Holler Country Music

New Artist of the Week: Rattlesnake Milk

February 28, 2023 10:41 am GMT

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There are some mysteries in life that are better left unsolved; questions you won’t understand better by answering them. Things that just are. Best to leave it at that.

Hailing from the great desolate southern plains of Texas, Rattlesnake Milk make the kind of strange, disorderly, mutinous music that doesn’t benefit from being dissected and compartmentalised. It’s so deeply of this world it sounds completely otherworldly when you compare it to anything else happening in country music today.

The roots of the band are just as mysterious as the music they make. A mythology built on little whispers coming from the darkest corners of country music – a self-released cassette called Snake Rattle and Roll from way back in 2013 that took the eerie rockabilly of 50s teen idol Ricky Nelson and mixed it with the chaotic cowboy gothic of The Birthday Party, followed by a self-titled full-length album eight years later – but very little else aside.

As legend has it, they were formed around 10 years ago in Lubbock, Texas, and began as a product of a handful of home recordings captured by singer Lou Lewis while farming cotton for a family friend in the Texas panhandle.

Lewis found inspiration in the empty flatland landscapes of his home and the vintage airwaves of KDAV 1590AM, and recorded eight demos in his childhood bedroom. The demos paid homage to his favourite dust bowl migrant songs and ghostly musical gems from the 50s and 60s.

Andrew Chavez from La Panza and Psychic Flowers, Corey "Chencho" Alvarez from Veda Moon and Eric Pawlak joined forced with Lewis to help Rattlesnake Milk capture the vast, lonely, driving soundscape of the Texas panhandle and flesh out those demo recordings.

Rattlesnake Milk have a sound that draws its influence from everything from surf pop to psychedelic rock and cowpunk, vintage country to skeletal blues and grunge; but a sound that holds to the limitations of none of those things.

Leaning even further into the “billy” of “rockabilly”, the sound on their latest album, Chicken Fried Snake, feels more refined – a little of the wildness of those earlier releases has been tamed – and all that remains is the raw simplicity of those haunting electric guitars singing in the wind as Lou Lewis manages to wring profundities out of the barest of materials. Imagine The Buckaroos hopped up on speed and fronted by Orville Peck singing the songs of Terry Allen and you’d only be half of the way there.

In the end, the only way to really understand a band like Rattlesnake Milk is just by listening to the records they make. That’s more than enough. Everything else is pretty much just bullshit anyway.

With that in mind, Holler sat down with Lou Lewis from Rattlesnake Milk to try and find out a little bit more about the band; but not too much. There really are some mysteries in life that are better left unsolved.

Who is Rattlesnake Milk?

Rattlesnake Milk is a band of four close friends formed in the flatlands of the Texas panhandle. It originated after writing songs while farming cotton for a close family friend in Olton TX and recording 8 songs. The demos were very rough and I played all the instruments on them. After showing them to some of my friends in Lubbock, they agreed to help me play them live and Rattlesnake Milk was born.

We recorded SNAKE RATTLE AND ROLL and began playing pretty frequently in Lubbock before ultimately moving to Austin. The current line-up consists of me (Lou Lewis) on vocals and rhythm guitar, Andrew Chavez on lead guitar, Corey (Chencho) Alvarez on drums and Eric Pawlak on bass. We all have played in many bands (with and without each other) over the years, mostly in Lubbock. Chavez and I even had a band for a brief time over 20 years ago.

Where are you from and how did that influence you?

Our hometown Plainview is located on the high plains of the Texas panhandle. It is a small town, surrounded by thousands of miles of cotton fields and as flat as the ocean. A common joke is often told about being able to see your dog (or lover) run away for three days. Coincidentally, Plainview is also the hometown of country legend and sausage kingpin Jimmy Dean. The infamously boring and barren town gave us the landscape to cultivate an immense love for making music and art. When you feel so lonely out there, you escape everything by creating your own landscape and find others to help you build it.

Despite moving to the Austin area, we still draw on the Panhandle in every song we write. The lonely train pushing through the night, the coyotes howling in the distance, the old tractors and pickups scattering the landscape; we draw inspiration from all of it and I miss it every day. I don't think we could ever not sound like home, it is part of us. All of the characters in my songs are from people I knew or loved there and I try to capture those things I love (or hate) about them.

What did you grow up listening to?

