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John Reis' musical résumé includes at least four defunct bands that people would pay lots of money to see today. One is Hot Snakes, a San Diego-based quartet that blends the simplicity of three-chord garage rock (à la the Wipers) with the downstrummed aural assault championed by 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.
Hot Snakes singer/guitarist Rick Froberg, bassist Gar Wood, and Reis released two albums with drummer Jason Kourkounis before he 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) for 2004's Audit in Progress. 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 drummers should participate.
The inclusion of Kourkounis and Rubalcaba playing their respective material makes this Hot Snakes reunion authentic, but Reis says having all the former members is not the sole reason the group sounds better than ever. For that, the guitarist thanks Froberg's time in Brooklyn-based Obits.
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"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."
Luckily for Reis fans, the San Diegan says the two-year hiatus of his current band, the Night Marchers, soon will end, as the group plans to release its sophomore album, Allez Allez, by the end of 2012. The singer/guitarist took a year-long break from music because of what he calls a "spinal injury."
"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. However, the same laissez-faire attitude used in Hot Snakes does not apply to Drive Like Jehu and RFTC. Reis confirmed that Drive Like Jehu was offered a large sum of money to reunite during Coachella, 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 hasn't played in 20 years for the purposes of playing Coachella."
In 2011, Reis took part in a Rocket reunion — sort of. The sextet filmed an episode of children's TV show Yo Gabba Gabba! It marked the first time the band played in front of an audience since breaking up on Halloween 2005, performing a song about "teaching kids about what a chef is and what they do."
"If Rocket's going to get back together," he says (and cryptic Facebook updates indicate 2013 could be the year that sees an RFTC reunion), "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."