Thursday, May 10, 2012

Snake Skin Prison Interview

This interview is week 16 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

Hard Rock with a Southern Bite
Snake Skin Prison

Snake Skin Prison L-R: Marc Coronado, Matt Ballengee, Keith Ploeger
Austin's Snake Skin Prison has been playing thier brand of Hillbilly Hard Rock for a good while now. I caught them a few years back when they were a young band playing the main stage at Texas Rockfest in Austin. Their music impressed me, a hybrid of metal and southern rock. 

What has impressed me more over the years is the relentless promotion and the fact that lead vocalist Matt Ballengee always makes good on his promise of every show being a night to remember. You've got Matt controlling the crowd and playing to his minions, bassist Keith Ploeger wandering the stage like a caged lion until he can't stand it anymore and runs out into the crowd, and drummer Marc Coronado laying the beat down creating some semblance of order to the craziness.

The band has released two albums and have done some serious touring over the last 6 years and their show is always a great time. You can catch them this Saturday (May 12) at the Red Eyed Fly as Ballengee celebrates his birthday in true SSP style... with a shot of Jager, a great toast, a Miller High Life, and some wholesome Hillbilly Hard Rock.

I had a chance to catch up with the guys recently. Here's how the conversation went:

Sean Claes: Matt, you moved to Austin from West Virginia. Was is the music scene, a
job, or a woman?
Matt Ballengee: I left West Virginia in hopes of a better tomorrow in October of 2006. Ultimately, I chose Austin for the music. I had never heard of Austin being the "live music capital of the world" but when I finally did hear about it (I had a good friend stationed in Kileen)...there was no other choice...there's nothing more dangerous than an idea that takes hold!!

Claes: How long did it take to find Marc Coronado and Keith Ploeger and form SSP? 
Ballengee: I arrived 10/06 and started jamming with a really good friend of mine that I met through my job. We jammed, all the while, I was writing what would eventually be the majority of Get Bit!!

I had ads for guitar and bass players in Craigslist, Myspace...etc. After sorting through a lot of flakes, Keith knocked on my door, said he saw the ad and wanted to give it a shot.

I had seen Marc playing and hit him up the moment I knew we were looking for a new drummer. Josh left on a Wednesday morning, by noon I had roped Marc in. He practiced with us for 4 hours then played his first show with us in San Antonio that Friday.

Claes: From the get-go SSP has been a power trio playing southern-tinged hard
rock, kind of like if Lynyrd Skynyrd and Pantera has a musical baby. How
do you feel you’ve evolved in the last few years? 
Ballengee: I personally have evolved leaps and bounds as a musician. When I first started SSP I had no intentions of playing lead, just rhythm. However, when we found ourselves with no lead guitarist, I had no choice.

I have been constantly playing and practicing trying to better myself as a guitarist. I take lessons from Chris Crossland at Strait Music, and that has helped me tremendously. So with my guitar playing advancing, so does my song writing, however I will say that at the end of the day, my favorite songs have been written in under 10 minutes.

So, as for evolving, I think you can tell the biggest difference in the guitar leads. During Get Bit!! I had about 10 tricks, now after working with Chris, I not only have tricks but knowledge as well.

As a band, I think by adding Marc was a definate slam dunk to the foundation of our sound. When Marc and Keith get rolling on that low end, and then you throw in that Hillbilly Howl...I really don't think it gets much my point of view.

Claes: You released Get Bit!! in 2008. Tell me a little about the release and where you recorded. 
Ballengee: We recorded this with Jason Sewell (drummer One Eyed Doll) out at his house in Bastrop. We rolled through this album in a couple days and had our first ever album release at Red Eyed Fly...that seems so long ago, but still fresh in my mind.

Claes: In late 2010 you released 9 Kinds of Bad. You re-recorded 4 tracks from
your 2008 album and added 7 additional songs. The quality all-around
showed a much more mature band, from the songs to the CD packaging. Tell
me a little about that album.
Marc Coronado: Well Marc whore-nado joined the band and put a more edgy punch on the music. Re-did some songs where some metal was left out and kaPow!! 9 Kinds of Mad came out.

 Ballengee: We traveled to Houston to record at Sugar Hill Recording Studios. This studio was customized for Freddie Fender. There's a lot of tradition and history in this building. When we were there it was the oldest recording studio in operation.

We had plenty of new music for this album, but felt like some of the previous tracks that were on Get Bit!! deserved another shot in a different atmosphere, with Marc on drums, and a more seasoned SSP. I truly love every song on this album, I couldn't pick just one :).

Claes: You also released a professional video for “Alcohol of Fame” in 2010.
You recorded the video in Dallas. What was the concept behind the song in
general and video? 
Ballengee: "Alcohol of Fame" is definitely a deeper song, as compared to drinking party songs like "Outta Control," "Smokin' Whiskey," or "Moonshine Shake."

The song is basically about being in a band, the rigors of traveling, the discipline and sacrifice you have to make; kind've like a glimpse into the "not so glamorous side of being in a band trying to make it work."

I think Jeff Adair hit the nail on the head with the video, concept, and overall production, it was a lot of fun... I did realize I'm a better drinker than actor though.

