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Snapcase’s Jon Salemi Reflects on 25 Years of Revolutionary Hardcore

The guitarist looks back on the band's groundbreaking albums and a music scene that was "rich in spirit"

snapcase interview jon salemi

Photo by Nicole Kibert

Hardcore pioneers Snapcase are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band’s formation. The band has spend a quarter century fusing the ethics and speed of hardcore punk with the heft and thunder of heavy metal. Their trademarks include juggernaut breakdowns, the distinctive wail of vocalist Daryl Taberski, and aggressive songs illuminated by guitar harmonics and other “eclectic Snapcase high-pitched guitar noises.” The band’s songs were carefully crafted to make audiences go berserk.

Snapcase performed an anniversary show last Friday at the Town Ballroom in Buffalo, New York. I recently discussed the band’s legacy and current status with Jon Salemi, the band’s bashing rhythm guitar player” and backing vocalist. In the following interview, Salemi discusses the band’s legacy, the making of the masterpiece Progression Through Unlearning (recorded while Salemi had “full-blown chicken pox”), tour memories with Deftones, and much, much more.

For more information, view the Snapcase discography on iTunes or follow Snapcase on Facebook.


SNAPCASE TODAY

Dan Redding: What’s the current status of Snapcase?

Jon Salemi: Just a band that hangs out and plays whenever we can! (laughter) We’re not an active band by any means, but we still love getting together. We always have these intentions to get together to write music and stuff like that but it never ever happens, just because everybody’s too busy with their lives post-Snapcase, you know? And it’s kinda like we sacrificed so much shit for so many years… It was just the ultimate sacrifice. Nothing mattered, when it was time to go do the band – which was your job – you did it. I left one week after my first son was born to go tour Europe for like five weeks.

That’s commitment.

Yeah, it didn’t matter whose birthday or what holiday or who was getting married or – if it was time to go do something that was relative to the band, you went and you did it. We did that straight for like fifteen years. So, to get a little reward from that, post-active band status, is awesome. We have such a fun time when we do get together now, it’s more laughing and joking and goofing around…

If there’s not the right reaction [to our live show], then the sacrifice in this day and age isn’t worth it. You could get paid whatever the hell you wanna get paid or whatever the hell you get offered, and sometimes it’s a lucrative situation, but it’s like, if the reaction isn’t there, we could give a shit about what we got paid, you know what I mean? … Snapcase wrote songs for a reaction when we played them live. We were that band – that was what our Buffalo hardcore scene taught us to do. We wrote songs with nothing more than that in mind. ‘When is it gonna break down, and when are the kids gonna go nuts, and how much groove does this verse have? Can you dance to it in our way that we dance to things?’

“When is it gonna break down, and when are the kids gonna go nuts, and how much groove does this verse have?”

FOUNDATIONS

Snapcase formed in 1991, do you remember a moment when you knew that you guys had something special?

It’s so funny because in ’91, Daryl was the only member that’s a member of the band now that was a member of the band then… I was in the band probably springtime of ‘92… Everybody that wasn’t in Snapcase, we all loved Snapcase. So, what Snapcase ended up to be was all the serious kids from all the other bands in Buffalo. It ended up to be the guys that were serious in this little band or serious in that little band… By the time we all got everything sorted out… the five of us were like, ‘Alright, well we’re ready to roll with these five guys,’ and that was about the end of ’92, beginning of ’93. When we got the deal with Victory, it just opened up these doors like crazy.

What year did Snapcase sign with Victory Records?

That was ’92. The ‘Comatose’ seven inch came out in ’92. We had a really good scene in Buffalo, and like regionally in Erie and Albany… The real steam started rollin’ summer of ’93 when that seven inch was out and we had some support from Victory… Philadelphia, to this day, is still the best city that Snapcase can play.

Such an intense, loyal scene there.

It’s amazing, man, and it built from the ground up. When we would headline the Trocadero from the late nineties and early 2000’s, twelve or fifteen hundred kids sold out… I remember one weekend, we went and played Philly, North Jersey, and then New York City… It was just so freakin’ intense, each show was just like, how could you go an hour and a half away and there’d be another fifteen hundred to two thousand kids, at the next big city, and then you go an hour away to New York, and there was a whole ‘nother thousand kids at the show… It was so rich in spirit at that time.

That must’ve been so exciting.

Yeah, it was awesome, it was like you were riding around in the van on this high. The emotions… you’d walk onstage, you wouldn’t even hit a chord and kids are starting to go crazy. Really cool time period, really cool era…

Daryl Taberski and Jon Salemi

Daryl Taberski (left) and Jon Salemi

THE MAKING OF ‘PROGRESSION THROUGH UNLEARNING’

Snapcase made some of the fastest and most intense and aggressive music I’ve ever heard. Progression Through Unlearning is a classic – it’s so motivating and driving! What motivated the writing process of that record? Was it the Buffalo scene and making the live crowds freak out, or was it youthful adrenaline? What was the driving force?

