Q&A: The Hot Snakes' John Reis

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:51

    Snakes v. Rockets by Lisa LeeKing & Tanya Richardson Formed nearly 10 years ago in San Diego, with almost 100 releases behind them, Rocket From the Crypt still love attention and anyone who's willing to give it, as they'll demonstrate at their upcoming Maxwell's and Bowery Ballroom shows. When frontman John Reis isn't fucking around with Rocket, he's collaborating with musicians like Rick Froberg. They played together in Drive Like Jehu in the early 90s. Their latest project, the Hot Snakes, includes Jason Kourounis from The Delta 72. Lisa LeeKing: What's going on with Swami, the record label you and Long Gone John [Sympathy For the Record Industry] started? What releases do you have planned?

    I wanted to start a label at the beginning of 1999, but I was having a hard time finding enough capital. Since Long Gone has always been a supporter of Rocket From the Crypt, we decided to do Swami together. We just released Rocket's All Systems Go 2, which is the first release on Swami. It's a lot of material, but I like the way it jumps all over the place?old stuff, some of the last songs we recorded, covers, etc. And in February we're releasing the Hot Snakes record. After that we'll be doing a live Swingin' Neckbreakers record.

    LL: The live Swingin' Neckbreakers record is going to be taken from the show in Philadelphia?

    Well actually it's gonna be a party. We're playing a show in Philly on Jan. 22, and then on the 24th we're going to make the live record in this large recording studio and just pack it full of people.

    Tanya Richardson: What about the Hot Snakes? It's the best music we've heard in a while. Who came up with that name?

    I've been in enough bands that I kind of have this reserve list, actually Rick has a reserve as well, so whenever it comes time to naming a band, we break out these old lists of really bad ideas. But I like the images [Hot Snakes] conjures.

    TR: It's the perfect name for a rock band. I mean not only are there snakes, but they're hot snakes.

    Yeah, they're pretty hot. It was either Hot Snakes or Hot Carrot.

    LL: Hot Snakes is more rock than Rocket, and probably more accessible than Drive Like Jehu.

    I wanted the Hot Snakes to be sinister and have this sort of velocity. I also wanted to infuse drama with a very aggressive punk rock mentality. As far as it being accessible or whatever, I have no idea what people's perception of it will be.

    TR: Is Hot Snakes a side project, or is it something you plan to devote a lot of time to?

    I want to devote more time to it, but it's kind of in Rick's court.

    LL: Didn't you send a videotape you starred in to Rick called How to Slash?

    It's called How to Shred. It was ripped off of one of those guitar video/instructional tapes that you can pick up at Guitar Center. I really wish I would've put a self-destruct mechanism on that video, because five years from now it's going to end up in the wrong hands.

    LL: Rocket has had a keyboardist tour with them in the past, but it was never a permanent thing. Hot Snakes has a keyboardist. Is this something you always wanted to do?

    The cool thing with using organs and not using a bass is that it allows the guitars to be that much louder, creating this space in the music where the harmonics from the guitars are way more prevalent, thus allowing you to hear these atonal nuances.

    TR: Plus it's really great to get high and listen to an organ solo.

    Like, ahh...Deep Purple or something?

    TR: Like Nick Cave or the Grateful Dead, where they pick you up at one place and set you down half an hour later somewhere else.

    I don't know. I'm not a keyboard player or an organ player. I write numbers on the keys and I have my little tape markings.

    TR: The stage show is a big part of Rocket. Are you guys Alice Cooper fans?

    I'm definitely a very big fan of early Alice Cooper recordings, but when I think about Cooper I don't even think of his stage show, which obviously is such a large part of his identity. Rocket's stage show comes from wanting to entertain people. That was one of the things that was wrong with punk rock music. A lot of bands really didn't care whether or not people enjoyed the show. It's the same kind of cock rock that's going on in stadiums. It beats you over the head because the band is put on this platform way above the audience and they're worshipped. Punk rock to me was definitely a reaction to that.

    TR: How many girls come to your shows?

