Artcore Asskickers

How can These Arms Are Snakes avoid the pigeonhole?

Despite that the provenance of the name These Arms Are Snakes (hereafter "TSAS") seems derived from an online emo band name generator, it's patently unfair to refer to TSAS as "emo." While the tag elicits comical defensiveness from those accused of being such, "emo" is a dismissive and overused categorical ghetto. Similarly, "hardcore" or "the new hardcore" (often used to describe kindred spirits like The Blood Brothers) falls short of describing just what TSAS is about.

"'Hardcore' is a limiting term. It doesn't take into account all the instances where we're not heavy," says Ryan Frederiksen, guitarist for TSAS. "We're doing a lot more than just screaming and jumping around."

And yet, it's hard to discuss a band like TSAS without addressing these issues of category, if for no other reason than to dispense with them. Yes, TSAS is a silly name (allegedly intended to keep the band from taking itself too seriously, according to Frederiksen). And yes, Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home (their first full-length, slated for release in late September) is a pretentious title, especially with that "or" nonsense. (Pick a title and stick with it, dammit. You hear me, Oberst?) Not to mention their label home is Jade Tree, which is to emo/new hardcore what Razor and Tie is to novelty records. Plus, they dress the part, at least to the extent that wearing tight band T-shirts and having similarly mussed hair is a "look." But beneath these trappings beats the heart of a solid young rock band that sounds fresh without being completely original.

Like The Blood Brothers, who also hail from Seattle, TSAS could be described as "artcore"--heavy music for the thinking person. Frederiksen agrees.

"We love the Blood Brothers, and it's flattering to be compared to them. They're kindred spirits and great people."

A little deeper digging reveals that TSAS has even more in common with early '90s asskickers like the Jesus Lizard or Pitchblende, revealing rock's cyclical tendencies--whatever genre or style, there's a precedent. What's most interesting about it is that TSAS wind up sounding like the progenitors without ever consciously attempting to do so.

Labeling aside, a lot has happened for TSAS in its short existence. Signed almost immediately after inception (on the strength of a pedigree that includes members' stints in Botch and Kill Sadie), TSAS have hit the ground running.

"We've been touring nonstop. It kinda makes it tough to make a living," Frederiksen says. In part because of this toughness, two-fifths of the initial TSAS lineup, Jesse Robertson and Joe Preston, is gone; the core group, consisting of Frederikson, singer Steve Snere and bass player Brian Cook, remains intact, with the help of Minus the Bear's Erin Tate on drums until a permanent replacement is found.

A graphic designer in the daylight hours, Frederiksen hopes for the day that his design work will become his avocation, because rock pays the bills.

"Well, I think the ultimate goal we have is to make a living with music," says the guitarist matter-of-factly. "But that's not why any of us do it."

The current tour, their first as headliner, brings them to Tucson for the first time.

"We've never been there, but we're looking forward to it," Frederiksen says.

While it's rare that such a new band can mount a headlining tour of major clubs (other notable stops include venerable Emo's in Austin and the Fireside Bowl in Chicago), the ethos within the "scene" dictates that as bands get more established, they help upstarts, usually by taking them on tour. TSAS had the benefit of opening slots on high-profile outings with Pretty Girls Make Graves, Hot Water Music and The Blood Brothers, and now they're extending that same courtesy to Communique, Murder by Death and Paris, Texas--"Keeping the scene alive!" in the parlance of punk and Bam Margera.

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