John Reis' musical résumé includes at least four defunct bands whom people would pay lots of money to see today. One of those are Hot Snakes, a San Diego-based quartet who blend the simplicity of three-chord garage rock (à la the Wipers) with the downstrummed aural assault championed by the likes of Johnny Ramone. But just because the 42-year-old guitarist reunited Hot Snakes in 2011 doesn't mean he feels the same about his other broken-up groups, which is a shame when you consider they are math-rock pioneers Drive Like Jehu, criminally neglected pop band the Sultans and Rocket From the Crypt, a six-piece outfit also known as the best group of all time.
Singer/guitarist Rick Froberg, bassist Gar Wood and Reis released two albums (2000's Automatic Midnight and 2002's Suicide Invoice) with drummer Jason Kourkounis before the skinsman left the band. Needing a new drummer, the threesome enlisted the help of Mario Rubalcaba (who at the time was playing with Reis in Rocket From the Crypt) for 2004's Audit In Progress. So when Hot Snakes were offered the opportunity last year to play at All Tomorrow's Parties festival in England and Texas' Fun Fun Fun Fest, it made sense to Reis and company that both should participate.
"Having two awesome drummers is a nice problem to have," Reis says. "It makes the whole thing more special and more like an occasion for us. The people who like the band like it. They both can do it, and both want to do it, so why not?"
The inclusion of Kourkounis and Rubalcaba playing their respective material makes this Hot Snakes reunion authentic, but Reis says having all of the former members is not the sole reason the group sound better than ever. For that, the guitarist thanks Froberg's time in Brooklyn-based Obits.
"I really like the way his playing has evolved because of his time playing with Obits," Reis says. "I can see the effect on the way he approaches Hot Snakes songs, and it's really great. He sounds better than ever. His strengths are even stronger—he's more musical and everything's more comfortable."
Luckily for Reis fans, the San Diegan says the two-year hiatus of his current band, the Night Marchers, will soon come to an end, as the group plan to release their sophomore album in September. The singer/guitarist took a year-long break from music because of what he calls a "spinal injury" and has used the recent Hot Snakes shows as his first venture back into performing live.
"I don't really want to talk about it because I don't want to dwell on the negative," Reis says. "It's something I really want to put behind me because it was one of the worst periods of my life. I don't know what it was from, but I think it was something related to a lifetime of doing what I do."
Hot Snakes have no plans to write new material, but, Reis says, they have the potential to exist in some format as long as it remains fun. Similarly, the Sultans—a group Reis describes as having "low standards"—are inactive, but he doesn't rule out the possibility of a reunion. However, the same laissez-faire attitude used in Hot Snakes and the Sultans does not apply to Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt. Reis confirmed that Drive Like Jehu were offered a large sum of money to reunite during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, but the foursome declined.
"If we got back together," Reis says, "I definitely would not be interested in that reason being Coachella. I'm not saying I wouldn't play there, but I wouldn't re-form a band that haven't played in 20 years for the purposes of playing Coachella."
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In late 2011, Reis also took part in a Rocket From the Crypt reunion—sort of. The sextet filmed an episode of a children's television program on Nick Jr., Yo Gabba Gabba! This marked the first time the band played in front of an audience since breaking up on Halloween 2005. He isn't sure when the episode airs, but he did say the song they performed is about "teaching kids about what a chef is and what they do." Other than that one-off performance, Reis says, a reunion is unlikely.
"If Rocket's going to get back together," he says, "that's the kind of thing we're going to do. It's quite a commitment that needs to be invested in for it to be any good, and I don't know that I want to put that much energy into something I already did better than I can do right now."
This article appeared in print as "Reunited, and It Feels Okay: John Reis put Hot Snakes back together, but that doesn't mean his other bands will also reunite."