Ever since we first started listening to Snow Roller (shortly after meeting a few of their members watching the World Cup at a Portland indoor soccer facility, of all places), the ThrdCoast staff have fallen in love with their eminent approachability, nostalgic songwriting style, and lyrical bluntness. Hovering somewhere between 90s alt-rock and early-2000s emo, the group is part of a steadily resurgent Portland alternative scene that, along with bands like Sioux Falls, is bringing back sounds that haven’t seen much airtime in over a decade.
Snow Roller and Sioux Falls recently released Fadeaway, an impressive split EP in the collaborative tradition of albums like 1995’s Built to Spill / Caustic Resin. Featuring two new tracks from each band (plus a 23-second interlude), the EP exemplifies all we’ve come to expect from these guys – humor, self-deprecation, semi-ironic angst, and perhaps most importantly, some bitchin’ guitar solos.
I recently caught up with Collin Kritz, lead singer and songwriter for Snow Roller, over a pretty abysmal Google video chat connection. Despite the digital garbling and a consistent fifteen-second delay throughout, we managed to have a pretty great conversation about how much everyone in Portland hates their band name, the star-crossed bromance that led to the split EP, and the perennial inspiration that is living in your parents’ basement.
ThrdCoast: What’s your musical background, and how did you get together with the rest of what would eventually become Snow Roller?
Collin Kritz: I used to play drums in high school – it was the only instrument I played – but then I went to college and couldn’t bring a drum set, so I taught myself guitar. I never took any lessons. When we were at UConn, Tyler [Bussey, guitar] was in a band called The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die. He quit just before we graduated, and I wasn’t doing anything because I had moved back home with my parents, aside from doing some basement recordings under the name Xanthus. Tyler agreed to join, and then we decided to move to Portland together. Nathan [Tucker, drums] was a friend of a friend who agreed to learn drums for the band [laughs].
TC: How’d you come up with the name?
CK: Well, I found out that Xanthus was taken by an 80s hair-metal band out of Madison, Wisconsin, and I was super bummed about that. I came across Snow Roller on Wikipedia, and it refers to a natural phenomenon that occurs when wind blows snow into a roll like Astroturf. But, people fucking hate that name. I’ve gotten made fun of so much for it. People call us Bro Roller, Snow Blower… anything you can come up with. People get our name wrong by accident, or on purpose, all the time.
TC: Really? That seems kind of… aggressive for Portland.
CK: Eh, it’s mostly just joking around. People aren’t mean here. No one actually gets mad about the band name, but we have gotten a lot of pokes and jabs for it.
TC: What’s your songwriting process like?
CK: I write everything, lyrics and music. A lot of our songs are super old – a lot of the tracks from the EP and the split I wrote when I was back in Connecticut, they go back to those basement recordings. It was a really low point in my life, so they’re mostly self-deprecating, bummed-out songs. I think they come from a pretty real place, though, rather than just phoning it in and being mopey for the sake of being mopey. For a while I actually found it hard to write new songs, because life got better after I moved to Portland and, you know, it’s kind of hard for me to write when I’m not feeling shitty in my parents’ basement. That’s real inspiration [laughs]. But now I’m trying to work off of different things, relationships with other people and whatnot. Tyler is a really good songwriter, and he has one song for Snow Roller so far that we’re going to record for our album.
TC: How did you guys get together with Sioux Falls? Did you know each other beforehand?
CK: No, Sioux Falls had been around for four years before we ever existed. They were a little band from Montana that decided they wanted to move to the big city, Portland, and Isaac [Eiger, vocals/guitar/kazoo] and Fred [Nixon, bass/vocals] decided not to go to college so they could pursue their music. They were playing in a part of the Portland scene that we really liked, and we were playing with my other band, Loser Boyfriend, around the same places, so we eventually met and hit it off. When we played together for the first time, it was perfect, and we were all into the same stuff. So we’ve started to build a little scene of our own together along with a couple of other bands in the area. It was seriously a match made in heaven, Isaac and I are both super nervous Jews who really like 90s alt-rock.
TC: What artists do you find yourself drawing inspiration from?
CK: My favorite band ever is Teenage Cool Kids. They’re why I taught myself guitar in college, and I just really, really love them in every way. Other than that it’s Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., obvious stuff like that. I was a really big Promise Ring fan in high school, and I guess I still am. I grew up listening to hardcore punk, too, so stuff like Reagan Youth and Bad Brains. They’re less of a direct influence, because I’m not a very angry person, but they got me playing music so I guess I have to pay homage. Oh, and in that vein, Weezer.
TC: What are you listening to these days?
CK: For a while I wasn’t really listening to new music, but these days I’m listening to a lot of Portland bands like Blowout, Donkeylips… right now my favorite is one from Philadelphia called CLIQUE, they’re so fucking good. Alex G from Philadelphia as well, and Nai Harvest from England are wonderful.
TC: What’s coming up for Snow Roller now that the split EP is out?
CK: We’re going to go on tour with Sioux Falls in April, a little ten- to twelve-day thing. And we’re going to record an album this summer. I’m not very good at planning, though, so… I think we’re going to play around a bit, but not too much, because I hate playing live.
TC: You hate playing live?
CK: Well, I always feel good afterwards, but I don’t like doing it. We have a bigger show tonight, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.
TC: Do you have any other recordings on the way aside from the album?
CK: Yeah, actually, we’re doing a four-way split soon with Sioux Falls, Robot Boy, and Dana Meyer, who have actually since broken up. It’s going to be super fun, and as always I’m really happy there are such good bands in Portland that we get to play with. It’s going to be coming out on Sioux Falls’ label that they’re trying to get started, hopefully by April 1st. But we’re the only band that isn’t done, so we’ll see if we hold them back [laughs]. We do everything ourselves, and we try to keep it completely DIY, but that ends up being pretty restrictive in terms of time. We don’t just go into a studio and bang it out in a weekend, it’s more like, “oh, well, my neighbors’ kids are asleep, can’t record in the basement tonight.” So it does tend to take a while.