    Girls definitely come to our shows, but the audience is still male-dominated. Maybe the fact that guys like to watch other guys play is the reason. It does sometimes degenerate into a male thing, which I am not proud of, nor do I like. It's definitely getting better, although the punk scene has always been male dominated and a lot of that has to do with the fact that guys don't support women in music or business or whatever.

    TR: Do you think there's anything tacitly homosexual about six guys getting in a van and touring around the country together?

    It's kind of like carny life, only a slightly cleaner version. You end up laughing at this really bad trucker humor.

    TR: You never end up sleeping together?

    Well, sometimes.

    TR: But you don't kiss them on the mouth, right?

    Anything can happen, and everything does happen, but there's more of a homosexual vibe in slam dancing, like guys who enjoy moshing and stuff like that.

    LL: You think that slam dancing has homosexual overtones because they want to touch?

    Yeah, being insecure and having to touch is considered a "homosexual outburst." Yet being sweaty without your shirt on in a room full of guys listening to music is acceptable.

    TR: What's the most fucked up rock 'n' roll fantasy you've lived out?

    Well, I always wanted to be a badass, and I'm definitely not one. But there was this time in Arizona, about five years ago I guess, when this guy flipped me off the entire time we were playing. So in between songs I was like, "Hey ass, you better stop flipping me off because you're making me upset."

    LL: Did you kick his ass?

    I didn't kick his ass, but the day before the show I purchased a switchblade thinking it was probably the most important tool of every badass. So I flicked it out onstage and said, "If you flip me off one more time I'm going to cut off your middle finger and shove it up your ass." When he gave me the finger again, I took this fake swipe at him and I cut off the top part of his middle finger, not like the whole?

    TR: Holy shit! Taking care of business!

    Like beneath the nail basically.

    TR: So what happened?

    There was blood everywhere so we packed up and left. We never heard anything about it again.

    LL: While on the road, have you had any brushes with death?

    Oh yeah, the first Rocket tour was by far the stupidest one. We were in a Hertz moving van with a roll-up back door with a loading ramp. We toured in the winter and most of us brought two sleeping bags a piece, but a few bought a third to stay warm.

    TR: So was this when the kissing and homosexuality came into play?

    No, that didn't start until years later. That would've been a good time, but we weren't so secure with our sexuality at that point. We'd drive on ice and slide all over the road. But we would do it to make the next show, like in Minneapolis or wherever so we can get that $25 and play to three people.

    LL: What about the EP that came out last month? The sleeve is actually attached to the record with instructions that say, "Cut carefully and play loud." Kids will probably buy two copies, either because they're collectors, or because they have bad X-acto knife skills.

    Yeah, Matt from Flapping Jet records is hoping that people will go out and buy two of them.

    LL: England has that rule about only releasing a single three times. Did you release the On a Rope CD set to exploit that rule?

    Our label over there was working really closely with us on things we could do to try to break the charts. So we did it, got on the charts and went on Top of the Pops a couple of times.

    TR: Don't you have to lip-synch on Top of the Pops?

    No, the band lip-synchs but the vocalist actually sings. We supplied them with an instrumental track that I sang along to while everyone pretended to play their instrument.

    TR: Once I saw Oasis on Top of the Pops, and the lead singer purposely lip-synched about three seconds off for the whole fucking song. It was really great.

    I think my favorite Oasis moment was when I threw their CD out of our van.

    TR: You know that Oasis asked Johnny Marr to join the band.

    No I didn't, nor do I care. I don't like them at all, I think they're terrible and I think they're brats. It's one thing to be pompous, but to expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter is terrible.

    LL: So who would win a mudwrestling competition between Rocket and the Hot Snakes?

    It's totally different, since the Hot Snakes don't really exist yet. There's talk of the Hot Snakes playing a show in Philadelphia on Jan. 28 at the Khyber Pass with New Wet Kojak. I don't know who they [New Wet Kojak] are, but I think one of the guys from Girls Against Boys is in it.

    Rocket From the Crypt plays with the Swingin' Neckbreakers and Jonny Chan and the New Dynasty Six at Maxwell's on Jan. 19, and at the Bowery Ballroom on Jan. 21.