I think we all come from different areas, but we’ve managed to come together and work.
You guys just wrapped up a month or so of touring. How do you think it helped the band as individuals and as a band?
Steve: That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. (laughs)
Joe: "Why the fuck did I do that?" (laughs)
Steve: Being a new band… we’re all friends, we’ve all known each other for a while, but not in that kind of setting. If we had done like a two-week tour, we still wouldn’t have gotten out what we did in a two-month tour.
Joe: It’s like living with each other.
Steve: Yeah. We fried ourselves, and now we know how bad it can get. We know what it can be like, being with each other. It wasn’t that bad, we got along, and now we know what to do and what not to do. I think it helped tremendously. There are a lot of fucking tours where you come back like, "Oh my fucking god." (laughs) Like you go out on a five-week tour like that. I think it helped tremendously.
And you guys haven’t been together that long, have you?
Joe: Only about a year.
Steve: Things happened really quick.
Do you think it’s helped, especially with being a newer band?
Steve: Yeah, I think so.
Joe: Now we’re really resourceful. With the whole tour and the recording, it was all (snaps his fingers quickly and repeatedly). We all had to work, we all had to get our shit together to try and figure out how we’re going to do it.
Steve: It was like a crash course, for sure. At the end of that tour, it was like, school was out of session, and I think we all learned something. Now we can take what we’ve learned from that and apply it to how we’re going to work together from now on. But, we’re still alive.
Joe: All the shit’s broke, but we’re still here. (laughs)
Steve: My shit’s totally broke man, but I’m still alive. (laughs)
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Important These Arms Are Snakes related links!
Jade Tree Records: http://www.jadetree.com/.