Published on August 23rd, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant2
Interview: Snake River
We interview Regina’s Snake River have a new album called ‘Sun Will Rise,’ featuring a harder edge and the return of the character Reginald McKruski.
Regina’s Snake River is releasing their third album, ‘Sun Will Rise,’ continuing the narrative of a character they created named Reginald McKruski. Featuring Christopher Sleightholm, John De Gennaro, Whistlin’ Jeff M., and Dustin Gamracy, Snake River have been together for a few years now. Their new album is heavier than their previous efforts, though doesn’t eschew that in favour of a good melody. We caught up with vocalist, guitarist, and keyboard player Chris Sleightholm as they prepare to embark on a Canadian tour to ask him about Snake River, McKruski, and being a band from Saskatchewan.
(The tour starts in Winnipeg on September 1st and wraps up with shows in Saskatoon on the 23rd and Regina on the 24th).
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: How did the band get together?
CHRIS SLEIGHTHOLM: Snake River started in 2012. Originally, as an outlet to release some of the recordings I’d made on my own, ones that didn’t fit in with other various projects I was involved with at the time. I made two solo records on my own under the name Snake River before it sort of morphed into a full band around 2014.
The two latest records were recorded with the full band, and I think benefited from that. I am glad that I made those first two records though because those songs needed to get out of my brain. We don’t really play any of those old tunes anymore. The newer stuff is more oriented to our live sound, which is a lot more dynamic than the early music I whispered into microphones in closets.
TFS: Without lowering yourself to name a genre, how would you describe your music? Or, at least, what are you trying to achieve with your sound?
CS: The go-to descriptor I’ve started using is “twangy-psych,” because we’re not country, though we have some elements of that, and it’s not straight up psych because most of the guitars are clean.
TFS: Why have you decided to go heavier for this album?
CS: With this album we wanted to explore louder sounds without relying too heavily on fuzz and reverb. I am really into the psych-pop sounds of artists like XTC and Robyn Hitchcock, and I really wanted this record to contain some more accessible sounds. But it is heavier at the same time, and quite honestly on some level I think that that might have come from watching and listening to Shooting Guns. They are masters of rocking a groove, and we wanted to have some of that hypnotic element to the songs on the record. A few of the live versions of some of our old tunes did that, but we never got there on record. So I guess we wanted to bridge the gap between what we do live and what we on record, while adding poppier vocal melodies.
TFS: How did the Reginald McKruski character come about? What does he allow you to do as songwriters?
CS: The Reginald McKruski character gave me a way to say things I wouldn’t have to necessarily agree with, or have personally experienced. I came up with the idea of McKruski while at my brother’s graduation; I imagined someone going up and making the most bizarre speech, and the ensuing confusion, awkwardness and tension in the audience, because everyone would want it to stop but no one would want to go up and be the one to make him stop talking. Instead they just let him finish the weirdest fucking nonsensical speech. That’s what the song ‘Mr. McKruski Addresses The Crowd’ on our second record is.
Then the more I worked with this character the more I found there was to explore, because he lives in town too (Snake River Mountain) and interacts with all these other people. I’d be lying if I said the whole thing wasn’t very much inspired by Twin Peaks, because it is. I grew up in a small town, so Twin Peaks really resonated with me. I made up my own stories in my head about people in my hometown as a way of trying to understand the way people behave, and I think me exploring this town of Snake River Mountain through the Reginald McKruski character is me sort of continuing that. The funny thing is about small towns is that nothing much really ever happens, so the stories are quite mundane, very gossipy, and I think this all plays into the lyrics on our record.
TFS: Tell me three important things about McKruski’s character.
CS: You can go as deep as you’d like into the lyrics, but I think the key to understanding the arch of the new album is:
1) Reginald McKruski’s wife Jeanie is having an affair with another member of the town, so…
2) Reg has an affair with a woman who is much older than him; her name is Dorothy (Dot) McCrebee. Reg is a moderately-successful author, but there is another, upstart author who is somehow getting more notoriety than he his. His name is Franklin Gabriel McCrebee. So Reg goes for the two-birds-one-stone thing, and has an affair with his contemporary’s mother. This gets back at Jeanie and Franklin McCrebee, at least it does for a bit, then of course Reg gets attached…
3) The penultimate song is murder ballad, wherein Reg exacts some revenge… Don’t want to give too much away about that though. You’ll have to listen to find out.
TFS: Fair enough. Switching gears to talk a bit about music, is there any one album by another group that you guys all get jazzed about together? Not necessarily something that sounds like your music, but something you guys all bond over. Why that album? Does it influence your music in any way?
CS: We are all kind of all over the place. I don’t think there are any records at all that we all agree on. I’ve played Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon,’ or Prefab Sprout’s ‘Steve McQueen’ in the van before, and everyone pretends to like it, but I can tell they don’t.
But one record 3/4 of us have recently been really into lately is Heron Oblivion. That record is incredible. It has some Television vibes, mixed with doom and gloom, but all glazed over with folky vocals. They make two guitars necessary, like Television, where you can’t have one without the other; it’s all very interdependent. I love that they were able to incorporate elements of English folk music into their record, as I’ve become a huge fan of that in recent years. This is for sure the best, and most original record I’ve heard in a long, long time.
TFS: Who are your favourite local musicians right now?
CS: Saskatoon counts as local, right?
TFS: Yes, for sure. Sask-local.
CS: We love so many Saskatoon bands right now. Switching Yard, Radiation Flowers, Shirley and the Pyramids, The Garry’s, etc, etc. You guys have so many amazing bands. We’re always excited when we get to play with any of them.
It’s hard to pick Regina folks, because we’re all friends here, and if I forgot to mention someone I would feel bad, so I am just going to leave it at: The Steves. The best not-actually-punk-rock-yet-most-fucking-punk-rock band ever. Piper [Burns] is writing really great songs — dude’s a poet, and the fucking band rips.
TFS: What’s your least favourite thing about the Saskatchewan music scene?
CS: Honestly, no complaints here. We got it pretty good here on the prairies. We have amazing organizations like Sask Music and Creative Sask. However, my least favourite thing is how far it is to get to the eastern provinces.