Interview with Snake Oil By Lucy Hall
The band, called Snake Oil, is by far no traditional tribute band. Their journey began when founding member, Darren Moore decided to form a classic rock cover band as an addition to his many other music projects. During the early formation of the band, they played a wide range of classic rock spanning the decades and later decided on narrowing it down to 1980s rock. There are other cover bands out there, but no one plays the characters and creates the live experience of big rock shows like Snake Oil. They truly are the ultimate theatrical tribute to ‘80s rock because they put forth great effort to make each song sound as close to the original as possible, and the costumes and theatrical effects are top-notch. The group consists of five talented and accomplished musical artists, they are Darren Moore guitarist, vocalist, and keyboardist, vocalist Christelle Dussault, lead guitarist Kurt Krezanski, bassist Darcy Labiuk, and drummer, Tim Sutton. The Snake Oil performers embody the complete essence of the ‘80s rock icons they portray onstage. They put a lot of care and effort into not only learning the sound and style of each rock star they are imitating but even their personalities and mannerisms. Another unique aspect of the band is that, unlike other cover bands, they don’t just pay tribute to one act, just to mention a few, the band covers Kiss, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Joan Jett, Heart, Ozzy, and many more. All these elements combine to create a truly authentic arena concert experience.
The group went from opening for other acts to headlining their own shows alongside some of the rock performers they were imitating and building a rather large following. Unlike other cover bands, Snake Oil has written their own original material for their first album. Their self-titled debut album was released this year on May 29th from Lion’s Pride Music. I love the combination of softer tracks and heavier tracks on this album. It suits the taste and needs of various listeners. It has the feel of being an ode to the height of ‘80s rock but with a modern take. Some of my favorites from the album are the heavier tracks “Vampire” which has a very cool, gothic feel which I love, and the intro immediately drew me in, “Blink of an Eye” is a quintessential arena rocker with heavy-duty riffing that channels ‘80s glam rock style and attitude, “Simon Says” has a ‘90s industrial, hard rock, sexy groove that makes me want to get up and hit the dance floor. “Dance in the Rain” has a catchy chorus, and it really showcases Christelle’s mesmerizing, and solid vocal abilities. Her rich, powerful voice hits overdrive in this melodic keyboard and riff-filled ballad. Twisted Pulp caught up with Snake Oil to discuss the new album and their amazing live show.
Twisted Pulp: Before we dive into the new album, let’s go back a bit. Take us through the formation of Snake Oil, which for those that don’t know is a premier theatrical icons of rock live shows.
Snake Oil: Yes, actually Ikons of Rock show was/is the brand and media tag. Going back to its inception, Snake Oil started as a retreat for “junior” musicians from different Canadian recording acts, looking to play together on their downtime from touring. By “junior” we mean not one of the original members, but younger full-fledged members with Canadian Hall of Famers Harlequin, Streetheart, Kim Mitchell Band, and SAGA.
The band performed house shows at local clubs, doing basically whatever we wanted to do. From AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Queen, KISS, and Def Leppard, to Rage Against The Machine, Shinedown, to Rob Zombie. The band was good enough that we could pull off pretty much anything and we changed our set every time we played. We would substitute members every weekend as musicians were pulled back out onto the road with the touring acts. Darren Moore had the idea to start putting on flashy costumes, he started with a makeshift throw-together KISS costume with platforms he found at the local “stripper” store. The rest of the band followed, all dressed in theme, indulging their alter egos. The audience loved it and it began attracting some very interesting people who liked to dress in drag or relive their youth in costume. To cut to the chase, Darren put together a full-time project fronted by strong male and female vocalists. They had all of their costumes professionally tailored and became the characters in mannerisms and vocal imitation. The performance headlines all over the US and Canada. We have also been invited to share stages with the likes of Whitesnake, Night Ranger, Starship, The Beach Boys, Cheap Trick, etc. It’s a seriously strong performance. Now that the band has started building a strong following, we felt it was time to complement the show with the original Snake Oil. Both male and female vocalists on stage together with songs that complement our material… giving the people what they want! (It’s the kinda stuff we like too.)
Twisted Pulp: How would you describe the dynamics of the band?
