TRACK BY TRACK: THESE ARMS ARE SNAKES BASSIST BRIAN COOK GUIDES US THROUGH THEIR COMPILATION DUCT TAPE & SHIVERING CROWS

Duct Tape & Shivering Crows is a compilation of rarities and B-sides by the band These Arms Are Snakes, a gathering up of tracks from their seven-year career in the early 2000s. If you are a fan, then this will fill in some gaps and reinforce your opinion of why they were a cut above most of the bands from Seattle that often muddied the musical waters. If this is your first time listening to the band it will likely have you heading to their back catalogue. There is syncopation and complexity in the construction of their songs (see ‘Trix’ in particular) and it almost border on funky at times… almost. Then the wrecking ball comes down and not even the most robust masonry could withstand such an assault.

But that’s enough from me. The band’s Bassist Brian Cook was kind enough to write a killer piece on why they chose to release an album of rarities and B-sides as well as a track-by-track breakdown of the songs they included:

Rarities and B-sides compilation albums are tough sells. After all, a song relegated to Side B implies some sort of inferior status. Similarly, the designation of a track as a “rarity” isn’t a guarantee that it has some sort of highly-sought-after value—it could be tough to find for good reason, whether it’s because the artist did their best to hide it from the public or because most copies wound up in dollar bins or angrily tossed out the windows of moving vehicles. But if you’re reading this, you’ve already decided that the various odds and ends of These Arms Are Snakes’ recording career are worth owning, so thank you for that. In return, allow me to soothe the sting of Duct Tape & Shivering Crows’ sticker price and assure you that these aren’t a bunch of throwaway tracks. These Arms Are Snakes were never a band with a surplus of material. If we recorded something, it meant that we believed in its quality. And we were all coming out of the ‘90s hardcore scene, where a band’s entire career could be predicated on something as seemingly insignificant as a single track on a split 7”. I mean, how many people sing the praises of Lincoln strictly based on “Bench Warmer” from their split with Hoover? Hell, most ‘90s hardcore bands thrived on the format of singles, comp tracks, and splits. Look at Acme, Indian Summer, or Crossed Out. These Arms Are Snakes might not have had much sonic overlap with these bands, but our love of that culture meant that we took these smaller profile projects just as seriously as our full-length albums.

There’s another perk to this collection as well. Over the course of this album, you’re digging deeper and deeper into the band’s past, all the way back to our origins with the band’s first demo. You’re essentially watching the band age in reverse. Some of this material is 20 years old at this point, and that distance is significant enough for these songs to feel like they were written by someone else. Even though I think people pigeonholed us based on our band name or our messy haircuts or whatever tour package we were thrown onto, we always prided ourselves on not fitting in anywhere, and with the distance of time now added to the context of these songs, it’s even more apparent that we were stubbornly (and perhaps even stupidly) bucking at the notion of being a sellable entity in the marketplace of youth culture from the very get-go. For you and all the other listeners out there, I hope that this collection presents the band in a new light unobscured by the musical landscape of the ‘00s and its attendant baggage.

Still sceptical about your purchase? Allow me to provide a little song-by-song breakdown of Duct Tape & Shivering Crows and maybe that’ll help illuminate the spirit of these hidden gems.

Meet Your Mayor

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes / Tropics split 7” on We-Be Records, 2008. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

This was a common opener for a lot of our shows on our last few tours. It wasn’t the most strategic choice to get the audience warmed up—I don’t think most of our crowd was familiar with a song that only appeared on a limited edition 7” on a brand new British record label started by some former employees of Domino Records. But it does serve as a good opener for this album because it affirms our love for our random and largely overlooked tracks. Maybe the crowd was a little perplexed by this one, but it certainly got our motors runnin’.

Camera Shy

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes / Russian Circles split 12” on Sargent House Records, 2008. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but “Camera Shy” is easily one of my top 5 favorite songs we wrote. It was a tricky one to pull off live, but we got some mileage out of it on tour. Don’t ask Steve what the lyrics are about unless you want a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for cruelty.

