Friday, April 8, 2011

Songwriters: Snakebit Drifters

How did you guys start as a band?

Tim Willis (guitar, vocals): Well…it was more of an anti-start then anything else… It was more of a lack of a beginning…

Robin San Jose (bass): Ok, Darby Crash… (laughs)

Willis: I’m just making Kevin Yoches laugh…

San Jose: They played for awhile, but not that long. Couple months, huh?

Kevin Yoches (drums): We started as a two-piece.

Willis: I had a broken, borrowed acoustic, and I was playing a horrible song, and Kevin was drumming on a counter at a party.

San Jose: It was the best gig you guys ever had, huh?

Willis: It was a song about a Tijuana sloo, that turned into our “hate” song. So then I hit him up on Myspace, and he was in San Francisco with Hello Evening on a trip, and he said he’d get back to me for sure, which he did, and he was very prompt, very on time. We had a couple practices, we fuckin’ shredded, and we found Robin and it was over with.

San Jose: I answered an ad in the recycler. Or was it Craigslist? I don’t know, it was some ad, and all of a sudden it was “Want a Bass Player.” I was just looking for something to do.

Yoches: I remember standing there talking, and I was like, ‘So, I don’t know how you feel about this, but I think we should probably do this like two days from now.’

Willis: And we were die-hard. We went three practices a week, no matter what, even when it was just the two of us, just fucking around.

Yoches: We’d film them, and then we’d get wasted and go back to the studio and watch them.

Willis: So we had this trippy sound that was probably way too fast to be listenable, and then Robin comes along with his weird off-beats that finish it off.

San Jose: I never really planned on playing fast, ‘cause I bought an upright bass to learn old Hawaiian music, and rock-a-billy. I said, ‘You’re never gonna see me playing no punk rock.’ The first time I played ‘C.U.N.T.,’ I was slapping as fast as my shoulder could possibly go for a frickin’ old man, and I was thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here!?’

You already had songs written before Robin came?

Willis: A few songs. I didn’t even know how to play guitar until I was in the Coast Guards, stuck on a boat with nothing to do with a bunch of people from the Appalachian Mountains, and people from all over who were forcing me to learn chords. Age 15 to 25, I spent ten years on straight up gutter punk, skate punk, and that’s it. I thought it was the only way to go. So yeah, I had a few, and then Kevin hears them and goes, ‘Ok, well let’s do this and this.’ And when he’s doing some quadruple-double-handed-train-beat, I guess I’m gonna listen to your suggestions. If I have a place to put my fingers, which is called ‘G’ in some songs, he’ll be like, ‘Actually, that doesn’t make any sense. You should probably put your fingers here where the chord makes sense,’ and I’ll be like, ‘ahh, yeah.’ I get some crazy ideas, and then he’s like the ‘producer,’ and Mister-make-shit-musically-sound.

San Jose: Well Kevin knows music too. He knows it very well. It’s lucky to have a guy in the band who knows music.

Willis: Music is like his crazy uncle that showed him how to party. But he also showed his crazy uncle a thing or two, ‘cause he’s like a young Jedi.

Tim, I have to say, you give the best analogies. It’s pretty amazing. Robin, you had mentioned that you also know about music too?

San Jose: I know it, but I don’t know that I know it, because Kevin will tell me that I know it.

Why do you know it?

San Jose: Because I hear it.

Yoches: He’s just played enough music to where he knows the scales without knowing them.

San Jose: But I can’t name what I’m playing.

Yoches: He’ll say, ‘Well that’s a run in G.’ And I’ll say, ‘Well actually, that’s the entire G Major scale from top to bottom.’ He’ll be like, ‘Ok, cool…right over my head bro. Let’s keep going on the song.’

Willis: Robin’s standard quote is, ‘I’ll find you.’ Normally, you’d be like, ‘No, you’re dismissing what I just said and you’re full of shit, but when he says it, he will find you, so just go. It’s not even a problem.

Must make it easy to keep playing while you’re at a show, and it’s sounds like you can jam together pretty easily.

Willis: Kevin has a solid drum beat, and then Robin ties it together.

San Jose: Our first practices weren’t awkward at all, it was just fun jamming, cold beers, their friend Sage cooking on the bar-b-que. Those early days, they made it really fun.

How did you start writing?

