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Past Lives

28 November 2012 | 5:15 am | Steve Bell

“There’s still that distance between us that makes it hard for us to collaborate and create something new. But that said, who knows? There’s definitely no plans to do anything and I don’t see it happening, but then again I never saw us getting back together and playing shows either.”

It took US post-hardcore garage proponents Hot Snakes six years after they broke up to get the band back together, which was roughly the same amount of time that they'd spent together in their original tenure. They sure didn't muck around between 1999 and 2005 though, releasing three acclaimed studio albums plus a live album (2006's Thunder Down Under, essentially a triple j live session recorded during their till now sole Australian jaunt, back in 2005) and one of the last Peel Sessions recordings.

Hot Snakes were the third band to have coalesced around the creative partnership of guitarists John “Speedo” Reis and Rick Froberg – they'd previously shared revered outfits Pitchfork (1986-1990) and Drive Like Jehu (1990-1995) – and like those previous acts the band dealt in face-melting rock'n'roll, innovative but predominantly powerful. When Hot Snakes split asunder the pair quickly moved on to new pastures, Froberg firing up Obits in 2006 and Reis starting The Night Marchers in 2007 (incidentally containing Hot Snakes bassist Gar Wood and their original drummer Jason Kourkounis). When those bands toured together in the States in 2010 the seeds for a Hot Snakes reunion were planted.

“I don't know if it was the impetus – it could have been,” Reis muses of the reunion's genesis. “This was some time back when both bands played together. We did a West Coast tour together and at the end of the tour we did a couple of Hot Snakes songs just because it would be fun and fairly easy, and it would make people happy and make us happy. It was just something that seemed like a fun thing to do, and pretty innocent, but after that we got an offer to do something more substantial about a year and a half later and we thought, 'Yeah, that might be a fun thing to do!'”

Some break-ups are so acrimonious that you could never imagine the protagonists sharing a stage again, but in the case of Hot Snakes the split was more due to logistics (the band all living in different states and cities) and, in the case of Reis, wanting to embrace a normal life for a change (in 2005, the same year that he split up Hot Snakes, he also pulled the pin on his long-serving outfit Rocket From The Crypt).

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“For me logistics definitely had something to do with it because it was a bit frustrating, just not being able to be together as much as we'd like,” he admits. “But even more than that, I'd been playing in bands for a long while and I tend to immerse myself in things, and I was looking to have a kid and was bracing myself for a transition in life that I didn't really know exactly what it entailed – this mysterious terrain that I was going to enter. So I didn't really know how much I'd be able to really commit [to], or even think about, playing. So, for me – just as much as I commit myself mentally and sometimes physically to what I do music-wise – I needed to give that part of my life the same amount of attention. So that's kind of what it was for me, more like I was just going through some changes in my life.”

Speedo had, after all, been on the road pretty unrelentingly for a long time when he made the decision, but he's happy with his lot in life now.

“Most of the time I wasn't gone all that much, but there was a period of time – especially with Rocket – where I was definitely gone more than I was here. There was a period of like three years between '95 and '98 when I was only home for three months out of that entire time. But it's all good now, definitely. It's not only a great balance, but it's not really like world domination is in my sights, so I look at things a bit more realistically and have a lot of fun with what I'm doing.”

Once the decision was made to reform Hot Snakes – they played ATP and some other US festivals last year – Reis says that the chemistry returned almost immediately. “It definitely didn't seem like we were that far removed from it. Musically I definitely didn't feel that far removed from it – I didn't feel like I was playing songs that were from a different era of my life, it still seemed musically really fresh and relevant to me. And although we did our fair share of playing around the States and whatnot back in the day, the songs still had a freshness to me, and I definitely didn't feel like I'd outgrown it or anything like that. It still felt not only fun to play, but the music felt alive.”

Sometimes when a band has had line-up changes during their original time together it can be tough to work out which version of the band to reform, but Hot Snakes – who had two drummers over the duration, RFTC skinsman Mario Rubalcaba replacing Kourkounis when the latter fell ill in 2003 – are just bringing everyone.

“Well it was kind of strange, because when we were asked to start playing again it was one of those things where it was hard to say, 'Well we're just going to bring one person and not the other.' The terms on which we stopped playing with Jason were a bit of a bummer, and then with Mario he was the last drummer of the band so it made sense to play with him as well, so the first thing was just to see if both of them were interested, and after they both expressed that they did want to play we had to work out a way to make it happen, so it's just a matter of us saying, 'Why don't you play the ones that you played on, and you do the ones that you recorded?' It not only works really good, but it respects the music that was already created. We don't always play with both drummers when we get together because of scheduling, but the times when all five of us can get together and play it's really cool, it's really awesome. It feels like we're honouring those songs by trying to recreate them in the same manner that they were made.”

And with Reis about to release a second album by The Night Marchers (plus a cryptic message on Swami Records' Facebook page being posted about RFTC being reactivated in 2013) he can't see any new Hot Snakes music on the horizon.

“I don't think so, but we'll see,” he suggests. “There's still that distance between us that makes it hard for us to collaborate and create something new. But that said, who knows? There's definitely no plans to do anything and I don't see it happening, but then again I never saw us getting back together and playing shows either.”

Hot Snakes will be playing the following shows:

Thursday 6 December - Annandale Hotel, Sydney NSW
Friday 7 December - Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 8 December - Meredith Music Festival, Meredith VIC