Trix

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes / Russian Circles split 12” on Sargent House Records, 2008. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

If I recall correctly, we recorded the first four songs on this album in one two-day session. And “Trix” was the least fleshed out of the bunch. Chris was really the brains behind this one as he had the primary bass line and drum beat in his head, and we built the song around those ideas in the studio over the course of an afternoon. This was the second of our two songs on the split 12” with Russian Circles, a record made specifically to sell on our European tour together. As far as I recall, we never played it live.

Energy Drink and the Long Walk Home

Originally appeared on the Coathangers / These Arms Are Snakes split 7” on Suicide Squeeze Records, 2014. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

We initially tracked this song—a rendition of one of our favorite Lost Sounds songs—for a split 7” with Minus the Bear as part of Suburban Home Records’ Under the Influence covers series, but the label crumbled before the Bear recorded their song. We had become friends with Lost Sounds’ guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Alicja Trout from touring with her newer project River City Tanlines and we had her sing back-ups on our song “Red Line Season,” so it only felt appropriate to choose one of her songs as opposed to one of Jay Reatard’s contributions. The track sat in limbo for five years until Suicide Squeeze pitched the idea of us doing a split with our friends and former tourmates The Coathangers.

Heart-Shaped Box

Originally appeared on In Utero : In Tribute on Robotic Empire Records, 2014. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

We were approached by Robotic Empire to contribute a song to their second compilation of Nirvana covers, but all our favorite songs from In Utero had already been claimed by other bands. So we said “fuck it” and picked the album’s lead single. This was actually our second attempt at the song. Our first attempt involved Chris replicating all the mic placements and recording techniques Steve Albini used for the In Utero sessions, but it was ultimately decided that we were adhering to too much of the original version’s character, and we took this second stab at it. Guest vocals were provided by our friends in Helms Alee. Honestly, I don’t even remember recording this.

Washburn

Originally appeared on the Japanese edition of Tail Swallower & Dove on Daymare Records, 2008. Later released stateside on the All the Saints / These Arms Are Snakes split 7” on Touch & Go Records, 2009. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

“Washburn” was initially a companion piece to “Long and Lonely Step” on Tail Swallower & Dove, but for reasons that can’t be remembered, it didn’t make it onto the album. It was originally included on the Japanese version of the album and later served as our contribution to a split 7” with our friends and tourmates All the Saints on Touch & Go Records. We felt very fortunate to have this split 7” see the light of day as we were all huge fans of Touch & Go. We’d sent the label our first demo and head honcho Corey Rusk had been very supportive and enthusiastic about the band, though hesitant to take us on so early in our existence. We managed to get this split 7” into the release queue shortly before the label went through their massive downsizing.

Old Paradise

Originally appeared on the Good Friday 7” on Suicide Squeeze Records, 2006. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

This is the only actual b-side on the album. Good Friday was essentially a single for “Horse Girl” off our Easter album, but we figured giving the 7” its own name would make “Old Paradise” feel equally weighted with side A. And of course, having Good Friday come out shortly before Easter seemed clever to us at the time. “Old Paradise” is another personal favorite and it tended to show up somewhat regularly in our setlists on the Easter tour cycle.

Payday Loans

Originally appeared on the Harkonen split/collaboration Like a Virgin on Hydra Head Records, 2005. Recorded by Jack Endino at The Sound House.

If memory serves correctly, this was the sixth song we wrote as a band, and it remained a live favorite through the entire duration of our existence. This was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle songs; we didn’t write it so much as it just sorta spontaneously erupted out of us at some early drunken practice. Jack Endino recorded Like a Virgin over the course of the weekend and was adamant about keeping the performances loose and the recording raw, which was the perfect treatment for the material.

Hook on This

Originally appeared on the Harkonen split/collaboration Like a Virgin on Hydra Head Records, 2005. Recorded by Jack Endino at The Sound House.

This was our other non-collaborative contribution to Like a Virgin. These were the last two songs we recorded with our original drummer Joe Preston, who would leave the band a few weeks after tracking it in December 2003. Additionally, these songs were written shortly after parting ways with our keyboard player Jesse Robertson, so it was a very transitional time for the band, which may explain why these two songs sound so different from everything else on this album. We’d done a lot of touring in 2003 and we were all worn ragged physically and emotionally, and these two songs capture that desperation and frustration.

