interview with Carl Snow…
by DAVE HYDE from DESTROY WHAT BORES YOU 2002
On the strength of their one EP, KoRo is one of my all time favorite bands. They played a stripped down, raw brand of hardcore that’s as fast as can be while maintaining amazing song writing qualities. That’s to say, I don’t think you can write songs that are simultaneously faster and more catchy than KoRo did. Along with bands like Deep Wound, Die Kruezen, Anti-Cimex, Void, and Poison Idea, they raised the bar and pushed the limits as to what you could accomplish musically in the genre of hardcore. Unfortunately, those high standards haven’t even been challenged.
I managed to get in touch with the founder and main songwriter of this band. The smile didn’t leave my face for a few days after Carl first wrote me, and the opportunity to pick his brain and get to know him was more than welcome. While many thought KoRo had disappeared off the face of the earth I found out that, quite to the contrary, Carl is still as passionate about music as ever. I was able to learn a great deal about their history and that the short lived band wasn’t just a one night stand in Carl’s life as a musician. I’ll excerpt from a recent article on Knoxville’s musical history written by Mike Gibson as a way of introduction:
Two of the remarkable guitarists who emerged from that milieu were burly, tattooed axe-mangler Carl Snow and Van Halen-obsessed Bearden kid David Teague, the foundation of Knoxville’s Koro in 1982. That hardcore unit set out to be “the fastest, tightest band in the world…and they came damn close,” remarks Sewell. “They blew everybody else out of the boat. The first time I heard them, they scared me.” The singular ferocity of the outfit (their lone 7-inch is now a punk-rock collector’s item) owed much to the skills of those two players. Both were chameleons, capable of adapting their styles to multiple contexts, but best-known for their fast, impeccably tight rhythms and rabid solos. “Carl is as talented a musician as has ever been in Knoxville; he can play anything effortlessly, and he can write it out on music paper,” says Sewell. Snow played in a handful of other locally-renowned outfits (Red, Whitey…), as did Teague. But Teague’s questing took him to points West, where he would record an independent album with the Los Angeles band Muzza Chunka. The band later broke up, but the six-string deities smiled on this particular son of Knoxville guitartistry. Today, he’s a member of the long-running and very successful punk band the Dickies and has appeared on the group’s last two albums.
DAVE HYDE: You started getting into music in Knoxville, TN in the late 70’s, right? Was there anything happening there locally or did you just start getting into other stuff you heard?
CARL SNOW: The guys I was hanging ’round those days…well, we had the XTC LPs, SOME Sham 69, Ruts, Stiff Little Fingers, etc, but not much HC (as it was not recognized yet). We (some of us landed in KoRo) had a band in 1979… whew now I feel old. I’m the guy who started KoRo, then I got Dave Teague on board.
DH: How did you go from that first band to KoRo?
CS: Dave Teague used to hang around the Trivia Birds practices and shows, and was/is a good friend. I was “over” the Birds and searching for more and needed a bigger GIT sound. I thought of Dave. The bassist for T-Birds was Danny, Ron’s younger brother (not a great bassist). Greg was an incredible drummer, but he was forming Turbine-44 with Trey and Bart so I could not get him. We (Dave and I) found out our long time buddy Ron was a really good bassist, but we needed a drummer. Dave knew this guy in a metal band named Bill (god, was he good). We played him the Germs LP and got him to join. For a while I did the vocals a well as (twin leads) guitar, but those songs were very physically demanding to play (the speed) and I would get dizzy after a few songs. So we hunted with no luck until one day, Scott (Bills much older half-brother) got dragged to practice. We were fuckin’ around playing “Amoeba” and “Kids of the Black Hole” by the Adolescents and “Revenge” by Black Flag or something like that when he walked in the garage. He knew the songs! We asked if he’d sing to “Gimme a Break,” and BLAMO!, he was in. That’s the formation of KoRo.
DH: What about the name Koro?
