Hot Snakes, a new band that reunites ex-Drive Like Jehu masterminds John Reis and Rick Froberg, launched their first tour last week in support of a debut album that Reis said is "all about the downstroke."
Automatic Midnight, released in February on Reis' Swami Records, is the first pairing of the two singer/guitarists since the influential post-hardcore math-rock band Drive Like Jehu dissolved in 1995. Their collective energies have resulted in an angry, throbbing chorus of lunging guitars, galloping drums, layered organs and frantic screaming.
"Hot Snakes rhythmically is all about the downstroke the constant, incessant downstroking," Reis, who played all the guitars and organ on the album, said.
The band was born when Reis and Delta 72 drummer Jason Kourkounis, who had long wanted to work together, recorded 20 songs over three days in June. Reis returned to the studio a few days later to add vocals but didn't like how it was sounding.
"It just wasn't happenin'," said Reis, who also fronts brassy punk ensemble Rocket From the Crypt. "I didn't think that what I was adding vocally was making it any better. It was actually detracting. It actually sounded better instrumental."
So he turned to his old friend Froberg, who also played with Reis in the San Diego bands Conservative Itch and Pitchfork. Since the demise of Jehu, Froberg had dabbled in various endeavors designing album covers and lending guest vocals to such works as Skull Kontrol's Deviate Beyond All Means of Capture (1999) and moved to New York.
Reis sent Froberg a tape and asked him to come up with vocals. Two months later, Froberg was in San Diego's Big Fish studio.
"From basically the first second that he opened his mouth, I knew that was it. ... He really made it so much better," Reis said. "I think [his vocals are] one of the coolest parts about the whole thing."
Froberg's snarling voice howls with attitude on "If Credit's What Matters I'll Take Credit" (RealAudio excerpt), which features him screaming the chorus "Right now! Right now!," and the album-closing "Let It Come" (RealAudio excerpt), in which he commands, "Shut up! Sit Down!"
"He adds so much to what I do," Reis said, "and basically a lot of what I do seems unfinished without his input or involvement especially when it comes to writing music that has this kind of character."
Though the album's songs are built only on guitar, drums and organ, former Tanner bass player Gar Wood is touring with Hot Snakes to flesh out the group's sound in the absence of a touring organist.
Fan Mady Bribiesca, 25, of Anaheim, Calif., had heard about the Hot Snakes project long before the album came out and preordered a copy from Swami's parent label, Sympathy for the Record Industry.
"The finished product exceeds all of my expectations," she said, describing Automatic Midnight as "haunting rock with a conscience."
Bribiesca, who never saw Jehu perform live, said she plans to catch three or four of Hot Snakes' West Coast shows.
"I have a bootleg from the first show in Philly, so I already know I'm gonna sh-- my pants," she said.
But she and other Drive Like Jehu fans at the shows shouldn't get their hopes up about hearing old favorites.
"We're bringing boomerangs for those people who yell out for Drive Like Jehu songs," said Reis. "Gar is really adept at hitting a quarter-inch mark from up to 50 yards away, so he'll be able to take out anyone who yells for a Jehu song during our set."