Riding the Grape Dragon

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

We recorded our first four songs with Ben Verellen in his basement studio in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, WA sometime in late 2002 / early 2003. I remember very little of the session other than sleeping beneath the mixing console after a late night of drinking. The four songs were burned onto CD and mailed to every record label we liked. “Riding the Grape Dragon” was the first song our unexpecting recipients would hear, and it was apparently a strong enough song for people to listen to the entire CD and respond to our unsolicited demos. We got a phone call from Jade Tree just a few days after we dropped our demo in the mail… which was surprising given that we’d forgotten to include any contact info in the package. Fortunately, there were enough mutual friends between us and the label that they were able to track us down, and later in the year we’d re-record the four demo songs plus “Drinking From The Necks Of The Ones You Love” for the This Is Meant To Hurt You EP.

Run It Through the Dog

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

I don’t recall what the working title of this one was, but I remember recording the dreamy / jammy section on the latter half of the song and running the guitar through a tape delay, which had such a satisfying woozy feel to it that someone proposed that we “run it through whatever other else you got in the studio.” And there happened to be a dog in the studio, so…

Diggers of Ditches Everywhere

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

We really didn’t know what we were doing in those early days. We were all extremely opinionated when it came to music, but there wasn’t a clear idea of what we were trying to achieve sonically. Listening back to “Diggers of Ditches Everywhere,” I’m hard-pressed to say where this song came from or where we felt it fit in the landscape of underground music at the time. It’s a weird one, made even weirder years later when we slowed it down and re-recorded it with our friends Pelican years later.

The Blue Rose

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

And here we are at the end. Or perhaps more appropriately at the beginning. “The Blue Rose” was the first song we wrote. The original line-up of the band included our friend Bill Quinby, and he was the guy bringing song ideas to the table during those first rehearsals. He had his sights set on a much heavier and more complicated brand of music, and we weren’t managing to get a lot of usable material locked in. One day he bailed on a practice session and we opted to spend the evening jamming, and “The Blue Rose” just poured out of us. The rest is history. 

Brian Cook / Hillman City, Seattle

Introduction by Paul F Cook

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If you are a fan, then this will fill in some gaps and reinforce your opinion of why they were a cut above most of the bands from Seattle that often muddied the musical waters. If this is your first time listening to the band it will likely have you heading to their back catalogue. There is syncopation and complexity in the construction of their songs (see ‘Trix’ in particular) and it almost border on funky at times… almost. Then the wrecking ball comes down and not even the most robust masonry could withstand such an assault.

But that’s enough from me. The band’s Bassist Brian Cook has written this killer piece on why they chose to release an album of rarities and B-sides as well as a track-by-track breakdown of the songs they included:

Rarities and B-sides compilation albums are tough sells. After all, a song relegated to Side B implies some sort of inferior status. Similarly, the designation of a track as a “rarity” isn’t a guarantee that it has some sort of highly-sought-after value—it could be tough to find for good reason, whether it’s because the artist did their best to hide it from the public or because most copies wound up in dollar bins or angrily tossed out the windows of moving vehicles. But if you’re reading this, you’ve already decided that the various odds and ends of These Arms Are Snakes’ recording career are worth owning, so thank you for that. In return, allow me to soothe the sting of Duct Tape & Shivering Crows’ sticker price and assure you that these aren’t a bunch of throwaway tracks. These Arms Are Snakes were never a band with a surplus of material. If we recorded something, it meant that we believed in its quality. And we were all coming out of the ‘90s hardcore scene, where a band’s entire career could be predicated on something as seemingly insignificant as a single track on a split 7”. I mean, how many people sing the praises of Lincoln strictly based on “Bench Warmer” from their split with Hoover? Hell, most ‘90s hardcore bands thrived on the format of singles, comp tracks, and splits. Look at Acme, Indian Summer, or Crossed Out. These Arms Are Snakes might not have had much sonic overlap with these bands, but our love of that culture meant that we took these smaller profile projects just as seriously as our full-length albums.

