Climate change feels like a mundane term compared to the actual volatility that it represents. Across the globe, climate-related disasters continue intensifying. That includes (among other struggles) devastating hurricanes like 2019’s Dorian and catastrophic fires like the Camp Fire, which quickly turned into the most deadly and destructive wildfire in the history of California — and just unfolded less than two years ago, in 2018. The self-titled October 2019 record from the Milwaukee group Snag focuses entirely on the rapidly developing climate crisis, which the overwhelming majority of scientific sources show is driven by often clear and brazen human meddling with the environment. Our species has pillaged resources in the name of industrialization, and now we’re left here, in early 2020, with millions of acres swept up by fire in Australia serving as one sample of our anxiety-riddled state. The clearly anxious but gentle beauty-infused post-hardcore and screamo music of Snag encapsulates this condition.
The Heart of the Matter
“Personally, I have a sort of frantic and helpless response to the climate crisis because it is such a grand issue that we may not be able to actually do anything about because it’s too late,” drummer Bryan Wysocki explains, also noting that he wants to open people’s minds to the wider possibilities of what music can address in general. “Our general climate anxiety shows in the music we make, and while we do express these feelings, some of the subjects we sing about give listeners a starting point to get angry and possibly create some change in their communities.”
That change is not easy. Industrialization began hundreds of years ago, and resource-supported interest groups have spent all that time developing their pro-production positions, no matter the not just environmental but human cost. Bassist Peter Murphy notes how extremely difficult that it is to conceive of truly ethical consumption, explaining: “Realistically, everything we’re doing as a band is contributing in some way to the problem. We plug in our instruments and draw power from a utility that runs predominantly on fracked gas and coal. We produce physical products, often made of plastic, which will someday probably end up landfilled or in the ocean, and we ship them great distances using a postal service that runs on internal combustion engines.”
Another example is the dirty electricity used to power the internet servers that make Snag’s music widely available in the first place. “This is exactly the problem: that most of what anyone does actually perpetuates, rather than breaks down, the system, the economic order, whatever you want to call it, that is increasingly making all our lives worse,” Murphy notes. “This is a tough pill to swallow, but a necessary one I think for anyone who wants to be serious about changing anything.” In other words: we are embedded in a system that continues to drive deadly crises. Including those who succumbed in the devastated post-storm conditions, the death toll from 2017’s Hurricane Maria reached approximately three thousand — and that’s just one example out of many.
“Ideally, the music raises awareness towards the turmoil our planet is enduring and ideally it sparks an inner compassion towards the planet we live on. That’s what we hope the response is,” guitarist Sam Szymborski explains. “As a group, we try our best to express our personal angst and depression towards climate change, hatred, racism, pollution, helplessness, and mistreatment of human beings, through our music. We hope that it sparks awareness and the want to change and research and protest, but all I can say with confidence at this moment is that it is personal expressions with a very big message. I mean think about it. We are so so small and the world is so so big. We can try our best, but similar to what Bryan said, it’s hard not to feel frantic and helpless when thinking and discussing these issues.”
Personal Experience with the Issues
Each of the three members of Snag have personal experience with the volatile, deteriorating climate situation. “For me personally, working outside with trees everyday has opened my eyes to how the climate has been drastically changing over the years, and looking at plants’ reactions to some of these drastic weather changes has gotten me concerned for the future of our environment,” Wysocki explains, besides noting the chilling effect of news coverage of increasingly dangerous national disasters. “The tipping point for me was knowing that the EPA isn’t doing much in terms of helping the environment, and they are in fact hurting the environment in some of their money grabbing schemes,” he adds. It’s true — right now, some leaders in D.C. (like coal lobbyist turned EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler) would rather ease the way for big energy companies than prioritize protecting the environment from pollution.
As for Murphy, his attention to the climate crisis goes back seemingly further. He remembers “environmental issues like recycling and conservation” serving as the subjects of elementary school plays, and there’s the Earth Day episode of Rocko’s Modern Life that Murphy remembers which “talks about fighting city hall and corporate America for the environment.” After that, Murphy explains that in the face of environmental activism in the early 2000s DIY music community, most of his peer group went vegetarian or vegan around the same time. These things add up! Now, his day job is “consumer education about renewable energy,” he says, and his old buddy Kelsey, with whom he shared the high school title of “biggest treehugger,” even runs the Milwaukee venue called (fittingly enough) Cactus Club.
Szymborski’s awareness of the climate crisis also feels very hands-on and — quite literally! — close to home. The volatile situation keeps bleeding into our lives in just about inescapable ways that require just about literally closing your eyes to miss. After seeing pollution firsthand via growing up around the Milwaukee River, where he “started to notice more and more trash stuck in the bushes, and trash in the already brown water” and would “watch the birds dig around the plastic bags and eat cigarette butts and everything,” Szymborski explains that just a couple of years ago, he went on a trip with his partner around the country for two months. “I got to see the desert, the mountains, dinosaur trees and the glaciers and the stars, and the snow and it was incredible to say the least. But slowly as I would sit around the fire every night I began to realize that within just five years from then that everything that we were seeing and experiencing would fade away and fade away fast,” he says. “The earth is changing and trying to adapt to the pollution and humans and the climate and it’s failing. It’s failing at a rapid pace in drastic ways. Hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, floods. All the elements are expressing disaster in their own way. It’s sad.”
Charting a Path from Here
So what are we going to do about it? Well, Snag’s self-titled record highlights a range from a desire for escape via self-immolation (in reference to the actual self-immolation of LGBTQ rights lawyer David Buckel) to more outright mental frenzy. Despite all of these dangers that we face, there’s still an important opportunity to protect what we do have, including our loved ones. We don’t have to just be reactive; we can be proactive, too — prominent contributions to Snag’s music from orchestral instruments like a violin, trumpet, and cello highlight this different and somewhat elevated feeling. Additionally, Wysocki notes that the group has already started on songs for a new EP, and lots of that lyrical content highlights poignant optimism, he explains.
“There are doomsayers that talk about a coming end. We’re experiencing a long, slow “end” right now and have been for decades: the end of certain kinds of life on this planet, and the kicking screaming end of the paradigm of constant growth. Nearly everyone’s quality of life is deteriorating and will continue to until something significant changes,” Murphy says, but importantly, he continues: “I am optimistic that people come together for mutual aid in emergencies. So even as things continue to get worse, we will see people coming up with solutions and alternatives, be they meticulously planned or spontaneous. Our collective capacity to actualize a better world together gives me hope.” Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built In Hell highlights this source of hope, he notes.
“My optimism comes in the form of bonding with the people you love and care about,” Szymborski poignantly explains. “While it seems that the earth is coming to a terrifying halt, if you can find hope in one another, and if you can find hope in laughing with each other and if you can find hope in sharing with each other and if you can open your mind, you will find out that there is still beauty in the world.”
And we’ve got music! The power of sincere music to bind people together is well-documented. Soul Glo, Frail Body, Shin Guard, For Your Health, and Nuvolascura have all released music that’s floored Szymborski, he notes.
“I hope for our part that we can give voice to some of the feelings people are experiencing,” Murphy chimes in. “Climate change, if taken seriously commensurate with the urgency of the situation, is fucking difficult to cope with. It’s easy to be hopeless. We’re not going to save the world. Maybe we can make it less awful.” Amen.
Photo via Luke Mouradian
Listen to Snag’s music below: