These Arms Are Snakes
Navigating a Touch and Go economy
Sorry, even this tale of post-hardcore math rock is about the economy.
In late February, Chicago’s deified Touch and Go Records announced the closure of its distribution operations, squeezing off a vital route for indie bands and smaller labels that depended on Touch and Go to spread their sounds. The label is not just a business but a trusted brand invested with the credibility of treasured albums by bands such as The Jesus Lizard, Slint and TV on the Radio. Listen and you’ll hear the whooshing sound of opportunity deflating.
Brian Cook, bassist for These Arms Are Snakes, recognizes the significance of the collapse of the indie rock distribution powerhouse. TAAS—a Seattle outfit that manufactures a hybrid of shrieking punk and wonky prog metal—will release a 7-inch split record with All the Saints distributed by Touch and Go before the distribution arm is severed.
“I’m glad we got to do something with them before they folded. But it’s definitely a bum-out,” Cook says.
But what’s the alternative to the prestige of an indie label? The high road is flooded. The low road is covered with poisonous snakes. Major labels are “guaranteed to fuck you over,” Cook says.
Cook describes TAAS as “interesting and kind of gnarly” and “rock-oriented,” categories that do not, as of now, have Wikipedia entries.
“I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to sign to a major label in this point in time.”
The music industry shares something with the journalism industry: Talented practitioners hang on while distribution outlets wither and die. This leaves TAAS one time-tested moneymaking, fan base-growing option: Tour like it’s the cure for cancer.
“We make music that is definitely meant to be seen and witnessed live. If we have to keep touring, it’s fine with me,” Cook says.
Those who see and witness TAAS at the Launchpad on Sunday, March 22, will be experiencing a band that has baffled music writers, people who like to know what kind of music they’re writing about. TAAS does that aggravating thing wherein members consciously try to defy one- to three-word explanations on their albums and in interviews. Cook describes TAAS as “interesting and kind of gnarly” and “rock-oriented,” categories that do not, as of now, have Wikipedia entries. Cook admits TAAS falls under the broader category of “punk.” That’s as far as he’s willing to go, and he likes to tell interviewers—run it through Google—that TAAS can’t be categorized.
“I think we deliberately try not to sound like anything specific,” he says.
Tail Swallower and Dove, released in 2008, darts everywhere, like a bottle rocket bouncing around a barroom. The only constants are the loud fuzz of guitars, heavy bass, unintelligible shrieking and anti-aircraft drumming. You can try to dance along, but you’re never going to find a groove in the music. Every time the band settles into a pattern, the music rests then flies into a new type of spasm. Change is the lone certainty. Consider yourself cautioned.
Sorry to disappoint the fans, but these complex structures do not result from hours of arduous conversation on music theory.
“I hate to sort of demystify it,” Cook says, but “it just sort of happens.”
Therein lies an ancient business problem. The art “just sort of happens.” Profit is more elusive, and the decline of Touch and Go is both a symptom and an aggravating condition of industry decline. The members of These Arms Are Snakes are trying to not kill themselves or go broke while they seek a new way.
“I think everyone’s kind of trying to figure that out.”