Frontman Zach Stokell eyeballs the crowd, throwing a sneaky, knowing smile to a face he recognizes. The musicians surrounding him — guitarists Chris Vallee and Nao Nakashima, bassist Mark Belko and drummer Joey Cotero — hold themselves in place while mentally winding themselves up like clockwork toys. Stokell rises off of one knee, pulls the mic to his face with vicious intent, and a filthy chord drops. This is Snakefist, and it is fucking on!
Bands like Snakefist are few and far between nowadays. These denim-clad locals are equally obsessed with old-school punk and classic metal, resulting in a sound that is familiar to fans of Motörhead, the Anti-Nowhere League and Zeke.
It’s extremely unfashionable to extol the virtues of partying so unashamedly; it’s a tough line to pull in 2018 without sounding like, at best, Andrew WK and, at worst, meatheads. But the men of Snakefist care little for delicate dispositions. They’re here to get hammered, stay up all night and play heavy-as-fuck rock & roll music. Nobody’s getting hurt but themselves and their livers.
“I started the band in 2010 because I wanted a band that was rock & roll,” Vallee says. “I just felt like there was a huge void in rock & roll in general. In my opinion, there’s nothing that’s raw anymore. With us, what you see is what you get. There’s no gimmicks, we’re not trying to be anything. We don’t even care if people like us. I just want to put something out there that Lemmy would say, ‘This is OK.’ Just something that’s not diluted, not trying to make a buck. Keeping it pure.”
Back in the late 1970s and the ’80s, punk and metal fans weren’t exactly on the best of terms. But there were a few bands, including Motörhead (as well as Iron Maiden back when Paul Di'Anno was singing) who were able to cross the bridge. And it’s right in the middle of said bridge where Snakefist sit.
“That balance of punk and metal — that’s where our influences are,” Vallee says. "Me and Zach, he and I write everything together. Punk influenced my life. I grew up surfing and skateboarding, so everything from Agent Orange to Rancid, Good Riddance to Slayer and everything in between. The sound is hopefully something close to Motörhead.”
Snakefist have built up a respectable fan base playing regularly around town, blowing headliners away in every dive that will have them. They pride themselves on their live show, and well they might. They have an intensity, a passion and the ability to generate excitement in the crowd that is so very rare today.
“When I started this, I was thinking that when you go to shows it’s never exciting,” Vallee says. “Why would I go to see a band if they’re just standing there, nothing’s happening. It goes back to that old-school thing with rock & roll — bringing back that insanity, that reckless attitude. If you live it, it’s gonna come out onstage. I want the audience to have an experience they’re not gonna forget. I put together a group of guys that can go apeshit up there, that live this lifestyle too. The audience feeds off it. If it’s real, they’ll get a better experience.”
Recalling the original punk-rock ethic, this has nothing at all to do with how technically dazzling the musicians are with their instruments. They’re certainly better than adequate, but that’s not the point. Rather, this is about throwing every inch of their beings into every second of every song. They feel it, and they really fucking mean it.
“Other people may play their instruments way better than we do,” Vallee says. “We’re not even good by any means. Compared to a lot of bands, we’re terrible. But we have that live edge, and it’s the realness of what we are and what we do. A lot of people say it’s the best live show they’ve seen from a band at our level. That means a lot to me. If you come to our show and have a great time, my life’s complete.”
They’re also blessed with a superb frontman. Stokell is equal parts Iggy Pop and Dee Snider — a man who never stops moving, and who manages to make everybody in attendance feel personally invested in the show.
“Zach’s the best frontman I’ve ever seen,” Vallee says. “When me and him started writing music and doing things, I wasn’t even aware of how good of a frontman he was until we started doing live rehearsals. That was just an added bonus. I knew he was a crazy guy. We’d hang out and have crazy times together. But I never really knew it until we started putting on shows together. It all clicked. He’s the ideal frontman.”
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All of that passion and raw honesty more than makes up for the lack of lyrical depth. Fast cars, guzzling beer, ducking landlords — that’s their jam, because that’s what they know. It’s frankly a refreshing change of pace.
“I’m not trying to be glam by any means,” Vallee says. “It’s more of a GG Allin ethos than anything else. Just have fun. Just be you. Who cares what anyone else thinks? If they don’t like you for what you do, then that’s their problem. I do think rock & roll is lacking that. There’s no more balls in it. You go see a band these days and they claim to be rock & roll, but the forefathers of rock & roll would be turning in their graves if they saw what rock & roll was still being billed as. There’s no edge. It needs a new name. Whatever it is, it isn’t rock & roll. It’s just so safe now.”
Vallee concedes that there are other dangerous rock & rollers in L.A. — he throws out Leather Duchess as one particularly awesome local band to watch. But he also says there aren’t as many as he’d like to see. One can only hope that Snakefist kick-start a revival.