CS: The name KoRo (also – shookyong) was found in Ron’s psychology book (he was the “older guy” in the band and was in college). It was/is a mental disorder that at the time was prevalent among Asians (mainly Japanese) To paraphrase from memory: “Men suffering from Koro (shookyong) have an overwhelming fear that their genitals will be sucked into their body as they sleep. This causes extreme sleeplessness and panic, sufferers have their mates HOLD their genitals as they fall asleep or by a CLAMPING DEVICE (haha) to hold the genitals in place.” Now if YOU were 15 or 16 and YOU read THAT SHIT while wanting to name your new band something… how the fuck could you resist!?
DH: So THAT’s what KoRo means… always figured it was either nonsense or some obscure word with a deep meaning. Well, maybe it is in a way. Ha. Was there much of a local scene by the time KoRo started playing? What bands were from around there besides you guys?
CS: Sure, great “scene” as scenes go, I suppose. All “scenes” start fairly well only to dissolve into smaller cliques and factions. ’79-’85 some great things happened. Knoxville for a while, was almost a shared scene. Bands traveling found K-town a great layover between say “Atlanta, Nashville, Athens etc.” so the Athens/Atlanta/Nashville thing (Chattanooga to some extent) “helped”. We had B-52’s, Big Star, REM, Brains, 86, Lets Active playing here a lot as they shared our region. Some brilliant K-town bands ’79-’85 would be Balboa – incredible and incenerary, the best o’ the best by far! A few tunes on local compilation, a BRILLIANT 12″ EP (brown cover , then “live like this”), 5-Twins–great teen-love song power pop, Jelly Babies… Later there was STD’s (Jon “vox” later was in Whitey w/ me), Turbine 44 (also later incarnations = Turbine 25, L7 “box”), Beyond John, who had a great self titled LP, WH-WH (T-hills band after Balboa) great stuff, UXB, The Scam (Dave’s pre-KoRo band), Iron Hawg, The Wedge (Dave’s post KoRo band), Real Hostages who were later Smokin’ Dave and the Premo Dopes. They had some good output, a few CDs…not my fav though I like all the guys a lot. Also Hector Qirko Blues Band (Hq’s band after Baloa) who are STILL great still a band, Semi-Conductors, another great T-hill band, Teenage Love, Barbed Wire Shela, and on and on…
DH: Knoxville’s music history was richer than I’d thought. Was it just local bands or did touring groups pull through town?
CS: We played with too many bands over the years to remember: Decendants, Ramones, Big Boys, Dicks, SOA, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, TSOL, Channel 3, Scream, Chili Peppers, Iggy, and so on. The most fun show was us and Circle Jerks in 1982(3?). The DK show was hilarious. Another funny story was eating with Black Flag. Hank ending the meal in a food fight with. And Ian (Minor, Fugazi) and crew’s odd eating regiment (always stayed at my place…very funny).
DH: The EP that you guys put out is easily one of my favorite records, but not many people even know it exists. You didn’t press very many copies of the record. I’ve heard 300 copies, is that right? How was the reaction to the record, did it sell well, was it well received?
CS: You mention us pressing 300 copies… naw, it was 500. We opened for the Dead Kennedys at the 688 club in Atlanta. Jello was a fan, he gave me some whiskey and I ended up selling records out of the box at that show…then (me+Jello+whiskey) I ended up getting convinced to let Jello take the rest of the EP’s to California for us. That’s why they ended up missing… and also why the EP is so bootlegged.
DH: Oh yeah… Jello took all the records to California? That’s strange. Did he sell all the copies, or did they get lost. Or are they all sitting in his basement still.
CS: Well… I knew Jello for a very short while but from what I know about him he probably forgot that the box was in the van until they cleaned! He was theorizing about governmental issues while reading a book by Karl Marx while drinking.
DH: Oh, also, I was actually having a conversation with someone about the KoRo record, and he mentioned that many copies were sleeveless, some had the oversize sleeve, and a few had an offset printed sleeve. Is that true? I never knew about the offset version.