Snake Oil: The band is a tight unit. All professionals, we’ve “sowed our oats” independently in past lives, so not much bullshit. We respect one another as musicians, all like to laugh, travel, share a drink or two, and hang out with our fans post-show. Darren heads up the band, inspires the music from his home studio, and coordinates recordings and tours.
Twisted Pulp: What is the inspiration behind the band’s name?
Darren came up with the name at the first meeting. It sounds good, a little dark, a little scary, but very rock n’ roll. We are portraying artists as good as they were in their prime and often, we will bring out the actual stars to join our show, Stephen Pearcy from Ratt, Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, and Darren joined Brett Michaels on stage. The name is analogous to the snake oil salesman riding into town in his big wagon, setting up his soapbox stage and attracting the community to gather round and behold, while he sold them the snake oil medicine that cures all ails. Maybe it worked, but more than likely it was a placebo or narcotic. Well, we’re not claiming to cure rheumatism or the like, but we will take you on a “high” where you can leave any unwanted baggage behind.
Twisted Pulp: How did five musicians with global recognition concerning the music of their own come to form a supergroup cover band?
Snake Oil: We fight the cover band or tribute label frequently. It is much, much more than that; we believe it is more of a performance. The show is given just as much attention as the music. Playing original music is gratifying, but for some of us, you know the “junior” members of the recording acts. Although honored and gratified to be a part of the band, we felt pigeonholed into an act, where the original radio hits were not written by us, there was a past success, but not much hope of a future resurgence. Snake Oil promised an open road, with no boundaries. We’ll get them hooked with the songs and characters they/we all know and love, and then we’ll reveal our own alter egos in the original music.
Twisted Pulp: Snake Oil is well known for its spot-on performances. You guys are far beyond a simple tribute group, and at a glance, you guys truly do emulate and look the part of every act you choose to portray. What level of commitment does it require to put on the type of show that you do, and harness the aesthetic in the way that you have?
Snake Oil: That’s a never-ending chore. We know the characters we portray intimately as fans. To honor them and not embarrass yourself you have to work at it constantly. That means listening to the songs constantly, as singers have a way of making the songs their own if they’re not mindful. That means watching how they move on stage, how they talk including accents. Not to mention sourcing the pieces for authentic costumes, thank goodness we have a very meticulous rock n’ roll tailor. And the hardest is keeping the midriff tight… yup the local craft breweries at the various places we perform are a double-edged sword… bittersweet.
Twisted Pulp: Tremendous vocal chops are needed to pull off most of those hard rock vocals. Not to mention the amazing instrument work that Snake oil imitates so well. What kind of preparation/education/vocal exercises do the members of the group do, to be able to emulate the greatest rock musicians of all time?
Snake Oil: Christelle does a quiet vocal warm-up before every show. She is all pro. Darren on the other hand takes a shot of tequila and one long note stretching up to his falsetto, which triggers the band to all imitate him backstage. Which leads to the ritualistic “band prayer,” a brief band toast of the strongest thing on the rider, and then onto the stage.
Twisted Pulp: With so many legendary, chart-topping hard rock acts throughout history, how did the band come together in agreement on the set lists?
Snake Oil: The key to picking characters is to be able to recognize them in costumes before they sing a note. Obviously, we pick what we believe are the most popular artists too, but that’s a precursor.
Twisted Pulp: What is the biggest misconception about the band?
Snake Oil: We never wanted to be a tribute or cover band. There’s a stereotype by the music industry, some musicians and music buffs (unless they’ve seen us), that we are imitating others because we can’t write or couldn’t write good enough material to do our own thing. Well, doing our own thing is what we’ve always been doing and the original music is seeping out now. We took a path whereby we could all financially survive and performed until we build a solid foundation and now we can independently support our own material. We have our own tour bus, trailer, and crew without having to borrow a dime or take advances from record labels or publishers. We can still navigate our own path.
Twisted Pulp: Let’s step forward to this all-original self-titled debut record, tell me a little bit about the making of it.
