Fort Wayne has had its share of punk bands come, go and remain. Flamingo Nosebleed, for instance, are still kicking and getting even stronger as they go along. And since 2013 we’ve had The Snarks, a band whose name might suggest indie-infused pop-rock but whose guitar-laden energy and musical and lyrical grit lean more toward punk. “Although I think we might not be what people typically think of as punk, a lot of our influence comes from bands that were part of the first wave of punk in the 70s like Richard Hell and the Voidoids, early Talking Heads, Dead Boys, X and even some more esoteric bands like Sparks,” said Snarks bassist Dan Kinnaley via email.
A good comparison might be Be Your Own Pet, a now defunct, female-led band from Nashville that featured high-energy, snarling female lead vocals backed by a spastic yet rhythmic musical foundation.
Like Be Your Own Pet, vocalist Kendra Johnson bounces on stage, throws her wavy blonde hair around and makes you want to pogo up and down while sloshing PBR everywhere. The Snarks’ guitarists aren’t quite as spastic as Pet’s Jonas Stein, but they are more rhythmic and churning, letting Johnson’s vocals stand out and driving the tone of the band, even from the first few seconds of the songs.
There’s no shortage of anger and cursing on those songs. Their newest release of (two) songs, Dickin’ Around with The Snarks, has two curse words within the first six seconds of the first song, “Love Is Stupid (And I Hate Its Existence).” The second song on the release, “D.B.G.,” definitely has more of a Pixies/Sleater Kinney indie sort of vibe.
Thematically, punk bands tend to go one of two ways: they’re either highly political and/or emotional and really hit their topics hard, or they’re just trying to have fun. The Snarks fit squarely into the “just having fun” camp.
“Some over-arching themes are food, ADHD, poking fun at myself, quirky social commentary,” said Johnson. “After writing a generic, troubled love song to cheeseburgers, the food theme became a joke. We wrote ‘Hangry’ and ‘D.B.G. (Death by Gluten)’ because Snacking with the Snarks was an EP title we joked about having.
“Most of the time it’s whatever is on my mind before practice,” she continued. “Some of the songs tend to be sarcastic, snarky even.”
The band’s initial EP, Night at Crystal Beach, is about the same tempo (each song clocking in at an average 170 BPM) and starts off with nary a lead riff accompaniment until the bridge of the first song. But that’s punk music. The second song shows a little more musicianship with sliding chords and interlaced leads during the verses.
The last song on Crystal Beach, “Human Sacrifice,” starts off with a 45-second intro that’s dark and slow and would fit perfectly in the background of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Once the vocals arrive it’s back to familiar territory. After a quick verse, the chorus is a driving force that can compete with the best of the Misfits catalog; it’s super good. Johnson channels her more guttural side and surprises the listener with how catchy something so feisty can be.
The Snarks’ second EP, It’s Like … Carpe YOLO, Man, is more of of the same, only more solidified, as if the band has grown into its sound. Even the semi-slow “Space Cases” and the group calls in “Make It Stop” show growth from EP to EP.
“Each of us has their sound, built their rig around that and knows what they want. We generally respect and arrange with what we have,” said Bart Helms, the band’s guitarist. “Naturally, I think we all like to work with limited palettes – just the raw sound of the right guitar and amp.
“Recording with Jason Davis at Off the Cuff Sound last May, Zach and I did help ourselves to his pedals and amps,” Helms continued. “Sometimes a different tone is just what one specific song needs to keep each one distinct. For example, Jason’s Leslie cabinet can be heard on the solo in ‘Space Cases’ [from Carpe YOLO], and on the new stuff, we took turns cranking his old Supro to 11.”
Johnson, Kinnaley and Helms, along with guitarist Zach Kershner and drummer Dan Arnos, churn out your classic, distorted bar-band punk music worthy of any stage in any town. But playing with people you know, for people you know, elevates the musical experience for band and audience alike.
When a band is having fun and there’s no over-arching message they’re trying to push, it creates something both accessible and remarkable.
“Go make music with friends. That’s about as much message that we have,” said Helms.
So listen to The Snarks by starting a band with your dweeb friends, have fun whilst cranking out the jams and help keep punk alive by going to see The Snarks around town.
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