Sniper 66 Conceptualize Austin's First Serial Killer
The street-punk vets tell the tale of the Servant Girl Annihilator
"There's songs about suicide, drug use, and death, which is a little more serious than what we usually write about," says Sniper 66 singer/guitarist Dylan Close of the 9-year-old street-punk heroes' new Annihilator LP. "We're not afraid to cover politics and real life shit, but we tend to throw in a beer-drinking song from time to time, too.
"But the record took a dark turn," he adds, sipping a beer as the Drinks Lounge DJ spins Duran Duran's "New Moon on Monday."
"It's 'technically' a concept album about the Servant Girl Annihilator," explains drummer April Schupmann, seated across from Close and lead guitarist Jeremy Brister, while a relentless Eighties soundtrack continues with Killing Joke, Prince, and more.
"He was the first serial killer in the U.S., starting in 1884 right here in Austin," continues one of local punk's finest skin slammers. "He killed seven women and a man in the span of one year, and he was never really caught. He murdered servant girls in their quarters behind the house they worked for in the middle of the night, with a hatchet or some kind of sharp object."
"There were ice picks in the ear," interjects Close, who founded the group with bassist Jeff Ellis in 2009.
"One of them had that," Schupmann corrects. "That was brutal. Ten years later, after those murders, they erected the moon towers, because everyone was still really paranoid."
Those moon towers' presence in the artwork for Sniper 66's second LP, 2014's Caput Lupinum, served as a dog whistle to some fans, who referred the band to books on the subject. One work of fiction based on the murders had already been brought to Brister's attention by his mother. With America's first serial killer in their orbit, the Austinites composed four songs to bookend each side of Annihilator, their third full-length: title track "Servant Girl," "Psycho," and "In His Grave."
Each tune assumes a different perspective, either the killer's viewpoint or a victim's. The artwork includes a lyric sheet laid out by Schupmann in the style of an 1800s Austin American-Statesman. It's an impressive undertaking for any act, never mind demonstrating unusual ambition for a homegrown slam-rock outfit.
Not surprisingly, Sniper 66's never been a typical assemblage of street punks.
In a genre known for very direct, simple music and lyrics and a stripped-down, working-class aesthetic, the foursome stands out. Plano native Ellis and Arlington-ite Close encountered each other on Dallas bills in earlier bands. Both relocated to Austin and formulated a new combo after Close witnessed Ellis' first Austin combo, Spitting Bullets. The current lineup solidified with Brister joining in 2011 and Schupmann in 2013.
"April was only as available as she ever is," jokes Close about the busy beat-keeper.
"As any good drummer in Austin ever is!" adds Brister.
"She was only in five bands, at that point," counters Close.
"There's always time for something else," grins Schupmann.
One band she makes time for is Starving Wolves, the outfit fronted by David Rodriguez when he's not busy with legacy NYC act the Casualties. Which makes sense, considering how Sniper 66 mirrors classic Rodriguez band the Krum Bums: blistering, corrosive hardcore with strong, melodic guitar hooks.
We're mindful of melody," agrees Schupmann, as the Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" swells in the distance.
"There's nothing I hate more than anyone who says, 'Fuck it – it's punk!'" snorts Close. "It's an excuse to be lazy. Punk doesn't have to be boring, contrived, three-chord gutter swill."
"There's room for that," counters Schupmann. "But we have to challenge ourselves. That's where all these songs came from. After these first two songs happened, we knew we had a concept. It was a challenge to write around that, and it was fun. I think we succeeded."
Schupmann also notes the "heartfelt emotion" of tracks like Close's "The Engineer," written for his mother. That makes for a special album, tracked in a 10-day tour break last August at Denver's Black in Bluhm Studios with prestigious latter-day punk producer Christopher Fogal. Annihilator is also Sniper 66's first release on Evacuate Records, the label founded by street punks of the same name and helmed by Close's hero Mike Virus. Career high all around.
"But we didn't get a song in about drinking beer with our friends," smirks Close.