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Snakeland Gets 'Physical' with Release of Fierce Debut Album 'PanAmerican!'

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

(Editor’s Note — Less than a month ago, we said you’d be hearing a lot from Snakeland this summer. We weren’t lying. Since then, over a 30-day span, the band has released two singles, a video (see the bottom of this page), and now, its debut album ‘PanAmerican!’ has hit the streams, released with a 28-page zine that includes a QR code for download. The release also includes a limited vinyl and cassette run. Without a doubt, this is a band that defines the DIY spirit. Snakeland is: Steve Layman on drums, vocals and additional guitars; Bill Holtz, bass and vocals; Tone Bone, lead vocals and percussion; Jimmy Collis, guitar and vocals; and Declan Ryan, guitar and vocals. 1120 Press spoke recently with Jimmy and Declan. Please enjoy the story below. — All Snakeland photos on homepage, and here, by Adam Seitz.)

1120 Press: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You guys, this past month, have had a lot going and, despite being new, there’s already some buzz surrounding the band. Since mid-June you’ve released two singles, followed that up with a video, and now your debut album, ‘PanAmerican!’, has dropped. Congratulations on everything! How does it feel having the album out there?

JIMMY: The last band I was in that actually did anything broke up in 2000. I've spent the last 20-plus years wondering what could've been if I had kept playing music, so it feels pretty cool to hold a physical record that I participated in.

DECLAN: At the beginning of October, we moved all the furniture out of Jimmy's living room to record drums. This past Saturday we set up an assembly line and stapled 2100 pieces of paper together. Along the way, almost every step has been DIY. We've only played one show this year because we wanted to come out of the gate with something we could be proud of, and say "this is us," with no excuses or caveats. We've had to say ‘no’ to so many things to accomplish that, which was a drag. It's relieving to be finished with this chapter, and exciting to get these songs and this band out into the world.

Being done also means we've set a significant challenge for ourselves. We worked hard and made the best record we could. That's the bar for quality now that we're going back to write the next one. So as much as I love this record, it's also our competition. We have to go back to the rehearsal room and write a follow-up that blows this one out of the water. It's going to be a lot of fun because we know what our lane is now. We just have to keep being Snakeland and keep doing the work.

JIMMY —We have a couple of songs that are nearing completion. We'd also like to take a week to hit the road for a little tour in 2024.

1120: You put this album out as a ‘zine and it contains so much: a QR code for download, lyrics, art, lore, (not to mention a fantastic message from Steve). The zine also touches on the themes explored in ‘PanAmerican.’ Tell us about the idea and concept behind the decision to take this approach.

DECLAN — One of our goals was to make a record that didn't rely on the context of the current music industry to make sense — something a young person could find 20 years later and get excited about. Something like the way I felt when I heard Damaged for the first time in 2001. Obviously, we weren't trying to do Black Flag. I don't know if the other guys in the band even like Black Flag, that's just an example from my life. But we wanted to recreate the experience of finding a record from another time or place and absolutely needing to know more.

Rejecting the idea of a digital-only release was part of that aesthetic. It just feels disposable. If you leave Spotify playing after the album you want to hear finishes, it will suggest 20 new tracks every hour until your battery dies. Do you remember them? It's ephemeral. Remember all those Metalcore bands that got huge on myspace? Neither does anyone else. It's the same phenomenon. But you remember every CD you ever bought, even if you don't play them anymore.

We're wired to disregard ephemeral information. People value physical objects and imbue them with arbitrary meanings, because we evolved in a physical world full of objects. You can scroll through Twitter for hours and remember nothing about the experience the next day, let alone a month later. But sometimes prompted by nothing, an obscure passage from a book you read 10 years ago pops into your head fully formed. We wanted that.

