Saturday, May 9, 2015

Interview with Snakehole

Lisa Marten-Owens Photography
Back in January, before taking up residence in Miami, I e-mailed ZZ Ramirez from Ukiah Drag asking if he knew what was cool in Miami. Where are the weirdos? What bands should I check out? This was his response: "If you get a chance check out the band Snakehole - they are my favorite down there and the coolest girls in total Miami style. Go to gigs at Churchills. If you hang around long enough the weird will come to you." This was eerily accurate. My hat's off to you, Mr. Ramirez.

Snakehole welds the dirge of a witch's funeral with the noise-enriched-snot-rocketry of a band like Flipper. The two women behind the project, Autumn Casey and KC Toimil, are, for all intents and purposes, symbiotic, which shows in their performances: their sets are as inspiring as they are mesmerizing. Like many duos reliant on eye contact and body language, Snakehole transitions through sets with little verbal communication strangely seamlessly, reason enough to see the band. But the band also writes really fucking good songs with really fucking good riffs - the kind of mental residents that buy a La-Z boy, and don't care about knocking over the flowers when they put up their feet.

They've got an upcoming 12" in the works with one of my favorite contemporary labels Wharf Cat Records. I believe their self-titled EP is out of print, but you can still order their tape on Kill/Hurt.

Jordan Reyes: Let’s talk first off about the light-up mirror that you use to perform. What’s the deal with it?

Autumn Casey: I got that mirror from a former stripper that is in the Keys. KC has a house down there. We’re thinking about making our performances weirder, where we weave in other elements. The mirror seemed creepy, I guess. It’s supposed to be played in tandem with the piano. We can’t obviously bring this (points to large piano set up) with us.

KC Toimil: I recorded Autumn playing it on my tape player, which I press before we start. I put in some echo too - it sounds really cool.

AC: It’s fitting too because it has this glowing circle of light. I was thinking of Snakehole in conjunction with this menacing look in the mirror. We had just got capes too that our friend Kyle made for us.

KCT: Kyle is also the devil in our music video.

JR: I haven’t seen that video yet.

AC: You should see it. Kyle painted himself to look exactly like the devil. The music video has us practicing. Then Kyle as the devil paddles up on a surfboard, and comes in. KC is the only one who doesn’t trust him so he chases her around with a flyswatter, but we all become friends.

KCT: We tried to make it like a bad dream.

JR: You guys have something you’re doing for Wharf Cat right? Is that happening now? Are you guys writing it?

KCT: Yeah, we were working out a song today. We’re almost done.

AC: We just need to do our last song - we worked it out to do a pretty long noise jam. We were talking to Trip and he said if we got it to twenty minutes, we could do a 12” at 45 rpm, which will be super loud and heavy. We’re going to record it next week. We’ve been taking our time since he first approached us because we went on tour, which is a hard time to sit down, write music, and pay your bills.

JR: It’s hard to pay bills without music in the mix! You guys seem to play out every week or every two weeks?

KCT: Yeah, April was weird. I don’t know how that happened. We don’t want to play any this month. We play Churchill’s a lot in general, though.

JR: That place is awesome. I heard someone call it the CBGB’s of the South.

AC: It’s pretty much a historical landmark at this point, but it makes no sense. It’s a British pub in the heart of Little Haiti.

KCT: One of the comedians I saw there recently brought that up. “What the fuck is up with the name Churchill’s? Winston Churchill probably had no idea that Miami existed.”

AC: The former owner, Dave, was from England. I worked there for like six years or something crazy when I first moved to Miami - it was like the second job I got and then I just never left.

JR: You still work there?

AC: No, I eventually had to quit - it became too much of a love-hate relationship. For a while, it was like the Wild West. It wasn’t the healthiest situation. It becomes a little black hole-ish if you’re there six days a week. When I wasn’t working, I was going to play, or see bands. But I love the place.

KCT: Yeah, I’m in a similar place.

JR: You work there?

KCT: Sort of. I do sound sometimes. I’m earning my stripes - it’s been an interesting beginning.

AC: And people are sexist - they’ll be like “I don’t want a female sound person.”

