The Abominable Snow Lotion; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Snow
There was a guy we used to know — he got his real estate license. One of the listings was of a house that was complete trash and, in the family that had lived there, the wife killed the kids and husband, then herself. (A death is part of that disclosure thing, so our friend got the details from the listing.) There was no way he was gonna be able to sell this, and he was pretty new, so…
Anyway, me and a few other people go check it out one night. It’s December. It was freezing out and it was sleeting. We circled the house looking for a way in — it’s like 11 p.m. by this point. There was a big fly that was on the outside wall. In freezing weather, no flies should be around and, if they were, it would be way too cold for their wings to work. I joke that it’s an evil omen.
As we go from side to side to side around the house, the fly stays with us — always following and landing on the outside wall. My friend sees an upstairs window that is missing. It’s a brick side of the house, so he climbs up. I climb up after him (we were young and climbing a frozen brick wall with our fingertips was dumb…) He gets to the top, draws blood on a nail sticking out by accident. [Ed. Note – Drawing blood in a story like this is always bad news. Always.]
In the bedroom we climb into, the door is closed and there are holes in the wall, and padlocks on all the doors. So, we climb down. Soon after, we find a basement window that is knocked in, but we find it only after we have done all of this. It’s big enough to crawl through, so we go in.
Personal impressions always seem like a waste in stories like this, because there’s no impact outside of the person experiencing it, but I can say I have been to many, many Weird NJ locations and abandoned buildings. By this point, I had failed out of the first semester of county college because of being out ‘till 4 in the morning every night exploring scary places – eventually no sleep took its toll, I got mono, and had to withdraw from school in November, so it was too late for it not to be a fail. I was aware that the creepy feeling we always got was the anxiety of facing ‘unknown’. It’s a normal feeling of anxiety that could be hazardous surroundings, drug addicts, ghosts — who know? It’s just a generalized feeling of extreme caution.
This was the first place I had ever been to that I felt something different. It was heavy, oppressive, and depressive. It was a weight in the air, like the darkness was thick, like our realm had a herniation where an anti-realm perforated through in this three-dimensional space.
I had never felt that before – except once, when I was younger, on such a small scale I didn’t recognize it until this happened years later. We go to the top of the stairs and look out the door and the entire second floor was caved in to the 1st floor, and I understood why they had padlocked the bedroom doors!
This was around ’99 – ’00, by the way. We couldn’t go more than a few feet without being in danger, so we looked around at what we could do, and were no more than five feet from the top of the stairs. I was standing closest to the doorway with my friend. Both of us were looking around the ground with flashlights.
We both saw a large clump of long hair. It was clearly not animal hair; it had some curling to it and was too long. It looked like someone cut about 6 to 8 inches of their ponytail off.
We both looked at it. She touched it with her sneaker. It recoiled from her foot and writhed, almost like when you step near an earthworm and it pulls away. I never saw anything like that happen. It was something that shouldn’t be able to happen, but was happening anyway, right there in real life. We both saw it.
This was without a doubt about a handful of human hair that just pulled away from someone’s foot. It wasn’t like it was tapeworms or something, it had… it was curled human hair. We all ran down the stairs and clamored out the window. My eyes teared when I first saw it move. Not from fear or sadness, but from total shock at the impossibility.
We all ran back to the car. Some of us felt sick. That is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. I also saw a “long” deer one time. That’s the other time my eyes teared up unexpectedly. It was like if a deer had a dachshund version but not with short legs. Still, the hair was weirder. –John
When they sit in the living room and laugh, you can hear it from outside the house.
Later on, when they go down in to the basement to jam, it’s the same – the noise swells from beneath the street, beneath the old house on the corner.
Having crawled through a rift in spacetime at some indeterminable point in the mid-to-late eighties, the band’s unsettling Geiger-esque meat-flower head occasionally manifests the face of a friendly 30-something white dude – sometimes Jeff’s, John’s, Steve’s, or Brian’s – and says something funny before melting back in to a stew of unidentifiable Lovecraft-inspired terror.
