Milwaukee screamo band Snag plays ‘climate-core’
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”