Charming Snakes
w/HEAD, Stabmaster Arson, the Snacks
Fri March 25, Fun House, 9:30 pm; $5.

Chances are, you've heard of the Charming Snakes.

Over the past couple years this group of Austin, Texas transplants has asserted itself nicely into Seattle's rock world. You may have seen their name in the club listings printed in this paper. Or, you could have wondered aloud who it was finishing up the noisy set as you waited for the Shins to take the stage at the Showbox.

Or, maybe singer Ruben Mendez rang up your purchase at Sonic Boom Records on Capitol Hill. Perhaps you've talked to bassist Lacey Swain on the phone when you called Sub Pop, ordered a beer from guitarist Joe Arnone at the Cha Cha, or purchased a movie ticket from drummer Kellie Payne at the Egyptian.

'Tis true that these four individuals hold some of the most coveted indie blue-collar day jobs the Emerald City has to offer. And 'tis true they've had big luck opening for some of the higher-profile rock bands to pass through town (the Shins, Trail of Dead, the Fall). However, the Snakes have risen to prominence more through their considerable talent than merely via luck and good connections.

The Charming Snakes' new disc, Ammunition (Dirtnap Records), is a 12-song melting pot for the more progressive factions of punk rock. It reflects a band growing ever more comfortable with one another and holds pounds of promise for their future. The title track is a catchy, driving number replete with sneering, sing-along "na-na-na"s. "Epic Jams" is eight minutes of riffs and sax, owing a bit to the Stooges' "1970." The overall humidity-thick influence of the Fall and Arnone's slinky, Lee Ranaldo-style guitar fills also figure into the Snakes' sound, as does some '80s-style gloom.

Ammunition was produced by Seattle knobster/Turn-Ons member Erik Blood, whose touch was applied to the Lights' Beautiful Bird and his own band's Debut and East. His tweaking spotlights Payne's heroic pounding and adds buzz to Arnone's guitar. But Blood's best techniques occur on Mendez's vocals, which are perfectly fuzzed, as if being fed through a set of cheap speakers at maximum volume.

"Recording is a weird process," says Swain. "It's the same thing as hearing your voice on tape for the first time. [Blood] Pinocchio'ed it--we sounded like a real band, and that boosted our confidence and enthusiasm for the whole thing."

"We recorded the album last March," says Mendez. "Then when everything was done, Ken [Cheppaikode of Dirtnap] said he'd put it out."

But a series of roadblocks hindered the record's speedy release, including Dirtnap switching distributors, the label's concern with the record getting lost in the shuffle with a December release, and Dirtnap eventually moving to Portland.

Last Tuesday, however, Ammunition finally got public exposure, and the Snakes play their record release at the Fun House. Soon, they'll hit the road for their first big tour, with one "hell trip" to Detroit and another tour planned around Mendez' massive family reunion in Texas.

Says Swain: "We were thinking about playing the family reunion. Ruben was like, 'If everyone gave us a buck, that'd be a lot of money and we'd probably sell a bunch of records. Or, we might sell more if we don't play."

Says Mendez: "We don't have a booking agent, so I've been booking this whole tour, but I've been doing it all on my lunch breaks. I don't have it all written down in front of me, and I don't have a calendar and I don't have a map."

Says Swain: "Our tour's all on Post-its floating around in our car."

Adds Arnone: "It's the Hit-or-Miss Tour!"

Either way, wherever they end up playing, audiences will no doubt find some common ground with the Snakes. They have a rare strength for transcending musical boundaries. As Swain's Sub Pop coworker Dean Whitmore once told her, "You guys can play with whoever!" Likewise, they can play for whomever.

Upon return, the Charming Snakes will record another album of new material, songs they've been incubating since their last recording. Again, they'll peg Blood as producer, for his ability to "turn shit into whipped cream."

But then again, who knows, maybe the Snakes will end up like a lot of our local bands, hitting the road and never coming back.

editor@thestranger.com

Support The Stranger