Hot Snakes

w/Beehive & the Barracudas, Last of the Juanitas
Thurs Aug 29, Graceland, $10.

In the beginning, there was Drive Like Jehu. Formed in 1990 by John "Speedo" Reis and Rick Froeberg (ex-members of San Diego act Pitchfork) the same year that Reis' other band, Rocket from the Crypt, was taking shape, Jehu was a defining act for an agitated punk style. Froeberg's vocals came out like a pained man with exposed nerve endings: Waves of eerie calm on songs like "Step on Chameleon" (from Jehu's excellent eponymous 1991 debut) remained collected for a moment before tracks like "O Pencil Sharp" erupted with fierce hysterics.

Together with bassist Mike Kennedy and drummer Mark Trombino, guitarists Reis and Froeberg (a.k.a. Rick Fork/Le Fork) created an exciting, off-kilter sound. Chirping feedback crossed over rattling guitar fragments lined low with bass bellowings. Jehu were worshipped for their discordant melodies and unique, Fugazi-through-a-noise-grinder style.

The band made a loud commotion (their CD release party for 1994's Yank Crime came with a pair of earplugs) and attracted attention for signing to Interscope at the same time as Rocket from the Crypt. (Reis denies the widespread rumors about Jehu using RFTC to get signed: "Believe it or not, Interscope was interested in both bands, and [signing with them] seemed like the thing to do. They were into putting out records by both bands, and it was never like one was using leverage from the other.") Ultimately, though, Jehu disappeared in the mid '90s as Reis continued forward with RFTC.

Fast-forward to the year 2000, when Reis and Froeberg began bringing signs of Jehu back to life in a new band called Hot Snakes. While RFTC were busy severing ties with an overly involved Interscope (that band later signed with Vagrant, which, in an ironic turn of events, now has a partnership with Interscope), Reis started making Hot Snakes noise with Jason Sinclair, a Philadelphia-based drummer (Mule, Delta 72). Froeberg laid down vocals from his residence in New York, and the Snakes released their debut, Automatic Midnight, in 2000.

As the band evolved, Reis invited San Diego-based Gar Wood--a grade-school friend who'd worked on RFTC mat- erial--to play bass. (Wood is one of the leading forces behind Beehive & the Barracudas, a garage-collage act that put out a mishmash of naked blues, synth punk, schizo lounge, and oddball skits called Featuring the Insects. My advice: Get to the Hot Snakes show early to see opening-act Beehive.)

Around the time the Hot Snakes released Automatic Midnight, Reis decided to start Swami, his own record label. "I've pretty much been dicked over by everyone you can imagine, so yeah, it is a pretty good idea in my opinion," says Reis of his decision to start an independent label. The rules for his company? "Fuckin' don't listen to anyone. Don't trust anyone, and do what you want despite what other people tell you is best.

"I started Swami two years ago with Long Gone John," Reis adds, "who runs Sympathy for the Record Industry [which released Automatic Midnight]. And he encouraged me, saying, 'You should do your label and I'll help you out.' He acted as the training wheels for a while, and now I'm doing it without him." Reis partnered with an owner of Vagrant on Swami, although he says the two record labels are separate entities.

So far, Swami has released records by Beehive & the Barracudas, RFTC's Hot Charity (previously a vinyl-only release), a few small indie bands' records, and the Hot Snakes' latest, Suicide Invoice.

Invoice was written in a week and recorded in another couple days, with no outside interference. "We recorded the new Hot Snakes ourselves. No one to blame, no one to dilute the vision--although I think using the word [vision] is elevating a bit when you're talking about three-chord songs and screaming vocals," he laughs. Reis jokes that the closest thing to an A&R man checking in on them "got decapitated in a candle-making accident."

The product stands up to the Drive Like Jehu standard. Reis has vocal fits (about hating kids, about Wood forgetting his insulin, about LAX), the guitars build tension they never release, and the album needles many a raw nerve.

For now, Hot Snakes is a "one year at a time" kind of project, making this current summer tour its most extensive yet. Between RFTC and Hot Snakes, though, Reis is too busy working to complain about what happens next with any of his acts. "I don't understand why people feel like they're owed something," he says. "It's not conducive to making good music if you have that attitude." He adds, laughing, "Who wants to listen to a whining bitter old fuck?"

by Jennifer Maerz