Like the earlier Pitchfork and Drive Like Jehu, San Diego’s Hot Snakes was led by singer/guitar-slinger Rick Froberg and guitarist John Reis. Begun in 1999 as a Reis side project during a break from his duties as frontman for Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes was a more primal and simplistic Drive Like Jehu; while that band often got bogged down by epic songs so complicated that the group had trouble remembering all of the parts when playing live, Hot Snakes was more about bashing its audience over the head with straightforward rock songs played very loud. Froberg and Reis were ably assisted in their war on mediocrity by bassist-keyboardist Gar Wood and drummer Jason Kourkounis, who left in 2003 and was replaced by Mario Rubalcaba. Hot Snakes was truly a DIY project: members did the production, Froberg created the album art and Reis released it all on his Swami Records imprint.
With Rocket from the Crypt drummerless and dangling like a dingleberry in record label limbo, Reis recorded a batch of songs with Delta 72 drummer Jason Kourkounis. He then got former bandmate Froberg to sing on them. Most of the results were issued in 2000 as Automatic Midnight (the first-ever Swami release), which opens in style with the rollicking “If Credit Is What Matters I’ll Take Credit.” Froberg screams himself hoarse like a man being trampled at a Who concert, hollering “Wall: up against it.” Things only get uglier from there, though the band does loosen the straps every once in a while with slow jams like “Salton City” and “Our Work Fills the Pews.” Gar Wood (of Beehive and the Baracudas, Tanner and Fishwife fame) was brought in to work the thud-staff when the band finally hit the road in support of the record. Tour finished, Reis returned to Rocket from the Crypt and Hot Snakes took a powder.
The band reconvened in 2002 to record Suicide Invoice, arguably its best effort, and tour. The mostly mid-tempo album is more experimental than its predecessor, incorporating organ, melodica and seriously clever offbeat lyrics (as in “Ben Gurion,” “Paid in Cigarettes” and “Gar Forgets His Insulin”).
Kourkounis left the following year to play full-time with Burning Brides (another gig he eventually abandoned), and Reis once again returned to Rocket from the Crypt.
When Hot Snakes resurfaced in 2004 with Audit in Progress, Rocket from the Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba — also of Black Heart Procession, Clikatat Ikatowi, 411 (not to be confused with hemp-rockers 311), and Chicanochrist — was on hand to bash the drums senseless. Audit in Progress, the most ferocious record in the Hot Snakes discography, rarely lets up; it pummels without mercy. Hot Snakes toured extensively in support of Audit in Progress; a British leg resulted in the four-song Peel Sessions EP. (Peel died shortly after the performance was recorded, making it one of the last in the highly venerated series.)
In May 2005, while on tour in Australia, Hot Snakes played live at ABC studios for the radio station JJJ; this session, a blistering set of songs played down ‘n’ dirty, was released as Thunder Down Under in 2006, by which time Hot Snakes had disbanded.