Snake Oil: The band agreed that most importantly the songs had to be accessible to our existing audience. That means something old, something new, and a little bit from out of the blue. During the global shutdown (we won’t say the C word) Darren isolated himself in the studio and drafted the first passes of 10 of the 12 songs. One was provided by Christelle, the other by Pat Benatar. The songs were then sent to Christelle for her vocal input. Important to plant the vocal melodies in and work the finishing touches around them. It was intentional that both male and female vocals are present in every song, although some are male-led, some female, and some equally shared. Once the song was melodically complete, we brought the drums and bass in. Then the icing, the extra guitars, and guitar solos. We engineered and mixed-produced the entire project ourselves. It was a pretty clear vision.
Twisted Pulp: Can you break down for us, what kind of record it is and what fans can expect?
Snake Oil: It is definitely a classic rock album. However, no two songs are alike. There was a time when you could buy an album and expect a little bit of diversity from edgy, to melodic, to something completely off the wall. It casts a wide net over fans that appreciate different styles of the genre. The trick is to take that diversity and make it clear that it’s being delivered in complement to the rest of the album. We’re going to blame corporations and their revenue streams for forcing so many artists to continue writing using the same formulas. So much so, that after listening to two songs on an album you’ve pretty much heard it all. It kills the art form and people don’t want the whole album anymore, they just cherry-pick one or two songs. It’s not fair to the artist. The album is dedicated to all the artists we’ve portrayed and inspired us. The songs are accessible and the feedback is; that they feel familiar on first listen.
Twisted Pulp: What are some other points of interest worth mentioning on the record if you were to take someone on a tour of the album?
Snake Oil: The songs are chocked full of ear candy if you play them up close with a great stereo or headphones. We intentionally attempted to touch on every emotion with the songs; lust, fear, regret, love, hope, anxiety, anger, and angst but all in fun.
Twisted Pulp: The album is fun, edgy, and also emotion fueled with a good balance of rockers and ballads. “Vampire” and, “Simon Says” are two songs that stood out for me. What are some of your personal favorites, and why?
Snake Oil: It honestly depends on the mood. But generally, for me, the upbeat driving songs move me the most. Which is why we already have another album ready to go. With a planned approach to not making all the songs the same, I wrote a pile of driving songs that were put on the back burner for the next release. I tend to naturally gravitate to odd chord changes with a bit of power behind them. Christelle on the other hand takes to alternate stuff, which is a good mixture of elements.
Twisted Pulp: I am delighted to see Christelle Dussault represent one of my musical heroes, Joan Jett. Throughout her career, she has been asked to comment on the state of women in rock. What is Christelle’s take on women in rock today? How does she feel to be the only female in the group?
Snake Oil: Women in rock today are still following in the footsteps of Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, and Ann Wilson. They are strong, talented, and motivated. Closely followed by artists like Amy Lee and Alanis Morrisette, who continued to pave the way for women who are currently giving us hard-hitting rock n’ roll music that we love to hear and see in concert, The use of social media has really enabled more and more women to create, perform and engage audiences with their music. I believe we will continue to see an evolution of female rock artists who will use these past icons as an influence in the future. I consider every one of the members of this band as a brother. I don’t have biological brothers, but I imagine the shenanigans and goofy behavior are quite similar. I’ve always felt like one of the guys and we always treat each other as equals, as family. Most of the time it doesn’t even occur to me that I am the only female. That is, until we are on stage and someone has to hit the really high notes, that is when I am fully aware!
Twisted Pulp: What kind of show/performance can concertgoers expect when they come to see one of your shows?
Snake Oil: A night of great rock music, great theatrics, special effects, audience interactivity, and an extremely upbeat audience to party with.
Twisted Pulp: What do the members do when they aren’t covering Snake Oil? Are any other bands or projects our readers should know about? Any tour plans?
Snake Oil: We are constantly touring US and Canada. We are constantly writing new music. With a European global release, we intend to cross the pond to meet and perform for Europe, the UK, and Asia.
The classic rock sound and style still remain popular around the world and thank God we have Snake Oil who continue to carry the torch creating and performing the rock we love. If you want an exhilarating rock n roll experience like no other check out Snake Oil’s debut album and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming new material and videos to come. Snake Oil is a group you will want to follow.