Snow Lotion are suburban New Jersey punks who grew up and got relatively stable, adult jobs (like, with a dress code and stuff), but still want to make cool, sometimes weird music. They don’t take it too seriously, and don’t expect them to tour much. They practice most Saturdays for a few hours in the afternoon. Three out of four of them use Spotify, while the fourth advocates YouTube. Three of the four are on Facebook. Only one of them is married, and none have children.
[On Gremlins 2: The New Batch]
Brian: What I do like is that they gave all the gremlins personalities. That was pretty funny.
[On Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation]
John: Every line that [Matthew] McConaughey delivers is absolute gold.
Brian: Yeah. He delivers every single line at a fifteen –
John: Yeah – yeah he does.
Brian: Either it’s a quiet fifteen or it’s a loud fifteen, but it’s always a fifteen.
The first of two times I invade the sanctity of a Saturday afternoon practice, I enter to the prolegomena to the actual rehearsal – a session of Xbox, early aughts hip-hop, and bullshitting. I’m offered and accept a seltzer – which I only drink half of in the course of like, three hours, and end up forgetting half-drank on the uneven concrete floor of the basement, beneath the folding chair from which I’ll eventually watch the band perform.
Later, in the basement, Jeff will look at me as the squeal from his or Steve’s guitar fades and tell me about the new material they were nice enough to play for me.
“That’s definitely the best we’ve ever done that song.”
But first, we talk for well over an hour upstairs, our laughter carrying out in to the street as storm clouds roll in.
Eventually, the talk turns to time signatures, tempo changes in their songs, new chord progressions, and I’m not really in the room anymore. There’s a whir and a click, and a hum, and everything hangs in place between the four of them, and they rise, head single file through the kitchen to the stairs. They descend, pick up their instruments, and I take my seat off to the side, put my seltzer half-drank on the stone floor, and listen.
John: I have an extreme sense of smell – so, I’m gonna say, lacewing flies are one. Millipedes. I like petrichor – it’s the smell of the ground after it rains.
Steve: I like sandalwood and santo palo – it’s like a root you burn.
Brian: Campfire and skunk.
Snow Lotion’s debut release, “You Should Have This Back,” came out earlier this year, on an inauspicious mid-April day. Six songs and just shy of twenty minutes. Catchy in a grimy way, it displays a range of influences, from the obvious (Melvins, Jesus Lizard) to twisted variations on pop punk hooks; “Spider Grenade” starts with a straight up metal riff and ends with an unexpected but welcome blue-inspired coda.
The vocals are haunted moans, at times groveling, always strained and anxious. The lyrics are obscure. “I’m more interested in the sound of the words and where they are with the music,” says bassist/singer John, “I will listen to the music or play it, and fill in words where it sounds right and then fix it up later when I sit down and think about it.”
“But, there are definitely ‘waypoints’ that I get down as it is happening and then build backwards and forwards after it. It’s almost like if you grow a crystal in a glass of water, you got to dilute all the material you want in to the water so it’s supersaturated. Then, you need one little flaw for it to start to collect on. So, when we’re making a new song, I’ll say whatever stream of consciousness is coming through my head until I hear the right combination of note and syllable together. Then, I figure the words that will fit that. It kind of grows backward from that.
It’s a process that results in lines like, “I’m a mess, and you’re alone in a floating cemetery/I’m a mess and you’re its own, and it’s only temporary” (from “WMGN”), and, “I know you swam through holy water/It’s okay” (from “Neutral Gusta”), which morphs in a later verse in to, “You look like a snake in holy water”. It’s a pretty fascinating exercise in the malleability of spoken language.
“A lot of times, it doesn’t always make grammatical sense, but I’m a certified proofreader, so believe me,” John explains, “it’s deliberate, or purposefully overlooked.”
