These Arms Are Snakes – Brian Cook, Bass

SMN’s more open-minded readers undoubtedly know about These Arms Are Snakes already. Featuring former members of Botch and Kill Sadie, the forward-thinking band fuses propulsive rhythms, dissonant guitar passages, and the kinds of melodies that get stuck in your head long after their songs end. The band is returning with a new album entitled Tail Swallower & Dove and it might just be their best work yet. SMN News caught up with These Arms Are Snakes’ bassist Brian Cook to talk about their new album and the controversy around their former tour with Underoath.

The first impression I got from listening to Tail Swallower & Dove is
that it’s a bit more traditional in song structure than your earlier
work. Is that a fair assessment?

I’d say so. I personally wanted to move away from this breed of A.D.D.
rock. I can respect bands that have tons of parts and play tons of
notes, but I’m more interested in music that can make less sound like
more. Listening to how a lot of Kraut-rock and drone bands can make
really engaging music out of very simple patterns really got me
inspired this time around. Not that our new record sounds like CAN or
Earth or anything.

Everything locks in together so nicely arrangement wise. How much
time did you put into pre-production for this new record?

We wrote most of the material over the course of a couple of months.
We tend to be very inert in our creative process. It’s hard to get
into the writing mode, so we’re pretty unproductive when we’re between
tours. But once we settle down and really focus on writing, it tends
to happen pretty quickly. Most of TS&D was drafted just a few weeks
before we entered the studio. Granted, the bits and pieces had been
laying around for awhile, but the bulk of the songwriting came
together very quickly.

When you’re writing, do songs start off with the main guitar refrain
and then do you build up from there?

Not really. Most of it is centered on bass, because I’m usually
the only person that comes to practice with a bunch of structured
ideas. But a lot of stuff comes up spontaneously in practice. Prince
Squid was built around a drum beat that Chris just sort of accidentally
busted out one day. Seven Curtains came from Ryan and I making a bunch
of noise when we were alone in the practice space. So there’s not
really a set formula.

The band has its roots in hardcore and metal but do you find it
trickier writing with “cleaner” tones? There’s one thing playing with
walls of distortion behind you and another to do what you do with the
organs, synths, and guitars being less abrasive.

Yeah definitely, it’s funny how much you can get away with when you’re
just playing really distorted power chords. Clean stuff is way harder
just because the mistakes are so much more apparent. Maybe that’s why
this new material is so much harder to play. It’s not actually more
difficult, but our sloppiness is way more obvious.

Did having Chris (Common, the TAAS’s drummer) in the producer role
ever present any awkward moments being that he’s a member?

Yeah, it can be tricky. He obviously puts in more hours at the studio
than anyone else, so that kind of sucks for him. And then on our end, we
get to have one of our band mates constantly telling us that we can
play a certain part better. But in the end it works out well. I kind of
like keeping the whole recording process within the band.

The song “Seven Curtains” has some really compelling lyrics. They
have an almost gospel feel to them. Can you talk about the lyrical
work on that specific track? What inspired it?

That’s Steve’s department, so I don’t want to speak too much on his
behalf. We’re obviously not a religious band, and Easter was all about
making that point. I think this time around, particularly with Seven
Curtains, he was sort of talking about filling that void. What do you
believe in if you don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian template? That
kind of stuff. I won’t even attempt to try and understand his
viewpoint. He’s been reading a lot of metaphysical stuff, which is
over my head.

Your Easter album sparked conversation about the band and its views
on organized religion. Looking back, how much of it was blown out of
proportion? Did you catch any flack for it from other bands you might
have come across on tour? If I remember correctly, you did a tour with
Underoath.

That Underoath tour was an eye-opener. Seattle is a pretty liberal
town, and I know a few local musicians who have religious convictions
but are still very liberal. David Bazan is a perfect example. He’s
Christian, but he’s also very open-minded and very much a leftist.
Ultimately, I won’t ever criticize anyone for having faith, as long as
they don’t impose their faith-specific moral and ethical codes on
others. And living in Seattle, most of the Christian musicians I’ve
encountered are totally on board with that. So when we agreed to tour
with Underoath, we sort of assumed that they would be equally
open-minded and progressive. I will say this about Underoath: they are
some of the nicest, most generous, and down to earth people I’ve ever
met.

They take their music very seriously. But their world view is
very different than ours, and I found that a little tricky to
reconcile with. I don’t understand how anyone, let alone a musician
who travels all over the globe and interacts with different cultures,
could support George W. Bush and his war campaign. But they do. I
respect their commitment and discipline to their faith, but I don’t
agree with their evangelical politics. To be honest, it really bummed
me out, because I felt that it was at odds with my own personal
convictions. Again, they’re incredibly nice people, but I just can’t
get down with their views.

So that was definitely in our heads when we wrote Easter. The album
wasn’t meant to be some sort of grand statement on organized religion.
It isn’t a cohesive singular thought. But I think the general tone is
one of examining and trying to understand the bigger picture, and
faith tends to become a component when one starts to ponder larger
philosophical questions. I think a lot of the religious discussions
with the album stems from “Perpetual Bris,” which is the only song on
the album that makes direct biblical references. That song is
basically about one of the biggest inconsistencies I see in the
Christian faith: why would a loving God test his children? Why would
he bring them into a world of suffering, shroud himself in mystery,
and then watch them gamble between an eternity of infinite pain vs.
infinite pleasure? I don’t understand it.

This is a weird time in the music business. It seems like a band like
These Arms Are Snakes has the best chance of finding an audience it
would ever have at any point in history. At the same time, gas prices
are the highest they’ve ever been. What’s your take on this period and
how the band fits into it?

It’s definitely going to change the way the underground works. The
basement shows and DIY politics of the last millennium were already
phasing out, but gas prices are definitely going to put a nail in that
coffin. We use to fill our gas tanks from passing the donation jar and
selling cds. That isn’t enough anymore. Fewer people are buying cds.
We used to argue about the ethics of bar codes. Now punk bands rely on
Rupert Murdoch-owned MySpace and their Microsoft/Apple products to get
their music out. So much for autonomy from corporations. Any punk band
that relies strictly on the internet for distributing their music
might as well be on a major label, because they’re relying on a vast
corporation to get their music out. I’m not sure what the answer is.
These are tough times, but it might be for the best. Maybe it would be
better if we stopped looking to conquer the world and started focusing
on our own communities more. Maybe bands should stop touring the U.S.
and focus on building strong local scenes.

How long do you plan on touring behind this new record? Are you going
to be playing with metal/hardcore bands at any point or are you trying
to stay away from the end of it for now?

Well, now that I’ve talked all this shit about how bands shouldn’t tour….
we’re going to Europe with Russian Circles in a few weeks. That should
be pretty amazing. I’m not sure if they qualify as metal. They
certainly have long hair. When we get home we’re doing a west coast
run with Narrows and Trap Them. Those are two pretty hardcore bands.
We always try to mix it up with different kinds of bands, so who knows
what the future holds.

What are your favorite records of the year so far?

Black Mountain – In the Future
Young Widows – Old Wounds
HEALTH – s/t
Austerity Program – Black Madonna
Langhorne Slim – s/t
BORIS – Smile
Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull
Helms Alee – Night Terrors
Constantines – Kensington Heights
Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing
Hold Steady – Stay Positive
Harvey Milk – Life… The Best Game in Town
Torche – Meanderthal

By Carlos Ramirez

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