Guitarist-songwriter John Reis talks about working with a group that’s scattered around the country and what comes next.
For nearly 30 years, John Reis has represented San Diego on the national and international stage through his bands (Pitchfork, RFTC, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, Night Marchers, etc.), record label (Swami Records), and radio show (Swami Sound System). And while Reis’s creative energy never seems to abate, it’s always spread around.
But it still came as something of a surprise in 2014, after a nearly 19-year hiatus, that Reis and longtime collaborator Rick Froberg brought Drive Like Jehu back to life with a special performance at Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
After following it with a few years of touring together again, it was even more of a surprise that when new music finally did come, it was not from Drive Like Jehu, but from another Reis/Froberg collaboration, Hot Snakes.
The post-hardcore quintet that also features Gar Wood, Jason Kourkounis and Mario Rubalcaba, had disbanded in 2005, but reunited in 2011 and 2012 for short runs of shows.
Jericho Sirens, the first Hot Snakes album in 14 years, was released in March. And not only does it find Hot Snakes back on the road, it has them looking toward the future.
PACIFIC recently talked with Reis about working with a group that’s scattered around the country and what comes next.
PACIFIC: First, is that (bassist) Gar (Wood) on the album cover?
JOHN REIS: Yes. That’s Gar surfing Cloudbreak in Fiji.
Was this Hot Snakes album a result of getting together with Rick (Froberg) and doing the Drive Like Jehu gigs over the last few years?
Kind of, yeah. I’m sure it had something to do with it. But it was also a result of Drive Like Jehu stopping — that being wrapped up. And then it was like, “Ok, so what’s the next thing?” And we had already talked about doing another Hot Snakes record. So it was really like, “Ok, so I guess now is when we do that.”
It’s not exactly analogous to a band that goes its separate ways for 14 years — there are so many people in the Venn diagram of these bands — but that’s still a good chunk of time.
Yeah, and it didn’t really feel like it was that long at all, 14 years. We weren’t playing for a portion of that time, but we did some shows together in 2012. So, from then until now just doesn’t feel like that long to me. And the music is always happening. There’s always that noise in my head. It really never ceases, even if there’s nothing to show for it.
That’s interesting as well. Here you are doing all these shows with Drive Like Jehu but it’s Hot Snakes that makes a record.
There was definitely that thought. And I thought so, too. But it would have taken more time. I mean, it took Hot Snakes six years of talking about it to finally do it. And with Drive Like Jehu, we were still getting better in terms of playing the songs and playing the shows. But this is what I do. I play in rock and roll bands. That’s my identity. But other people in the band have other things going on. And that’s their identity. That’s what they do. So it all came to an end. And I say “all came to an end,” but I never thought we were going to get together in the first place. I can’t really say there’s finality in that. But at least for now, we’re not doing any more shows and all going in different directions. But I don’t think us making new music was beyond the realm of imagination.
How did the creative process work once you switched gears? Old ideas? New ideas? Combination of the two?
Yeah, there were no artifacts from a bygone era. Everything was written and created after we decided that we were going to make a record. It was, “let’s go. Let’s put some things together.”
Did logistics pose any issues?
Well, Gar, Mario and I live in San Diego. Jason lives in Philadelphia. And Rick lives in New York — when he’s not in Spain. So we’re fairly scattered all over the place. Things are written so that when we get together, there are things to share and to show each other. And then it’s more about the arranging of parts or adding to them.
When I say, “I have a song,” it’s more like I have three parts that go together. It feels like a song. But it’s not a song until Rick starts singing and puts his guitar on it. That’s where the songs kind of start, right there.
Have you guys given any thought yet to what comes after the current run of shows?
Yes. We’re already starting to work on the next record. We have a lot of it written. But compared to how it used to be, it will always be an abbreviated version of that. No one wants to be gone from home for that long anymore.
We’ve already done that in our lives. We explored the world and played all the corners — shook the hands and kissed the babies. At this point, we love to play and we love to be at home. We love leisure and we love to completely trample people with our guitars. We want to do all of it.
Hot Snakes with Le Butcherettes, Cat Scan
When: 8 p.m. May 11
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave, North Park