These Arms Are Snakes
The progressive punk band stands up to Jello Biafra
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The fashionista posing that’s taken hold of the punk scene over the past few years probably isn’t going anywhere. But the shape of punk to come hasn’t been entirely forgotten. Seattle’s These Arms Are Snakes is among the handful of acts putting a true progressive slant on heavy sounds. The band’s latest full-length, 2008’s Tail Swallower And Dove, sneaks a covert appreciation of pop into sleazy, bong-hit jams that writhe around the touchstones of hardcore, metal, and progressive rock. In advance of their Feb. 26 show at Triple Rock Social Club, TAAS guitarist Ryan Frederiksen spoke with Decider about brushing off critics, laughing at Jello Biafra, and bad band names (his own band’s included).
Decider: Do you ever feel like a lot of listeners and critics write you off for playing in the punk scene?
Ryan Frederiksen: Well, I don’t know how much credit we really deserve. [Laughs.] We’re a band that just does what we do. It’s kind of difficult being in the band sometimes. I think we meander quite a bit when it comes to what genre we fit in. Nobody really seems able to define it. It’s both good and bad. Nobody’s ever really able to say, “Oh, they’re metal” or, “They’re punk. They’re hardcore.”
D: You seem to be playing to people who are much closer to your own age than many punk and hardcore bands. How does that affect touring?
RF: It definitely makes it a little easier. The people who come to see us understand us a lot more. If you have a fan base that’s strictly a lot younger kids, they just kind of don’t know where you’re coming from. It creates another barrier that doesn’t need to exist.
D: Tail Swallower And Dove took you further out of the hardcore world than anything before it. Was this your goal when you went into the studio?
RF: When we write records, or goal is to try not to do what we’ve done before. We’ve come to accept the fact that we definitely have our own identity. Whatever we write is going to sound like These Arms Are Snakes, but we can change that formula up a little and experiment with it. I think this album was probably one of our most experimental, but it’s also our most cohesive album so far. For us, experimenting is actually using basic song structures, just the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, and that’s it. That was really weird for us. We’re used to starting at point A and ending at point Z, and our song structures being obscenely ridiculous.
D: Do you ever look back at your older, more complicated songs with a critical eye?
RF: Sometimes you can revisit old songs and think, “Boy, this sucks! Why did we do this? Whose idea was this?” I think that’s definitely a good thing. It’s always a learning process. With any luck, you’re going to look back and think, “What the hell was I thinking?”
D: A few months ago in his spoken-word performances, Jello Biafra started using These Arms Are Snakes in his list of stupid emo band names. How do you feel about that?
RF: I wouldn’t say it’s an emo name, but it’s definitely a stupid band name. [Laughs.] That’s kind of why we chose it, because it’s ridiculous and doesn’t really sound like any other band name that’s out there. I think one of the hardest parts about being in a band is coming up with a band name. That said, there are a ton of bands that pick the absolute worst names, like Cute Is What We Aim For. That’s absurd! We purposefully came up with a bad band name so we wouldn’t take ourselves so seriously, but we take what we do seriously. That’s our line of thought. Let’s just go by something absurd. Anyway, the guy’s name is Jello Biafra, for Christ’s sake. What the hell is he talking about?