CS: The original EP was regular size with gatefold cover and a hand written phone number inside and “the baby” on the EP itself. What you are referring to must be one of the many bootlegs out there. So, all told, baby plus phone plus lyrics plus old English KORO writing (cover- Koro, 8 songs for a grave age), hand done back and sleeve is original…..ANY others are boots.
DH: Why aren’t there any lyrics to “Acid Casualty” on the record?
CS: My mom an pop “put up” the 400 bucks for the ep and we told them “Acid Cassualty” was an anti-drug song, when in fact it was about the band getting high! So you can understand why at 16 years of age I would not include those lyrics. They would have worried my parents. Funny thing: after a while KoRo went “straight-edge”, haha. Mentioning Bart and Trey (friends then) and the “goings on” would not have been good at the time.
Lyrics to “Acid Casualty”:
Bart’s got the ludes, Bart’s got the speed
he’s a great guy, he’s all we need
people call us queer, people call us tweeked
we keep right along X 3
we keep snortin’ speed
I start to mumble, I can only stumble, my thoughts all crumble like saltine crackers, I’m fucking up and I don’t know what to do!
At Trey’s house…
I believe that’s accurate… been awhile.
DH: The first song, “700 Club”, is, obviously enough, about Pat Robertson and the religious right. How prevalent was evangelical religion in the early 80’s in Tennessee?
CS: I wrote this whole mess after getting sick of Pat Robertson and co. Also, these religious zealots used to harass the fuck out of us at school. They called themselves “young life.” It was just an excuse to get drunk Friday at the high school football game and repent later. They used to follow us around trying to “save” us. Great Bill drum fills and me trying to play a solo in less than 2 seconds.
DH: “Nauseous” makes reference to Carl and David. Is that self-referential/is there any story behind that or was it just a coincidence that the names used happened to be the names to two members?
CS: Haha, deep song. On the surface I wrote it about me and Dave puking, but it had a twist. A lot of shit made me wanna puke in those days. Me and Dave hurling after a bottle of something was an unintented “cover” for everything making me wanna puke. Another funny thing. Blap! is about a dumb girl we all knew who did one to many Qualudes fell down and asked “did I go ‘blap?'”, haha. Nauseous. As I said earlier Richard (RIP) Creekmore wrote the words. It started as a TRIVIA BIRDS song (Me, Danny (bs) [Ron’s younger brother!] and Greg [Later of (forget the name) “The Obsessed?”…dunno]). At the time Dave had a band called THE SQUAD (hence the line calling him “Dave Squad”) Richard called him D-Squid. We used to play this beautiful dump with Dave’s “SQUAD”, Greg’s TURBINE 44 (yup, he was in 2 bands at the time), and Jon’s band JELLY BABY’S (later called STD’s). The original (TRIVIA) version was without the intro and outro – Greg could have played it, but Danny was not that great on bass. KoRo decided to do it cause we all dug it, but it needed the “KoRo” signature on it somewhere. At first I was like, well, I like it like as it is, then under pressure (and help) from Dave it was decided to add the intro and outro. I said “o.k. lessee if we can play this!” “Ha!” “I’ll show them” The intro is a tough cord progression to say the least, but the guys nailed it. So me wanting still to fuck with them said, “yeah but at the end I wanna do the intro again DOUBLE TIME!!” I thought I had ‘em but was wrong (thankfully). This is my favorite Dave solo ever! He nailed it in one take… one note at the solo intro is OFF the neck (high) and Dave was determined to “get it” so he practiced the lick forever with great result. Note: Dave always “wrote” his solo’s and prided himself on reproducing them. I always just played whatever came to mind (solo wise). I’ve noticed the difference in Dave’s and my lead styles: what a hoot Dave=Ozzy, metal lead and Carl=Hendrix, jazz, blues lead. The intro/outro became a critical part (years later) of WHITEY’s “Guns, Bibles, and Beer”. Man, I miss Richard. By the way, he did get quite ill at a show at Bundulees. We had (pre-show) listened (at Greg’s house) to the ENTIRE Phillip Glass Opera “Einstein On The Beach” while tripping and drinking. It was enough to fuck with anyone’s stomach!!