There’s another perk to this collection as well. Over the course of this album, you’re digging deeper and deeper into the band’s past, all the way back to our origins with the band’s first demo. You’re essentially watching the band age in reverse. Some of this material is 20 years old at this point, and that distance is significant enough for these songs to feel like they were written by someone else. Even though I think people pigeonholed us based on our band name or our messy haircuts or whatever tour package we were thrown onto, we always prided ourselves on not fitting in anywhere, and with the distance of time now added to the context of these songs, it’s even more apparent that we were stubbornly (and perhaps even stupidly) bucking at the notion of being a sellable entity in the marketplace of youth culture from the very get-go. For you and all the other listeners out there, I hope that this collection presents the band in a new light unobscured by the musical landscape of the ‘00s and its attendant baggage.

Still sceptical about your purchase? Allow me to provide a little song-by-song breakdown of Duct Tape & Shivering Crows and maybe that’ll help illuminate the spirit of these hidden gems.

Meet Your Mayor

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes / Tropics split 7” on We-Be Records, 2008. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

This was a common opener for a lot of our shows on our last few tours. It wasn’t the most strategic choice to get the audience warmed up—I don’t think most of our crowd was familiar with a song that only appeared on a limited edition 7” on a brand new British record label started by some former employees of Domino Records. But it does serve as a good opener for this album because it affirms our love for our random and largely overlooked tracks. Maybe the crowd was a little perplexed by this one, but it certainly got our motors runnin’.

Camera Shy

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes / Russian Circles split 12” on Sargent House Records, 2008. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but “Camera Shy” is easily one of my top 5 favorite songs we wrote. It was a tricky one to pull off live, but we got some mileage out of it on tour. Don’t ask Steve what the lyrics are about unless you want a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for cruelty.

Trix

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes / Russian Circles split 12” on Sargent House Records, 2008. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

If I recall correctly, we recorded the first four songs on this album in one two-day session. And “Trix” was the least fleshed out of the bunch. Chris was really the brains behind this one as he had the primary bass line and drum beat in his head, and we built the song around those ideas in the studio over the course of an afternoon. This was the second of our two songs on the split 12” with Russian Circles, a record made specifically to sell on our European tour together. As far as I recall, we never played it live.

Energy Drink and the Long Walk Home

Originally appeared on the Coathangers / These Arms Are Snakes split 7” on Suicide Squeeze Records, 2014. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

We initially tracked this song—a rendition of one of our favorite Lost Sounds songs—for a split 7” with Minus the Bear as part of Suburban Home Records’ Under the Influence covers series, but the label crumbled before the Bear recorded their song. We had become friends with Lost Sounds’ guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Alicja Trout from touring with her newer project River City Tanlines and we had her sing back-ups on our song “Red Line Season,” so it only felt appropriate to choose one of her songs as opposed to one of Jay Reatard’s contributions. The track sat in limbo for five years until Suicide Squeeze pitched the idea of us doing a split with our friends and former tourmates The Coathangers.

Heart-Shaped Box

Originally appeared on In Utero : In Tribute on Robotic Empire Records, 2014. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

We were approached by Robotic Empire to contribute a song to their second compilation of Nirvana covers, but all our favorite songs from In Utero had already been claimed by other bands. So we said “fuck it” and picked the album’s lead single. This was actually our second attempt at the song. Our first attempt involved Chris replicating all the mic placements and recording techniques Steve Albini used for the In Utero sessions, but it was ultimately decided that we were adhering to too much of the original version’s character, and we took this second stab at it. Guest vocals were provided by our friends in Helms Alee. Honestly, I don’t even remember recording this.

Washburn

Originally appeared on the Japanese edition of Tail Swallower & Dove on Daymare Records, 2008. Later released stateside on the All the Saints / These Arms Are Snakes split 7” on Touch & Go Records, 2009. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

“Washburn” was initially a companion piece to “Long and Lonely Step” on Tail Swallower & Dove, but for reasons that can’t be remembered, it didn’t make it onto the album. It was originally included on the Japanese version of the album and later served as our contribution to a split 7” with our friends and tourmates All the Saints on Touch & Go Records. We felt very fortunate to have this split 7” see the light of day as we were all huge fans of Touch & Go. We’d sent the label our first demo and head honcho Corey Rusk had been very supportive and enthusiastic about the band, though hesitant to take us on so early in our existence. We managed to get this split 7” into the release queue shortly before the label went through their massive downsizing.