That was basically it, really. There was a bit of angst in the band, too – but I don’t really think that played a part in how aggressive the music was. Buffalo had a very, very metallic side of its hardcore. It was really influenced by Cro-Mags and Leeway and a lot of us got into Corrosion of Conformity and thrash metal stuff. So it kind of got this really weird crossover. But at the same time, we were like punk-hardcore-straightedge kids. So we wrapped up a bunch of these different styles, and that’s what came out. We all had a lot of different musical influences too…

What do you remember about recording Progression Through Unlearning?

It was very, very quick. To be honest with you, the worst part about it is, I got the chicken pox as a 22 year-old kid, right as we started recording Progression Through Unlearning… Full-blown chicken pox so bad, I had ‘em on the palms of my hands.

You recorded in that condition?

I finished tracking guitars with full-blown chicken pox.

Maybe that explains a lot of the aggression on the record!

(laughter)

Where did you guys record it?

Trax East in Jersey.

And had you written everything before you went into the studio?

Everything except for ‘Zombie Prescription’ and ‘Breaking and Reaching,’ which were written in the studio. ‘Breaking and Reaching’ was almost all the way done and then we finished it in there – but ‘Zombie Prescription’ was not even a thought, until one night in the studio, we were just kinda jamming, and it happened. About fifteen minutes later it was a song.

Those are two of the fuckin’ meanest songs on that record.

(laughter) For ever and ever, we practiced in my parents’ house in the basement. For that record, we needed to start practicing later… We got this little dingy-ass practice studio that was over by my family’s racecar shop. I’d go there about five o’clock, and turn the little space heater on, and by the time we practiced at seven, it was warm enough that we could actually practice in there. It was the typical thing – one or two lights, incandescent bulbs, everybody was plugged into the same circuit, so all of our amps are like [makes buzzing sound] –

I was gonna ask about that, because you guys kinda used that, thematically, on the production of that album. There’s intense amp buzzing and electrical crackling. It almost becomes a theme of breaking down – the sound is corrosive in the some of these songs, does that make sense?

Oh, yeah.

Does that come from playing through shitty blown-out amps?

No, we were equipment whores, actually. We loved equipment. Frank and I would have gear battles all the time – who could buy the bigger shit, or who could buy the more expensive stuff – we loved having nice gear… When Dustin joined the band, he was right on point with Frank and I… wirelesses, power conditioners with all this fancy shit in ‘em, wirelesses before anyone had wirelesses and all that kinda crap… We liked to make dirty noises, but do it cleanly. We got into pedals and stuff like that. You can kinda start to hear some of the weird pedal stuff coming out in Progression, and we used a lot more in Designs for Automotion. We started doing more pedal stuff live.

“We liked to make dirty noises, but do it cleanly.”

You mentioned the wireless guitar – I’ll never forget seeing you guys hurl your guitars around your bodies!

That was Frank’s signature move, the ‘around the world’ thing, you know?

When did that start?

I think that happened on a dare – and then it just became part of the show. And then one time, the strap broke, and a guitar went flying through the air! (laughter)

When Progression came out, did you notice an immediate impact?

Huge. It was like, all of a sudden, the shows went from two- or three-hundred people to a thousand people. It was an eruption. The first royalty check came from Progression and it was a substantial amount of money for all of us, we were like, shitting our pants! It was like, how the hell could this happen, and here it goes… kinda cool.

What do you think about the legacy of that album now? It’s considered a landmark.

It’s funny, it’s one of those things that you could never ever try and do. It just happened. Everything about that record just happened – we recorded it and mixed it all in like thirteen or fourteen days. There was no time to go back and like, ‘Oh, I don’t like the sound of the guitars in that part’… It was just on and on loud and raw. We wanted to capture – that whole record happened because we couldn’t capture our live sound on a record [until Progression]. We went in with everything about capturing the live feel on that record. So that was the whole goal of that album: to capture what we did onstage on a record. Steve Evetts produced and recorded that record with us, and that’s what the goal was with him.

And how did he and the band accomplish that?

That part of it was a lot of [Evetts’ work]. Technology played a part in it as well. Deadguy’s Fixation on a Coworker record, we thought the recording sound of that was so awesome and raw… We were like, ‘we need to go talk to that dude.’ We got a hold of him… We sent him our demo tapes, off of a ghetto blaster from our practice studio, no vocals, just the music… he really liked them, and we just kept telling him, ‘We gotta capture what we are live on the album.’ He did a damn good job.

Did all of the musicians in the band record separately?

Yes. We played along with Tim while he was doing the drum tracks, but the bass and the guitars weren’t [being recorded]… Later, when we recorded End Transmission, Tim recorded all of his drum tracks without any music – just the click track in his earphones. He would count in four or eight and play the song to the click, without anybody else playing to him. He was just really, really in tune… completely absorbed in the music, there was just nothing else. It got like that many times when we went to record. And when we would go record, we became such better musicians. Way better musicians. Because you were forced to play perfectly… You wanted to make it a machine. And it was so serious, but yet, outside of that… we were all pretty goofy, and trying to have a good time.

Continued on page 2…

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