Willis: I pitched them creepy poems, and then figured out which kind of music made sense with them. I had a bunch of songs, but it was just me and an acoustic guitar. I got an ‘F’ on essays, and an ‘A+’ on poems forever. I usually have a poem or idea, and then I’ll show Kevin with an acoustic guitar, and he’ll be like, ‘Sounds good. Okay, what we can do here is change this or bring this chord up…’

Yoches: Or it needs a B part…

Willis: ‘Or it needs this.’ So then I just fill in a gap or two from the weird poems I write, ‘cause I’m crazy.

So it stems from the lyrics?

Willis: Totally. Lyrics come, and it’s just a capture of a moment in time.

Why do you think certain people able to capture those moments, and others don’t get it?

Yoches: Some people are just like that. Tim is fucking hilarious. I don’t know, something about his personality is charismatic. I think there’s a certain characteristic in a person that is able to do it. ‘Cause for me, the music writing capabilities that I’ve gotten are from studying music, and almost learning it like it’s a math equation.

So you’re mathematical, Robin is by ear…

Yoches: And Tim has the charisma. We all trust each other when it comes to that element. Tim will come up with something, like he called me up today and was like, ‘I thought of something while on my break at work today. It’s this poem about how people, when I’m dead, and when they visit my grave--I want them to pat the dirt and keep the flowers nice and stuff.’ I can’t just come up with that image, but if he came up to me with just the words, I could probably write a chord progression to it. Tim writes about common feelings, but not in a common way. He’s got that something.

It so strange, I feel like I’m coming to the end of this Songwriters Collection, with you guys being the last interviewed. I’ve asked everyone about lyrics, are they playing for the audience, or are they playing for themselves? Where do you guys stand?

San Jose: I’m playing for these two guys. Because I can play with these twos guys in front of just a bartender, and I still have a great time. And it’s really fun when his friends come out. They have a good following in Costa Mesa. I’ve been in a million bands, and I’ve played in front of nobody, and the band’s been really good. So when the crowd is into it, and they’ve seen our shows a lot, so they know what we’re gonna play, but they still lose their minds. That’s amazing to me, it’s like brand new to them. So it makes it totally fun, and when you can do that with some of your friends, that’s all better.

Willis: We just try to promote this big excuse for everybody to get shit-faced like it’s your birthday.

Yoches: We’re having good times, and that’s Snakebit. Get Snakebit and travel around for a little while.

San Jose: I think musicians forget to have fun sometimes, I think that’s what it is. You can sit there and be the deepest cat, but why not have some beers, have some laughs, make some music, and have a good time?

Yoches: The minute we take ourselves serious, this whole thing will kind of slow down. Tim’s got a gnarly job, Robin’s got his family and a crazy job. I’ve got a few bands and a job. It’s like Snakebit is our escape. Like a big, safe place to go.

How many songs do you have recorded now?

Yoches: 27.

And how long did it take for you to record them?

Yoches: A few days.

Willis: Me and Kevin were yelling at each other at the end. It was really funny though.

Yoches: He’s like, ‘I know what you want me to do, but my hands hurt.’ And I’m like, ‘We’ll that’s cool. So why don’t you be a bigger pussy and we’ll never get this song recorded.’

San Jose: I remember hearing in the headphones, Kevin goes, ‘Go tell Robin your hands are sore!’ (laughs)

Willis: Or he would start talking and I’d go, like three-year-old style, ‘EEEEEGGGHHHHH! YAAAAHHHHRRR! Huh? Oh, sorry, I couldn’t hear you Kevin.’ Like, I didn’t know what else to do, I was like a monkey throwing shit. I’m tired!

So was that the point when 27 songs were enough?

Willis: No, we played a lot more songs after that (laughs).

Yoches: That’s when our best material came. That’s part of being Snakebit Drifters, you know?

Want to explain Snakebit Drifters?

Yoches: Tim wanted it to be Whiskeydick Dragons, and I was like, ‘Meh, you gotta give me something better than that.’ It would have been acceptable if we sucked, but once we played a couple of days, I knew that we needed to have something with something to it.

Willis: Drifters is a pretty standard, Wild-West, crazy desert, aimlessly going somewhere kind of notion. The definition of Snakebit is having a life characterized by a series of misfortunes, and it’s like you can’t fucking win. Also, alcohol and drugs coursing through your veins is kind of like being bit by some kind of venomous snake I’d imagine.

Yoches: So then Tim was like, ‘How about Snakebit Drifters?’ Ding ding ding.

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