During their seven-year run from 2002 to 2009, These Arms Are Snakes were always respected, but rarely understood. Featuring members from Botch (bassist Brian Cook), Kill Sadie (vocalist Steve Snere), and Nineironspitfire (guitarist Ryan Frederiksen), they were often covered as an “ex-members” band, with Botch casting an especially long shadow over their existence. Their name elicited unwarranted comparisons to the gimmicky indie rock and post-hardcore acts of the era, leading some to dismiss the forward-thinking Seattle-based quartet as little more than Hot Topic T-shirt fodder despite existing in a world far away from shopping mall-core.
“There was always a struggle for people to figure out where we actually fit in,” bassist Brian Cook says. “I feel like we were slightly ahead of the curve on the obnoxious band name thing, or at least when we actually settled on the band name, it still seemed like a novelty and not just a pattern for every moppy-haired, skinny-jean band that was forming at the time.”
With the release of their rarities collection Duct Tape & Shivering Crows, out now via Suicide Squeeze, listeners have been given a second chance to make amends for erroneous assumptions. It collects 13 tracks from various loose ends in the band’s catalog—splits with Russian Circles and Harkonen, their first demo, a pair of covers (including a rendition of “Heart Shaped Box” from Robotic Empire’s collection of Nirvana covers), and two B-sides—spanning the evolution of their sound in reverse chronological order.
The material on Duct Tape & Shivering Crows, taken as a whole, offers a condensed version of their creative trajectory, functioning as a series of snapshots taken in between their three full-length records (2004’s Oxeneers or The Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home, 2006’s Easter, and 2008’s Tail Swallower and Dove). From scrappy hardcore kids reaching beyond the boundaries of their roots, to a prog-influenced avant-garde post-hardcore machine, they developed a devoted following while existing on the periphery of hardcore and indie rock.
Much like their raucous sonic experimentation (and accompanying live shows), the band’s internal dynamics were never quite in control. They toured extensively, believing that hard work would make life as a band easier in the long run, teetering on the verge of breakthrough success without ever crossing over into financially stable territory. However, they were never exactly well-organized, and they existed in a perpetual state of just barely controlled chaos.
“We had gotten by for years without anyone effectively steering the ship, and we were pretty lucky in that capacity that we were able to do so much and survive through it,” Cook says. “But it was always kind of chaotic, and there was never a good contingency plan for when things went wrong. Which things often did go wrong.”
Faced with a decision to either heavily reinvest in the band or walk away from the road, These Arms Are Snakes imploded somewhat unceremoniously in 2009. It was an abrupt end for a band that left little resolution, not for fans nor the band themselves. Interest in These Arms Are Snakes never fully faded away; however, as the reaction to their pair of reunion shows in Seattle last August demonstrated (and if cryptic Facebook posts are anything to go by, those shows might not have been “final” shows, as commonly assumed).
Regardless of what the future holds, though, there’s no better time than now to explore their brand of aural chaos and reassess what was often missed and misunderstood the first time around.
“The fact that people… can look back and ask, ‘Huh, where did this band really fit in’ is reassuring to me,” Cook says. “It’s like, cool, we weren’t as easy to pigeonhole as some people sometimes made us out to be. I appreciate that.”
Watch the video for “Camera Shy” here:
Photo courtesy of Shayla Martin