We all grew up listening to pretty much everything we could get our hands on. If you had an older sibling or friend old enough to buy you a Nirvana, Slipknot or Eminem CD you were very lucky. We are all around 36 years old now and we're all into nu-metal, metal, rock, punk, R&B and rap music. 

My first CD ever was My Way by Usher. We are all either half or full Mexican and we all grew up listening to the Tejano legends like Ramon Ayala and Vicente Fernandez. My aunt was a Tejano singer in the Lubbock area and every Easter, a norteño band would play in her driveway and the whole family would get together to sing and dance and break confetti eggs on each other's heads.

It was also impossible not to hear the country gems of the 90s at any school dance or function, which I still love. After high school while farming, I became obsessed with 1590 AM, an oldies radio station based out of Lubbock (the only station I could get on the tractor) that specialized in really amazing gems from those times and I think that phase has had the biggest impact on my songwriting.

How would you describe your sound?

One thing we always hear from fans is that our music is "cinematic" and we LOVE that. We all love cinema and try to paint a picture with every song we write. We don't spend too much time on building "a sound" we just try to be as honest with our songs as we can and give whatever idea the room to evolve into what it should.

Tell us a little bit about making Chicken Fried Snake?

Making Chicken Fried Snake was an awesome and overwhelming experience. During covid, we decided to invest in more home recording equipment and record this at home. This forced us in many ways to take ownership over everything, which was really fun and challenging. Although it was sometimes really stressful, it gave us the time to really dive into the songwriting and give the songs room to grow and evolve. 

We took the tracks to our friend Danny Reisch's studio in Lockhart, Texas, (Good Danny's) and had him run them through his amazing outboard gear. Then over a few months mixed them in my house and really got them in a place where we thought "this sounds like us." Ultimately if the vibe is there, we are happy.

Have you ever actually eaten a chicken fried snake?

I did actually eat fried rattlesnake at the Rattlesnake RoundUp in Sweetwater, Texas, years ago. Technically it wasn't "chicken fried" and there wasn't any gravy smothered on it but I remember thinking "this tastes like chicken."

If you were going to make a mixtape for Holler listeners what songs would be on it?

Townes Van Zandt – ‘Black Crow Blues’

Howlin Wolf – ‘Smokestack Lightning’

Meat Puppets – ‘Oh, Me’

Chris Isaak – ‘Tears’

JJ. Cale – ‘Don't Go to Strangers’

Sly and the Family Stone – ‘Just Like A Baby’

Ray Price – ‘Nightlife’

RF Shannon – ‘Wild Rose Pass’

Pink Floyd – ‘Echoes'

Terry Allen – ‘Amarillo Highway’

Icehouse – ‘Trojan Blue’

Harpo Slim – ‘I Got Love If You Want It’

The Flatlanders – ‘Down in My Hometown’

Blaze Foley – ‘If I Could Only Fly’

Thrift Store Cowboys – ‘Sidewalk Song’

Hank Williams Sr. – ‘Ramblin Man’

What’s your favourite film for the tour bus?

We don't have a tour bus but we listen to the soundtrack for There Will Be BloodThe Master and Phantom Thread all the time and really love those films. P.T. Anderson and Johnny Greenwood's collaboration is too damn perfect. But if I had a tour bus and could watch a film, it would 100% be Wild at Heart by David Lynch.

Where’s the most unexpected place music has taken you?

We were flown out to Montana to play a beautiful wedding at the base of an awesome mountain by a river. That was really cool. I also drank a beer out of my boot during the show and then got the groom and bride to do so with the whole band. That was really cool too.

If you could time travel back to any time when would you travel back to?

I would love to time travel back to the 50s and throw some grease in my hair and see all of the legends. There was a club "The Cotton Club" in Lubbock back in the day where Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Little Richard and many more legends played. Would love to sneak some whiskey in there and tear it up.

Which person from history would you most like to meet?

Hank William Sr. or Townes Van Zandt. That's a really hard one but I would like to ask both of them so many questions.

What would be your Spice Girls style nicknames?

Lou - Shrek Spice

Chavez - Mumble Spice

Chencho - Stoner Spice

Eric - Spacey Spice

What’s coming up next for you?

We are very excited to record two new records of songs we have worked out. Hopefully we can get one record out this year and a new one early next year. We are also very excited to play some shows in Norway and Sweden late September this year. Currently planning to do a live record next year on the panhandle and record video to it.

Chicken Fried Snake is out now on Feels So Good Records

Written by Jof Owen
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