Having a chat with locals These Arms Are Snakes isn't as simple as it was in 2003, when the arty, incendiary hardcore quartet first formed. Not that they've become rock stars—they're just impossible to pin down right now; bassist Brian Cook reports he's spent fewer than 12 hours in Seattle since October. After time zones and phone snafus kept sabotaging attempts to talk during the group's recent UK tour, Cook finally wrestled a few free minutes to answer questions via e-mail about the band's second album, Easter (on Jade Tree).
You're on the road right now, and TAAS have racked up many, many miles touring. How do you feel about the phenomenon of bands blowing up via MySpace with only a few gigs under their belt?
It's completely stupid and I hope it's a trend that ends quickly. I believe in hard work and paying your dues. I've been in touring bands for 11 years now, and I feel lucky to have 100 people come check us out. Too many bands these days feel like they're owed a music career because they have bad haircuts and spend more hours on the internet than in the practice room.
It's been said the band took a more "organic" approach to writing this album. Could you please elaborate?
For all our previous records, we've written a bunch of songs and then bashed them out in the studio as quickly as possible. I've always been satisfied with those records, but I also found that there were parts that worked well in the live setting and not so well on record. We wanted to make an album that worked well in both the live realm and onstage, which meant going into the studio with an understanding that the songs would change and mutate over the course of the recording process.
Drummer Chris Common produced Easter. What were the advantages or disadvantages of having him do double duty?
It meant we had to be even more critical of ourselves, and I think it really exhausted Chris physically and emotionally. But it was also really exciting to have that degree of freedom in the studio. It's a lot easier to take some chances and try new things when you don't have an outside party at the helm, no matter how comfortable you are with that person.
There seems to be a fixation with the body and bodily functions on Easter. Can you pinpoint how or why that theme emerged?
My sole lyrical contribution is the song "Perpetual Bris." I watched some PBS show on the bris process, and was amazed to hear all these fathers talk about how emotionally moved they were when they performed the ceremony. The idea of scarring the body of a newborn being synonymous with an act of love really made me sick. I see it as being pretty symbolic of most religious philosophies. I'm not sure I understand why a loving god would allow suffering to exist.
How literal a role did Judeo-Christian philosophy and concepts play in the album's creation?
We didn't go into the studio with the idea that we were going to make some sort of statement on religion. There is certainly dialogue about religion on the album, but that's just one piece in the puzzle. Steve [Snere]'s lyrics have always focused on analyzing the decisions we make in everyday life, and ultimately the biggest "Why?" anyone can ask is "Why are we here?" That's a spiritual question, but it's also the one that seemed to tie all the songs together.
Was anybody in the band brought up in an especially religious environment?
I was raised in an American Baptist family. I went to church every Sunday until I went off to college. I'm still fascinated by the Christian faith and the way it's shaped our culture. With that history in my upbringing, it makes sense that I'm the person that suggested the title.
Do you find the commercialization of Easter more appalling than that of Christmas?
I find the juxtaposition of someone being crucified and resurrected represented in the modern age by pastel rabbits and decorated eggs so bizarre that it's pretty amusing. It's perhaps a bit sad that people don't think about the choice of symbols a bit more. After all, religion is built entirely on symbols.