Mil­wau­kee screamo band Snag plays ‘cli­mate-core’

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - By Mike Hol­loway Staff writer

“What are they so an­gry about?”

I find that, ev­ery now and then when a friend is un­will­ingly sub­jected to a punk band’s music, I get asked this ques­tion.

Some­times it’s asked be­cause the per­son doesn’t un­der­stand punk music in gen­eral, or they just don’t get the ap­peal of the or­ga­nized chaos of it all.

Other times the ques­tion is asked in that snarky, “chill out, man” tone, as if there is noth­ing in this world worth writ­ing an­gry music about.

But I doubt any­one will ever have to ask the ques­tion about Snag, a three-piece screamo out­fit from Mil­wau­kee.

When I first saw the band per­form at an un­com­fort­ably packed and sweat-in­duc­ing Cir­cle A, they opened their set with a sound clip from the 1971 film Pun­ish­ment Park.

“Do you want me to tell you what’s im­moral? War is im­moral. Poverty is im­moral. Racism is im­moral. Po­lice bru­tal­ity is im­moral. Op­pres­sion is im­moral. Geno­cide is im­moral. Im­pe­ri­al­ism is im­moral. This coun­try rep­re­sents all those things.”

Snag looped this clip be­fore launch­ing into a son­i­cally crush­ing and vis­ually en­thralling set that had me ques­tion­ing when was the last time I had seen a band con­vey its mes­sage so well. Snag is an­gry about cli­mate change. Snag is an­gry about po­lice bru­tal­ity. Snag is an­gry about cap­i­tal­ism, and Snag is cre­at­ing some of the best and most hon­est melodic-screamo music in the Mid­west.

CON­CEIVED IN DE­SPAIR

Snag was con­ceived in the sum­mer of 2016 when Bryan “Socky” Wysocki — ex­drum­mer of the now-de­funct Mil­wau­kee groups Liv­ing & Wrestling and Eaten by Trees — reached out to Sam Szym­borski, ex-bassist of the also de­funct Mil­wau­kee band Marcy, about play­ing music to­gether.

Szym­borski had been writ­ing music with his high school friend Peter Mur­phy, but they were miss­ing a key in­gre­di­ent: a per­cus­sion­ist.

The tim­ing was per­fect.

It had been awhile since any of the mem­bers, who had been play­ing music for years in other projects, had been in a band. Mur­phy jok­ingly at­tributes “de­spair” as the ul­ti­mate rea­son for the for­ma­tion of the band.

“Not hav­ing (a band to play in), your iden­tity starts to erode,” Mur­phy says.

The three of them hit it off due to common in­ter­ests in and out­side of music. Both Socky and Mur­phy come from pro­fes­sional fields that are closely in­volved in the en­vi­ron­ment. Socky works as an ar­borist, re­mov­ing dead trees and pro­tect­ing liv­ing trees from in­sects such as the emer­ald ash borer. Mur­phy works for a so­lar-panel com­pany and helps com­mu­ni­ties around the Mid­west put to­gether en­ergy con­ser­va­tion pro­grams to pool mind power and as­sist with in­stalling so­lar pan­els on their homes.

The birth of Snag seemed to come as nat­u­rally as the sub­ject mat­ter of the music.

CLI­MATE-CORE

Try­ing to de­scribe your art to some­one can be a gru­el­ing task, es­pe­cially within the bounds of pop­u­lar music gen­res. Snag found a way around this by cre­at­ing a genre of its own. “Cli­mate-core” is a term that Snag coined half-jok­ingly, yet it ac­cu­rately de­scribes the music.

“It has the over­ar­ch­ing sense of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and gives it that la­bel that em­pha­sizes what we’re about,” Socky says.

Bands that fo­cus al­most en­tirely on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues are few and far be­tween. Many artists will pro­duce one or two songs that call for en­vi­ron­men­tal change, not whole al­bums or discogra­phies.

“We talk about po­lice vi­o­lence, too,” Mur­phy says. “En­vi­ron­men­tal vi­o­lence is in­ter­sec­tional with state vi­o­lence and with in­ter­per­sonal vi­o­lence. It all comes from the same logic of un­car­ing or some­thing go­ing awry in our so­ci­ety or in our own per­sonal minds.”

FIRST EP

Snag’s first self-ti­tled EP was re­leased in May 2017, pre­sent­ing six tracks that touch on cap­i­tal­ism, po­lice vi­o­lence, cli­mate change and the Kala­ma­zoo River oil spill in 2010.

The lyrics paint the pic­ture of a postapoc­a­lyp­tic world, which is later re­vealed to be our own.

The first track, “Hy­draulic Frac­tur­ing Makes the Earth Shud­der,” con­tains sam­ples from two Ok­la­homa news­casts about earth­quakes that oc­curred as a re­sult of hy­draulic frack­ing. The sam­ples over­lap, cre­at­ing an alarm­ing, panic-in­duc­ing sound that sets the tone for the en­tire EP.

“It’s about how the earth shakes back, vi­o­lently de­fend­ing it­self, or ‘wouldn’t it be great if it could,’” Mur­phy says.

The third track, “Heat,” is a ref­er­ence to the ef­fects of cli­mate change and also a ref­er­ence to a slang term for the po­lice. The track uti­lizes a sam­ple of an of­fi­cer swear­ing an oath and cul­mi­nates in a pow­er­ful cli­max where the lines “Maybe it’s the heat, but I can’t breathe” are re­peat­edly screamed, a ref­er­ence to the dy­ing words of Eric Gar­ner, an un­armed African-Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen who was choked to death by a po­lice of­fi­cer in 2015.

