Before the members of The Snake, The Cross, The Crown arrived in Santa Barbara, they hadn’t ventured much outside their native Alabama. Yet they had experienced enough of the outside world to know the south wasn’t really the place for them. Sharing a passion for music and adventure, the four childhood friends decided to venture west, and while they didn’t have much of a plan, they did have a destination.
“We were southerners who didn’t really identify with southern culture and, like a lot of Americans, we thought California was this mecca for alternative thinkers and culture,” explained The Snake, The Cross, The Crown’s Kevin Jones. “We were kind of scared of Los Angeles and thought Santa Barbara sounded nice.”
For the first two months, Jones and his musical cohorts-Keith Gibson and brothers Franklin and William Sammons-resided in a motel across the road from In-N-Out Burger in Goleta while they looked for apartments. But finding a place wasn’t as easy as they’d thought it would be.
“No one would rent to us at the time,” explained Jones. “We were a bunch of kids with no income, which didn’t look very good on paper. So the parents of the brothers bought a house and we had to pay the mortgage. That proved to be pretty interesting because we didn’t meet too many people. There were so many of us that we just ended up hanging out with each other.”
But getting settled wasn’t the only hurdle the transplants had to overcome. Despite their tight-knit community, drummer Keith Gibson decided he’d had enough of the adventure. So Jones turned to another schoolyard friend from Alabama to fill the void. And despite being settled in Michigan, Mark Fate enthusiastically answered the call.
“Our drummer at the time quit because he was done,” recalled Jones. “That’s how Mark came to be. He was about the only person who was willing to drop everything, move to California, and play in a band.”
Having saved enough money to record half a dozen songs, the group disappeared into Angus Cooke’s Orange Whip Studios and recorded an EP. Up until that point, The Snake, The Cross, The Crown had played only a handful of local shows at places like Zelo Restaurant and The Hard to Find Showspace. Now with the finished record and a helping hand from another local outfit, The Hero and the Victor, the band’s newfound credibility got them noticed.
A performance at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles led to a record deal with Equal Vision Records. “We started touring and we had to leave Santa Barbara. We’d been there for two years at that point and we were all very fond of it. Then we had to start driving around all these terrible places in the middle of nowhere. It was tough.”
Their union with Equal Vision resulted in the recording and release of their debut album, Mander Salis. What followed was a grueling succession of tours in support of the release, one tour blearily merging into the next. The band was traveling in a van, playing shows every night, and not sleeping very much. Eventually something had to give. And, after about five months of constant touring, it wasn’t just the axle of their U-Haul that broke.
“We cut the tour short,” admitted Jones. “The trailer busted and we wrecked it and that was basically the final straw. It took about four days for the trailer to be fixed and to get going again. At that point, we could have gone 10 or 15 hours north and done more shows or we could have gone 10 or 15 hours south and gone back home. After sitting in a hotel staring at each other for four days, we decided to go home.”
The return to Santa Barbara allowed the band to regroup. The members found jobs-three of them worked at the Borders Books in Goleta and the other sold cigarettes to celebrities in Montecito. They also decided to approach music differently. This time around, rather than forcing the creative process, they simply allowed the songs to come. And come they did. During The Snake, The Cross, The Crown’s fourth year in California, the band produced its most poignant album yet.
Titled Cotton Teeth, the record reflects not only the essence of the collective, but also the four individuals who comprise it. By the time the band recorded the album, however, the guys had decided it was time to move. With Jones and the Sammons brothers heading to New York and Fate returning to Michigan, their imminent departure added weight to the meaning of the album. Each of the 10 tracks now stands as a testament to the band’s frustrations and excitements and the reality of four childhood friends living under one roof for four years.
But all is not lost. With Cotton Teeth now released and gathering glowing reviews, The Snake, The Cross, The Crown are again hitting the road. They are undertaking a nationwide tour with Me Without You, Piebald, and Manchester Orchestra, but a break in the tour schedule will allow the former Santa Barbarans to head home for an album release party at SOhO next Monday night.
“We can’t wait to be back in Santa Barbara,” confided Jones. “There is this old field back behind where we used to live over on San Marcos and at the end of that there is a beach where we used to hang out. No one ever went out there so it was our own private slice of heaven.”
The Snake, The Cross, The Crown return to Santa Barbara this Monday night, June 4, at SOhO (1221 State St.). The show starts at 8 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for more info.