KCT: I often get “so you’re the sound man?”

JR: I feel like in Chicago there were way less women performers than here. I don’t know.

AC: I’ve noticed that too.

KCT: It probably has to do with Miami being such a whirlwind of a place. People are just like “Well, if everyone’s so crazy, I’m just going to do my shit too,” but still people say stupid, sexist things.

JR: When you guys tour, you were saying that you guys do the noise circuit. How’d you get looped into that?

KCT & AC in unision: Rat.

AC: He was like “You want to go on tour?” and we said sure, but the only shows he’s going to book are noise shows with people he knows. Usually when he goes to a city, he already knows where he’s going and who he’s going to play with.

KCT: I was supposed to go on tour with him doing my solo noise project, but then I just said fuck it, let’s do Snakehole instead.

JR: So do you guys play the same kind of set that I’ve seen here?

KCT: Yeah, but we’ll mix in different songs every once in a while.

AC: The first time I went on tour was with Scraping Teeth, which was Rat, and Gavin and Betty from Holly Hunt. It was improvised noise rock every night. When I went with Rat a second time, I played noise guitar with him. Then we went as Snakehole with Rat in December and Sylvia Castel.

JR: What kind of music is she?

AC: She’s electronic from Italy.

KCT: She does a lot of sampling and looping. She’ll say something, sample and loop it, bring out a kazoo, loop that. She also does a lot of sexy dancing.

AC: She’s definitely a babe. This time we went to Austin we played as Snakehole, but we also squelched with Rat afterwards.

KCT: I fucked up my finger squelching.

JR: What do you mean squelching?

AC: It’s what you call it when you play with Rat. He goes by “Laundryroom Squelchers.” Sometimes it’s that and sometimes it’s “Rat Bastard.” Squelching is just like throwing things at the audience, running around, rolling on the floor, literally doing whatever you want. You could just stand there if you wanted to.

KCT: When I started squelching, I just lifted up my floor tom and started yelling in it. The less you think, the better.

JR: So Snakehole was originally a three-piece? How has the lineup changed?

KCT: Well, our bassist became a mom, so we understand. We miss her, but we can’t stop Snakehole. 

AC: She couldn’t go on tour with us, so we had our friend Bootsie [Castillo] fill in for the first tour. Bootsie couldn’t go this tour so we just did it ourselves. We have ambition and have to keep going, but it’s hard to find someone that can run alongside. For us, we just want to practice too, which is easier since we live together.

KCT: There’s been times where I’ll come home, it’s three in the morning, and I'll knock on Autumn’s door and just be like “let’s practice.” We try to play together every day.

AC: We’ve started to get psychically connected. She’ll throw a drumstick and I’ll pick it up and throw it back at her without stopping.

KCT: We can only pull that off when we’re here, though. (laughs).

AC: It’s like when you have sex with somebody a lot. The more you do it, the better you get. It becomes more natural.

KCT: Every time I play music, I feel like I’m orgasming or something. It’s definitely like fucking at times. I guess that means I’ve fucked a lot of people…musically.

JR: Yeah…um…(laughs)…I guess I’m not that prolific of a fuck, then? I've only jammed with people a couple times. I've never been able to get things focused since I was traveling for my last job and here I’ve just been working a lot of hours. The one good thing about running a blog is that you can sort of do it anywhere as long as you have something to record, and you're not reliant on people. So you guys also have a bunch of tapes?

AC: Yes, but we have two that are distributed by a label.

KCT: The first one was with Kill/Hurt and there was one we didn’t put out - we just recorded it with Rat, but never did anything. This third one we recorded with Jesus and we put it out with No Work Records. Then we just have weird shit that we recorded on my tape player that we'll put out for just like a show.

AC: We also recorded a demo to send to Trip just being like “Hey, this is kind of what it’s going to sound like. Are you still interested?” And he was like “Hell yeah!” We only made six of those so we put our demo on six tapes and we took those when we went to Austin and just gave them away to six lucky people (laughs).

KCT: Yeah.

JR: Did you guys play Suxby?

AC: Yeah, we played with Rat that night, not as Snakehole, but we played a house show on a porch that was about to get demolished because of the whole gentrification process.