Claes: Are you working on a new release? Will there be a 2012 or 2013 SSP album? 
Ballengee: We are currently having our New EP mixed as we speak. We went into Test Tube Audio (here in Austin) and recorded, "Smokin Whiskey," "The Place the Sun Doesn't Shine," "Come and Take It," and a new version of "Alcohol of Fame."

We worked with Matt Noveskey (Blue October) on all of them and got to work with John Moyer (Disturbed/Adrenaline Mob) on "Come and Take It." It was an amazing experience, and we are having Sterling Winfield (Pantera/Hell Yeah/Damage Plan) mix them as we speak. Should be available ASAP.

Claes: In 2010 you won a Battle of the bands in order to play the Corpus Christi date of the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival alongside Hellyeah and Disturbed. 
Ballengee: It was awesome, that was through our Jager endorsement. That was probably our first "pro" set up as far as big stage, big sound..etc. We only got to play for about 30 minutes, but typical SSP fashion we came out swinging!

We had the crowd from the beginning and they def wanted more. We were able to meet the guys in Hell Yeah, which was a big perk for Marc, being that Vinnie Paul is one of his biggest influences.

Coronado: That show was a rowdy one. Let me just say meeting Vinnie Paul was my favorite. I didn't meet him as a pedestrian on the streets. I met him as a musician. From one drummer to another. Truly an honor to share the stage with such talent and legacy.

Claes: SSP is a 3-piece power southern hard rock band. Have you ever
considered adding a fourth member, perhaps another guitar? 
Ballengee: Nope...LOL j/k! Yeah we have talked about adding another guitar but just never really felt the definite need. There's something special about being a 3 piece. You don't see that every day, especially in Hard Rock/Metal, it makes people pay attention when the music starts and they realize it's only 3 of us...

I think that if we were to deviate away from the 3 piece that would be bad luck, kind've like making Keith change his camo pants. If it ain't broke don't fix it!

Image by Mark Scott

Claes: You’re playing your birthday show this Saturday (May 12) at Red Eyed
Ballengee: This is my 3rd Annual Birthday show. Cannon is opening the night @ 9p, A Good Rogering at 10p, and then SSP for the rest of the night. 

If you have ever been to an SSP show, you know they are all a big party, but my birthday parties are "no holds barred." We have already sold over 200 tickets, and keep selling!! It's gonna be one for the books... always is. 

 Red Eyed Fly is special to me, when I moved down here and was wet behind the ears, they gave us a chance, more so than what other venues offered. Both Heath and Mike allowed me to pick their brains, ask them questions, and get their opinions. They are honest and hard working and it shows.

say what you want, but they have been open for something like 12-13 years now...bottom line, you can't debunk that. So I'll always have a soft spot for REF. I mean, you know you're dealing with a straight shooter when they turn down your suggestion for a petting zoo at the next show!!

Claes: Tell me about some of your favorite places to play in Austin. 
Ballengee: In no particular order, I'd say Red Eyed Fly, Dirty Dog, The Parish...
Coronado: Favorite place to play is the Parish

Claes: Who are some of your favorite local bands? 
Ballengee: I try to support them all, I have a lot of friends that are in bands, and I know what it's like trying to get people out to your show. This past Friday we went and saw Knuckle Sammich at Red Eyed Fly. If I dig your band then I've probably already had you on an SSP show.
Photo by Sean Claes

Claes:  What do you think It takes to have a successful band in Austin today? 
Ballengee: No shame, resolve, and creativity. You can't be scared to promote your band, if it's important to you, then promote it.

It kills me when people get upset when no one shows up to their me I know what it takes to promote a show, it ain't always fun and it always ain't the most glamorous, but if you don't care enough about your band to tell people about it, then why should anyone else care??

You have to be creative, just like the petting zoo example, think outside the box. Ultimately, creativity with your music, if you're music isn't different, no one will remember.

Claes: What are your views on the music scene in Austin? 
Ballengee: I love Austin. I wish that more people would venture out and be supportive of any local music, but I think that's always gonna be a wish.

I like to see people get involved, I like to go downtown and see live music playing and people enjoying and supporting it. I think a lot of people don't realize the "hotbed" downtown (Red River and 6th) is for original music.
Photo by Mark Scott

Claes: You’ll be on stage when the calendar flips and it becomes Mother’s Day. Anything you’d like to say to your moms? 
Ballengee: Thank you...for putting up with me!!
Coronado: I'll tell my mom in person I love her and happy mothers day. She will be there rocking and showing her support. Why do you think I like metal? She got me into it in the first place.

Claes: What is the future looking like for SSP? 
Ballengee:  Very bright, it's an exciting time to be in SSP, we have some great music getting ready to be released and the future is truly unknown. I know that I have been blessed far beyond my wildest imagination, when I was in West Virginia dreaming of doing something with my music had you told me I would've made it this far I would've laughed out loud!

The Good Lord has blessed me with the ability to play and sing about the experiences encountered in this crazy game we call life, so for that I can't complain.

Claes: Anything else to add? 
Ballengee: Good luck and God Speed!! Come see us this Saturday NIGHT!!

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