As with any band where the vocals obfuscate an immediate understanding of their lyrical content, the process of uncovering and deciphering the various turns of phrase weaved around the killer licks and turbulent drum fills of “You Should Have This Back” is half the fun. The EP is scattered through with delightfully strange poetic turns (see the above cited examples), and the odd intertextual reference; “WMGN” contains a reference to “Way Down in the Hole” by Tom Waits; there’s a Fleetwood Mac reference in “Spider Grenade”; and most notably, the lyrics to “90’s BP” directly call back to a song by The Jam.
[On paranormal encounters/UFOs]
Steve: I’ve seen some pretty weird shit in the sky.
Brian: I’m pretty oblivious to the world around me. You know, I live a very deep internal life. I’ll see something weird and I’ll retreat inward – like I’ll think about it a lot and try to debunk it.
John: I’ll e-mail you on that. It would take me like twenty minutes just to get warmed up.
Steve: I saw what I thought was a flare – I didn’t think much of it at first, but then it hung in the air and it started changing colors – from red to white to green, red to white to green – and then it took off at top speed –
Brian: Yeah, dude – that was China flying an Italian flag – clearly. Haven’t you ever seen that?
Categorically, Snow Lotion are amorphous. Think of their style as like the tragedy mask wearing the comedy mask. Emo for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. Jeff and Brian explain:
Jeff: The ethic is, one of us will bring something, and then someone else asks ‘How can we make this better?’
Brian: We work on that for a little bit – and then we stop, and someone else asks, ‘How can we make this weirder?’
Like with their lyrics, Snow Lotion guitar parts derive from a particular idiosyncratic routine. Steve starts with a narrative or image and tries to convert it in to sound, as it were; sometimes, the same way that an actor might play a scene different than the writer intended. The riff grows and changes, and the story-picture adapts to suit the new sound.
“I try and take a visual aspect and make it into a sonic aspect,” Steve says, “So, I like to take a scene, whatever it may be, and attempt to recreate what that scene could sound like.”
[Favorite smells II]
John: I like when the sun hits your skin for awhile and then you smell your skin.
Steve: I like the way my dog’s ears smell. It’s a little weird.
John: There’s this type of plastic they used to use in toy dinosaurs when we were little. Plastic dinosaur smell. Talcum powder’s good, too.
Brian: Paper straight off the printer.
John: Dogwood trees.
“When we started writing this new tune – probably gonna be called Tarantulord – we initially started it off describing it like, ‘we want this song to sound like a jailhouse knife fight’, but then that became, ‘we want this song to sound like a bunch of wasps in a battle with a colony of bees, and then this part will be like when it seems like the ants are about to lose as the wasp gets closer to the queen’”.
“Essentially, I like to find inspiration by trying to turn one sense into another – sight into sound. Also, I never really learned how to play music, and I’m only an okay guitar player.”
[On who in the band could fight a black bear to a standstill.]
Jeff: I could. I’ve said that for years.
Brian: I’m one hundred percent fucked. A) I can’t fight, and B) I can’t fight a bear.
Jeff: I could do it.
It’s these various tensions – between 40-hour work weeks and hungover jam sessions; between “weird” and “catchy”; between youthful vigor and death anxieties, passion and apathy; between a maelstrom of influences and a myriad of interests – that make Snow Lotion go, like the way every disease known to man keeping one another in check is the only thing that keeps Monty Burns alive.
The first practice I visited, over the summer – my seltzer, half-sipped, now sitting on the stone floor of the basement – after they’d run through half of their EP and a few new songs, we adjourned to the front porch for an intermission. Heavy rain now giving way to drizzle, black clouds to spots of blue. “We rocked that storm away,” John remarks with a goofy, endearing smile.
The second was a few weeks later, when I stopped in to ask some follow up questions. It devolved in to talk about ‘80s horror flicks, shared fears, and urban legends. I took up little more than an hour of their time, and when the buzz started to fill the room and I could tell they would soon descend in to the basement, I respectfully dipped – withdrew to my car parked on the edge of the property, stood out there for a moment, and listened, as the hum of electric guitars made loud by amplifiers and the murmured bang of drums coupled together and rose up from underneath the old house.