CD's are a dead format, and not everyone collects vinyl or tapes. So, our problem was finding a digital release format that could be tied to a physical object. That's where the zine came up. I've still got a stack of them from high school. Zines were created to fill a need: moving information across distance quickly, cheaply, and in a durable format. We like the aesthetic and the nod to the DIY culture we came from, but we released this record as a zine because it's literally the best technological solution available. It's a memorable artifact that we can sell at the merch table or ship to another continent for a couple bucks. It lets us tell a story parallel to the songs on the record, about the rise and fall of the region's fortunes. You get a few vignettes from the last 130 years of local history, and it's sort of like a frame around the songs. We don't have many overtly political lyrics and it's not a concept album, but giving some detail to the landscape around the characters in the songs makes them all feel a little more real.

We also made vinyl and tapes. (But) I think it's important to say this wasn't about creating a retro aesthetic. The zine was the right tool for the job, and sometimes the right tool is an old one. This was recorded using modern tools and techniques. But we also rejected some modern tools like pitch correction or quantization, because those are sounds, I think, that will sound dated or retro in the future. If we did our job right, this will feel equally like it could have been recorded in 1992, 2002, 2012 or 2022.

1120: Like so many bands we have been speaking with, COVID was a pivotal time. The shutdown seemed to inspire a lot of art, or pave the way for new music to be made. Tell us about your origin; the band’s formation and how you found each other.

JIMMY: During the COVID shutdown, I found time to start messing around with my acoustic guitar and since I didn't really know any covers, I started writing some riffs. The more I did that, the more I wanted to find someone to collaborate with and create actual songs. When COVID restrictions started to loosen up, I became a regular customer at Guitar Center and started loading up on guitar equipment. Later in the year, my friend group decided that a nice retreat to a chalet in the woods was in order. I brought my new guitar stuff and my good friend, Suzie, brought her boyfriend Declan, who I was acquainted with but not super close with yet. He also brought his guitar, so I was able to see firsthand how talented of a guitarist he is, and I realized we had very similar taste in music.

Roughly six or seven months later we had a cookout in Bidwell Park, and I told him that I really wanted to start a punk band and asked if he'd be interested. I don't even think he took any time to think it over, and immediately said ‘yes.’

Tony was also in attendance and offered his services as a vocalist. Both Declan and I were fully aware of Tony's capabilities as a singer, and we didn't even bother searching for any other potential options.

I eventually had Declan over for some beers so we could get started writing. The type of music I had in mind really wasn't coming out of our guitars and I was totally fine with that. I was hoping to start something along the lines of Kid Dynamite meets Avail, but what we were writing was totally separate from that, and I loved it anyway.

We started talking about finding a bassist and a drummer. We tried out a couple of bassists, one of which was Bill, who is not a bassist. He’s more of a jack-of-all-trades, musically. He came as a recommendation from Tony who shared the stage with him in bands back in the early 2000's. Not only did he kill it right away, but he just seemed like more of a fit on a personal level, which sometimes is even more important than ability.

Steve came as a recommendation from Declan. The two have known each other for some time, and Steve was living in Philly and looking for a change in direction. Declan suggested he move to Buffalo and play drums in our band, and he basically jumped right in without a net. Good thing he's good at drums, or that would've really sucked for him. He's also a great songwriter/guitarist, and has been invaluable as far as writing and arrangement is concerned.

1120: Before we go, we have to ask about the name: Snakeland. It’s a cool name and there’s an even more cool story behind it. Can you tell us about it?

JIMMY — So now that we had our roster, all we needed was a name. After shooting each others’ ideas down for a month or two, we were taking down a few drinks in my kitchen after a practice and Declan told us all the story of the Buffalo legend of Snakeland, an old grain elevator near Kenmore on Military that was abandoned and rumored to have been used for satanic rituals in the 80's, and was also a party spot for local punks until some bodies were found there, and subsequently torn down. Totally shocked that none of us who had lived in Buffalo have ever heard of it, he pitched it as a band name anyway. Took about a minute or two for the name to sink in, but it stuck, and here we are!


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