Old Paradise

Originally appeared on the Good Friday 7” on Suicide Squeeze Records, 2006. Recorded at Red Room Recording by Chris Common.

This is the only actual b-side on the album. Good Friday was essentially a single for “Horse Girl” off our Easter album, but we figured giving the 7” its own name would make “Old Paradise” feel equally weighted with side A. And of course, having Good Friday come out shortly before Easter seemed clever to us at the time. “Old Paradise” is another personal favorite and it tended to show up somewhat regularly in our setlists on the Easter tour cycle.

Payday Loans

Originally appeared on the Harkonen split/collaboration Like a Virgin on Hydra Head Records, 2005. Recorded by Jack Endino at The Sound House.

If memory serves correctly, this was the sixth song we wrote as a band, and it remained a live favorite through the entire duration of our existence. This was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle songs; we didn’t write it so much as it just sorta spontaneously erupted out of us at some early drunken practice. Jack Endino recorded Like a Virgin over the course of the weekend and was adamant about keeping the performances loose and the recording raw, which was the perfect treatment for the material.

Hook on This

Originally appeared on the Harkonen split/collaboration Like a Virgin on Hydra Head Records, 2005. Recorded by Jack Endino at The Sound House.

This was our other non-collaborative contribution to Like a Virgin. These were the last two songs we recorded with our original drummer Joe Preston, who would leave the band a few weeks after tracking it in December 2003. Additionally, these songs were written shortly after parting ways with our keyboard player Jesse Robertson, so it was a very transitional time for the band, which may explain why these two songs sound so different from everything else on this album. We’d done a lot of touring in 2003 and we were all worn ragged physically and emotionally, and these two songs capture that desperation and frustration.

Riding the Grape Dragon

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

We recorded our first four songs with Ben Verellen in his basement studio in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, WA sometime in late 2002 / early 2003. I remember very little of the session other than sleeping beneath the mixing console after a late night of drinking. The four songs were burned onto CD and mailed to every record label we liked. “Riding the Grape Dragon” was the first song our unexpecting recipients would hear, and it was apparently a strong enough song for people to listen to the entire CD and respond to our unsolicited demos. We got a phone call from Jade Tree just a few days after we dropped our demo in the mail… which was surprising given that we’d forgotten to include any contact info in the package. Fortunately, there were enough mutual friends between us and the label that they were able to track us down, and later in the year we’d re-record the four demo songs plus “Drinking From The Necks Of The Ones You Love” for the This Is Meant To Hurt You EP.

Run It Through the Dog

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

I don’t recall what the working title of this one was, but I remember recording the dreamy / jammy section on the latter half of the song and running the guitar through a tape delay, which had such a satisfying woozy feel to it that someone proposed that we “run it through whatever other else you got in the studio.” And there happened to be a dog in the studio, so…

Diggers of Ditches Everywhere

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

We really didn’t know what we were doing in those early days. We were all extremely opinionated when it came to music, but there wasn’t a clear idea of what we were trying to achieve sonically. Listening back to “Diggers of Ditches Everywhere,” I’m hard-pressed to say where this song came from or where we felt it fit in the landscape of underground music at the time. It’s a weird one, made even weirder years later when we slowed it down and re-recorded it with our friends Pelican years later.

The Blue Rose

Originally appeared on the These Arms Are Snakes demo, 2003. Recorded by Ben Verellen at The Metal Mansion.

And here we are at the end. Or perhaps more appropriately at the beginning. “The Blue Rose” was the first song we wrote. The original line-up of the band included our friend Bill Quinby, and he was the guy bringing song ideas to the table during those first rehearsals. He had his sights set on a much heavier and more complicated brand of music, and we weren’t managing to get a lot of usable material locked in. One day he bailed on a practice session and we opted to spend the evening jamming, and “The Blue Rose” just poured out of us. The rest is history. 

Brian Cook / Hillman City, Seattle.

Review by Paul F Cook

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