The EP con­cludes with “A Cen­tury of Cri­sis (For En­bridge),” a song in­spired by whistle­blower John Bolen­baugh and his ef­forts to doc­u­ment the En­bridge Oil com­pany’s im­moral and ir­re­spon­si­ble ac­tions in the wake of their Kala­ma­zoo oil spill. The song uses a clip of an in­ter­view filmed by Bolen­baugh of a Kala­ma­zoo oil spill worker cry­ing as he is asked about his opin­ion of En­bridge.

“We called (Bolen­baugh) on the phone and asked if we could use it and he gave us his bless­ing. He told me his story was be­ing op­tioned for a doc­u­men­tary, and he told us that if he liked the song, he’d put it in the movie, but then we never heard back from him,” Mur­phy says as the band bursts into laugh­ter, jok­ing about how Bolen­baugh prob­a­bly hated the song.

‘KILLING OUR­SELVES IN MORE THAN ONE WAY’

When Snag de­buted its sound at Cir­cle A, the play­ers shared the spot­light with fel­low Mil­wau­kee band So­cial Cater­pil­lar. The pair­ing fit per­fectly, and the bands agreed to re­lease a split to­gether. In De­cem­ber 2017, Snag and So­cial Cater­pil­lar re­leased a joint EP ti­tled A Dy­ing Em­peror Within a Dy­ing Em­pire.

“Our half is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from their half, but if (fans) pick up the tape, they will prob­a­bly dig both bands,” Szym­borski says.

They carry the same mes­sage, Socky adds.

Snag’s side of the split, made up of two tracks, starts off with the fa­mil­iar Pun­ish­ment Park clip that the band of­ten uses to open a live set. The track’s ti­tle, “To Chen­nai With the Skulls of Our Lost Neigh­bors Dan­gling from Our Necks,” is a ref­er­ence to farm­ers from Tamil Nadu who in 2017 protested their gov­ern­ment’s lack of as­sis­tance by wear­ing the skulls of farm­ers who com­mit­ted suicide when faced with drought and debt.

“Drought is a symp­tom of cli­mate change,” Mur­phy says. “It felt like a re­ally hu­man im­pact of cli­mate change, which is ob­vi­ously hu­man caused, but we’re killing our­selves in more than one way. It just seemed so in­sanely (messed) up, so it turned into a song.”

The other track, “Foam Cup,” is one of Snag’s heav­i­est, and wastes no time in bar­rel­ing into a catchy, riff-driven jam. Only late in the song does it mo­men­tar­ily give you a sec­ond to catch your breath dur­ing an in­stru­men­tal slow break — only to re­lent­lessly dive back in sec­onds later.

Snag and So­cial Cater­pil­lar cel­e­brated the re­lease of this split with a show at High Dive fea­tur­ing a per­for­mance from each band as well as a set by Mil­wau­kee rap­per Zed Kenzo. At­ten­dance was so high there was hardly enough room to even order a drink in the River­west bar.

‘CON­STANT GNAW­ING’

Snag’s lat­est project is a split with New Zealand band Swal­low’s Nest. A mem­ber of Swal­low’s Nest runs a music blog, Open Mind Sat­u­rated Brain, and wrote a few pos­i­tive pieces about Snag af­ter Mur­phy sent him links to the music. Af­ter ex­chang­ing mes­sages, the bands agreed to do a split re­lease.

With not much in­for­ma­tion to work from, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion limited to the in­ter­net, Snag asked Swal­low’s Nest what di­rec­tion its side of the EP was go­ing in. The band replied with one word: “vi­o­lence.”

Snag took that broad con­cept and turned it into a six-minute jam that has the band ec­static about its next re­lease.

“We got to­gether and cranked this thing out. I think it’s my fa­vorite song,” Mur­phy says with the agree­ment of the rest of the band.

The two groups are brain­storm­ing unique and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ways to re­lease phys­i­cal copies of their split, which is ex­pected in April.

“The ten­sion is, should we be pro­duc­ing more plas­tic? On the other hand, what’s a hun­dred more pieces of plas­tic if it’s for the sake of art?” Mur­phy says. “Maybe we do a flash drive, like nice wooden flash drives that will be closer to the Earth, but then it’s like ‘leave the trees alone.’”

What­ever method Snag chooses to dis­trib­ute music, it’s a safe bet that the re­lease will con­tain more of what peo­ple have come to love about the band. Its music will con­tinue to push the con­ser­va­tion agenda, avoid­ing the tired cliché of heart­break and self-dep­re­ca­tion that char­ac­ter­ize so many bands in the genre.

“You can make cool art with no mean­ing, but once you think about what you’re do­ing and why you’re do­ing it, it gives the piece more heart,” Szym­borski says.

Snag is aware that more ac­tion needs to be taken about the is­sues it em­bod­ies. But it’s a step in the right di­rec­tion to be able to pack a venue with like-minded in­di­vid­u­als, col­lec­tively ex­press­ing their con­cerns for our fu­ture.

“I don’t think writ­ing music and hav­ing that mes­sage is meant to have this self­con­grat­u­la­tory ‘we’re go­ing to bring change to these is­sues’ — it’s more like ‘this is heav­ily weigh­ing on me’,” Mur­phy says.“It’s this con­stant gnaw­ing, this con­stant din.”

PHOTO: LUKE MOURADIAN

Sam Szym­borski.

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