Jonathan Cisneros knew Snail Quail was going to trail into the bizarre, and at first, he wasn't going to drag a backing band into it.
Band breakups are hard, but you don't have to deal with that if you have a bunch of lovable weirdoes backing you up, as the guitarist found out. Employing the help of a drummer and bassist, Cisneros and Quail Co. are releasing their first full-length album, The Blurry in Between, this Saturday at Trunk Space, which is now streaming online.
With it comes the quirky, fun, more-punk-than-pop sound that the band has trekked around from art galleries to coffee houses to venues these last few years. Except this time, it's polished.
Up on the Sun: I know you started the band, but how long has the band been officially "complete?" When did Tim and Dez come into play?
Jonathan Cisneros: That's a little tricky to answer. Snail Quail started out as a solo project because I never wanted to deal with the whole "band breaking up" thing. It really bummed me out when my favorite bands called it quits, so I thought, why not skip all of that and do it this other way instead? I decided to have friends join the band for a spell to help me out for as long as it was fun. If the music is always changing then it makes more sense. I never wanted to be stuck in a genre or anything like that. Thus, the name. It doesn't have any immediate connotations. It's open to interpretation. I really like ambiguity and the freedom to write songs that will get me booed off stage some day.
Tim and I have played music on and off for a long time. We met playing music in church and kind of learned our instruments at the same time. He was the drummer in our high school band and played on the Moving On EP for some songs. I'd say everything has been a 'band' since [Dez] joined about a year and a half ago, right after we did the "Phoenix, Arizona" music video. Ever since then most shows have been super official band endeavors. I feel very lucky, like I got to hand pick these really cool, dedicated people to rock out with.
How does their presence in the band change Snail Quail's sound?
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For the album we spent a lot of time really integrating the new instruments into the songs on the album. Playing lots of shows and developing that sort of live instinct. I didn't want it to sound like me plus some a generic band. It really needed to feel like an album -- like real people playing real instruments. Most of the album was recorded live and that was only possible because we were so used to playing shows together. Overall, things just got louder and distorted-er and groovier. There's more energy on stage now! It's awesome.
I gave the new album a listen and it's super-fun. Did you record it with a theme or idea in mind?
I just wanted it to be super-honest and genuine and fun. I didn't want it to sound like it came out of some generic music machine -- that's part of why we recorded with Jalipaz (Nelson of Audioconfusion.) He has a great sense of what sonically feels right and was really into capturing what we actually sounded like, not what he wanted to make us sound like. Oh, yeah, and I hate filler songs.
This is your first full-length. Is there any pressure to make sure it sounds definitively "Snail Quail?"
I think the thing that most defines Snail Quail is being able to say what I like to pretend is what's in the back of other peoples mind's too. But, you know, I'm not a mind reader -- thank God! In that way, there's that punk spirit. If this record sets the stage for us to record another album totally different, and people who already like us are cool with that, then awesome. I'm into sad-bastard tear-in-you-beer songs [and] J-rock breakdowns. People have brains and can like more than one thing. I want to find those people with this album. That's the best part of making music, meeting other people kind of like yourself.
You've often expressed your love for Phoenix and the art gallery scene within it. With so many local bands saying they have a "love-hate" relationship with the state, what keeps your love affair going?
There are just so many great people that I've met here, it's hard not to love the place you are when you're surrounded by such amazing people. You have to be happy with where you are to be happy anywhere else. Why not start with the hottest, most sprawly, inefficient, most politically wacked-out place in the country? This place ain't so bad, just don't be a sissy.
I think the thing that most local bands "love/hate" about Phoenix is how there isn't a clear sense of community and cohesiveness, mostly because of the sprawl. I see it as an opportunity, kind of like "build your own scene!" It's really easy to get shows here but more difficult to find fans because everyone who likes you can't afford the gas to drive downtown.
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Personally, I think the Phoenix music scene could easily blow up. All it's gonna take is an Andrew Jackson Jihad or a Kinch or a band like that to get super-popular and boom! There is a ridiculous amount of talent here, just not a totally clear way to channel it -- yet. Phoenix is a very bizarre place with many quirks. New people learn to dig that very much once they adapt to the heat, then they love it. I love it. If you don't love it, get out! This place already uses up too much water anyway.
What's next for you guys?
I really love videos. We're going to be making more of those. [I've gotten into so many bands] just because they looked fun in a music video. Not to mention many concert-like events. Some of the best times I've ever had have been on a stage. That's where I turn into a "real people." The rest of the time I'm a bizzaro. It's been five years since Snail Quail started. This album has been a long time coming. I'm so happy to share it with everyone. Old friends, new faces. That's what it's all about.