Bandscene: Pick Up the Snake sheds old players, gains new drive

A reconfigured lineup has helped Pick Up the Snake develop new momentum.

Photo by Wendy Sorenson

A reconfigured lineup has helped Pick Up the Snake develop new momentum.

Since 2004, Knoxville-based stoner metal act Pick Up the Snake has made tracks throughout the Southeast region and landed a slew of opening spots on hot-ticket gigs. Having recently opened for the likes of Jesco White, Hellyeah, The Sword, Joe Buck and Bam Margera, this year looks to be a watershed for the band, which has reconfigured its lineup and priorities.

Touring with the notorious Jesco White from 2009 to 2012, Pick Up the Snake racked up enough stories to populate a compelling “Behind the Music” episode, but the band was left with more memories than tangible assets. The tour, assembled by Storm Taylor (producer of the documentary “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia”), was designed to showcase a variety of music to be capped off by the headlining sideshow of Jesco White’s table-top dance numbers. Aside from Pick Up the Snake’s heavily improvised one-song performance with White at each show, the pure spectacle of the tour’s main attraction would have left many dissatisfied had it not been for the opening musicians propping up the show.

“I’d always go to the bathroom to see what the reactions were,” recalls Pick Up the Snake front man Nathan Wright. “People would start out saying, ‘I can’t believe we have to sit through three bands before we see Jesco.’ Then I’d stand outside 15 minutes after Jesco started and see people leave, saying, ‘If you hadn’t played I’d have felt like we lost our money.’ So we gained fans. It’s hard when you’re touring with someone who’s more of an icon than a musician.

“We were doing really well. ... With respect, it being a dancing monkey show, it got to be where people wondered if they were going to see Jesco die each night. As all that closed down, our bass player fell in love with the merch girl and took off to Indianapolis with her to get married, and the guitar player, I guess, is following him there to start another band. The whole plan was that they were going to come every other weekend to jam and do shows, but you just can’t write or get things together like that. It’s like having a long-distance relationship.”

Losing half of its four-man roster seems to have proven a blessing in disguise for Pick Up the Snake. While still considering its former players honorary members, the act found key supplements in bassist Adam Mathews (of Atlanta’s Moonwater) and guitarist Shelley White. With these additions, Pick Up the Snake has seen an increased capacity for networking as well as commitment to the project. The band, who has only a couple of EPs to speak of in nearly a decade, has already entered the studio with its new lineup and is looking to begin formulating a new batch of material shortly after its next release.

“We’re all about going into the studio, it’s just about finding the money,” Wright admits. “With the old band I pretty much had to do everything. Since the new band got together, we’ve got members that are actually contributing to things. When Adam and Shelley joined, we were 86th in local rankings on Reverb Nation. Now we’ve moved to number 9 within a few shows.

“It’s good to have members who are into having gear more so than having beer. Having a professional attitude and professional people who own their own strings and instruments, it’s almost a problem with them having too many Les Pauls.”

With a new crew on board, Pick Up the Snake’s zeal is renewed. Direct communications and networking are the cornerstone of the group’s methodology. The band cites its connections for landing the major gigs it’s played of late, opting for the personal touch rather than employing cyber-nagging campaigns. Though always happy to play before audiences numbering in the hundreds, the band seems almost more enthusiastic to spend time with the big names they open for, noting that the strength of word-of-mouth is proportional to the size of the mouth that spreads it.

“To me, with some of the connections we have, it gives us a chance to become friends with some of these bands more so than just calling them up,” Wright says. “These bands get so many calls from so many sucky bands, half the time they’ll blow you off just for the fact you called. When you get a chance to actually hang out with these bands and do a good show, they’re more likely to tell someone else — the old word of mouth instead of the new media app thing. The problem is there’s just not enough bands coming through Knoxville. For some reason they bypass us. It’s really hard to get those kinds of bands here for some reason. With NV opening and Blackstock opening, I think it’s gonna get better.”

Saturday Pick Up the Snake performs in the second night of The Well’s Uh-merican Rock-n-roll Revival, sharing the bill with Matt Woods and Jocephus and the George Jonestown Massacre. Friday night’s lineup comprises The Melungeons, The Bad Dudes and La Basura del Diablo. A wristband for admission to both nights costs $7. Entry for a single night is $5. Music begins at 10 p.m. both nights.

Scrufftown girl: Preservation Pub hosts the Scruffy City Showcase Monday night. The 10 p.m. show features all local acts, including Love Animals, Mobility Chief, Crumbsnatchers and Cereus Bright. Admission is $3.

Guy/girl ratio: Local husband-and-wife-fronted folk act Guy Marshall takes the stage for a free 10 p.m. show at Barley’s Taproom Monday night.

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