JR: Yeah I just interviewed this woman who used to live there who moved to Providence, RI and she wanted to move back to Austin but couldn’t because it had gentrified so much - she couldn’t afford it. Also, she said there was nowhere she’d want to live.

AC: It’s a natural constant cycle. The festival started there and it used to be awesome and then the greedy music industry comes in to take down the scene that made it.

JR: So did you guys play the actual South by Southwest part of it?

KCT: Just that house show, but Rat wanted to go check out some stuff he said was “classic shit.” So we had to go see it.

AC: When you go to Southby you can buy tickets, but you can also just be in Austin and not pay for anything and see what you want. You walk around and can probably see any band you want at least once or twice.

KCT: We also went to New Orleans and played there, which was so cool. It was my first time and it was fun.

JR: I haven’t been there. I actually haven't been to many places in the South - I haven’t been to Texas, Alabama, or Louisiana.

AC: Have you been to Gainesville?

JR: No I have not.

AC: Gainesville’s pretty cool. Our friends have a space there called “A Space,” which just started this past year but now they have to move. It’s like every time a space pops up, it’s usually got about a year.

JR: Are there many DIY spaces in Miami?

AC: Last year I was doing running one called “Space Mountain.” We were doing art and music shows there, but it only lasted about a year. We do some shows here [at their house]. We’re going to start doing a little more, but it’s rough. People come over and trash the place and then leave. Then we’re left cleaning the mess. It's weird too because you don’t want to charge money - it’s your house. You want to just be like “Yeah! Cool! Freedom! Shows! Love!” but then people come over and fuck shit up to be rowdy.

JR: Well, it means a lot that you guys let me over - your place is really cool. So you guys do everything in this [music] room? Demos and stuff?

AC: Well, we record for ourselves here on our cellphones, but we usually just go to Rat’s house on the beach. He’s got a studio in his house. You should come over some time.

KCT: We jam there a lot.

AC: Rat let us stay in his house for two weeks last time he went out of town. It was like heaven. His apartment is insane. It’s like every square inch has a musical instrument or music memorabilia and it’s a one bedroom apartment.

JR: So who does the lyrics?

AC: We’ve become more of a joint effort now, which is cool. In the past it was just me, but now since the energies have shifted to the two of us, it’s become a more direct conversation.

KCT: It’s like when you jam and have two instruments - they’re talking to each other. I try not to think about it too much - my lyrics are really short because that’s just my preferred musical communication.

AC: I’ll write what I want to sing and she’ll write what she wants to sing basically. It’s not like “I came up with this part for you.” When we’re singing at the same time then we’ll do it more together.

JR: I didn’t really even think about it like that. Like telling someone else what to say.

AC: You’ll hear bands say “the drummer wrote this song” and like, why doesn’t the drummer sing it then? I feel like you connect more to what you’re singing if it came from your own heart or mind.

KCT: Sometimes when I play music people will tell me “Do this” and like, I’m not just a human metronome. The other day I made a rhythm in my head and I played it to Autumn just to see what she would do. I can’t wait to record it.

JR: That would be for the Wharf Cat record?

KCT: Yeah. At the same time, if we don’t see each other for a couple days since we’re so busy and on our own, when we do see each other, we’ll get together and be inspired by each other.

AC: Everything’s one montage. The newer stuff is getting so weird, structurally, and with the beats. It sounds like it’s from Egypt or something.

JR: You guys have gotten progressively heavier, right?

AC: In the very beginning, it was more pop-punk or surfy. Then we took a hiatus, which is when we all three went through some shit. Julie had a baby and we both had some pretty terrible relationships. The darkness definitely started to take over a bit. Since Julie left, we’ve had less structure without a bass player.

KCT: It was like being in Nirvana if the band had broken up but Kurt Cobain was alive when we weren’t playing and all I could think was “I’m an asshole!” (laughs). This should be happening! Nirvana's inspiring. They’re so cool and heartfelt. That’s why I thought of that. It was like if Dave Grohl had Kurt Cobain here right now, what would he be doing, huh? (laughs)

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