Music Talk: For The Bottlesnakes, Making Music is a Spiritual Experience

The Bottlesnakes interview to Artlist

Highlights

St Louis, Missouri, is the home of blues, jazz, country and bluegrass, and its rich musical history endlessly inspires The Bottlesnakes
The band says their songwriting experience borders on the spiritual, and they feel their tracks come to them fully formed
Their upbeat, quirky music is often used in cooking, comedy and adventure films and features in some of our “Inspired by” collection series
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Ethan Leinwand and Nick Pence, AKA The Bottlesnakes, believe the music they make already exists in the universe, and their job is to find it. It’s a spiritual approach to songwriting, but if you listen to one of their honky-tonk, upbeat blues tracks, it will make a lot of sense. The music seems to roll out of them fully formed, like a spirit whose host entity is Ethan’s piano and Nick’s guitar.

The spirits of St. Louis

The Bottlesnakes live in St Louis, Missouri, a city that shaped the early sound of blues, jazz, country and bluegrass thanks to artists like Albert King, Scott Joplin and Robert Nighthawk. Nick was born in St Louis, so he spent his childhood absorbing the rich musical heritage of his home city. He learned guitar in his teens, joined a few bands and spent his spare time browsing local record stores, enraptured by the sounds of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts (The Allman Brothers). So when Nick asked his guitar teacher to teach him how to play like them, he said he needed to learn from the people they were imitating. It’s a rabbit hole Nick never really climbed out of.

“It took me to those early blues artists like Elmore James, which led me further back to Kokomo Arnold, Casey Bill Weldon and Tampa Red,” Nick says. “Any slide player that I could find who recorded in the 20s and 30s was all I wanted to listen to.” Nick found the complexity and simplicity so inspiring he saw no end to the type of music he could play. These songs were more than pieces of music; but layered stories that made personal experiences universal. When Nick found blues, he found his calling.

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The other half of the Bottlesnakes, Ethan, grew up in Middletown, Connecticut. He played piano as a kid and always felt drawn to the uplifting and erratic sounds of boogie-woogie, jazz and blues. Ethan mastered his genre of choice on the piano and spent his 20s performing 30s-inspired barrel-house blues in dusty bars and intimate venues across the East Coast. To Ethan, being a professional musician felt like the only option, so he moved to New York to take up residencies and dive deeper into the history of blues piano. Then fate stepped in.

Bonded in music and life

In 2014, feeling alone in the world, Ethan googled the sentence “I love St. Louis pre-war blues” and found a St. Louisan named Kevin Belford who had published an illustrated book on the topic. It was so expensive that Ethan tracked Kevin down on Facebook to ask if he could get a discounted copy and if he knew any artists playing this kind of music in St. Louis. Kevin put Ethan in touch with a woman called Valerie, AKA Miss Jubilee, who had the exact same music taste like him. But when Ethan made the trip to St. Louis to meet Valerie, he wasn’t expecting to meet 2 life partners at the same time.

“He came to town, and I was dating Karen, Valerie’s sister,” Nick says. “And when we met, it was very clear there was some kind of creative energy we needed to explore.” 2 months later, Ethan bought a one-way ticket and moved his whole life to St. Louis. Now Valerie’s sister is Nick’s wife, and Valerie is Ethan’s life partner, and the couples live together in a shared duplex in downtown St. Louis. So The Bottlesnakes aren’t just bandmates; they’re roommates and almost brothers-in-law.

Both Nick and Ethan agree they’ve never experienced a musical connection like the one they have. Their shared obsession with 20s and 30s blues manifested in an instant musical synergy that demanded exploration. The pair didn’t have a plan when they formed The Bottlesnakes – they just wanted to release the music locked up inside them into the universe.

“I like the idea of someone scrolling through the catalog and finding our music and thinking it’s cool”

Nick and Ethan’s jam sessions are similar to surfing. They find a frequency and ride it together, refusing to stop because the thread’s just too good to lose. Nick says, half-joking, that they communicate better through music than they do with words, and Ethan nods in concurrence.

One of their most popular songs is “Stomp n’ Slide” – an improvised jam they recorded on a whim that seems to have hit the spot with the Artlist community. The track has been used in comedy videos, cooking tutorials, road trips and time-lapses. Its fast-paced, upbeat and bouncy structure showcases the pair’s deft guitar-picking and ivory-hammering skills. But Ethan and Nick agree “Candy Shoppe” is the track that means the most to them because “it’s the first song that we really crafted and made into what we wanted it to be,” says Ethan. It took them almost 3 years.

the bottleneck album cover
‘Candy Shoppe’ is a collection of groovy retro blues tracks of slide Guitar and Piano
that will take you to the rollicking sound of the 1920s and 30s.

The Bottlesnakes wrote and self-released their first album in 2019 with no particular goal or aim but to release this extension of their spirits into the world. But when they discovered Artlist through a friend in 2020, they finally found a home for their quirky bluegrass funk. “I like the idea of someone scrolling through the catalog and finding our music and thinking it’s cool,” says Ethan. “It means they picked up on our energy and vibe – and that’s cool because that’s what we’re all about.” “Yeah,” Nick says. “It reassured us that we’re making something relatively pleasant.”

“We’re both very sensitive and passionate people so there’s like a lot of ups and downs.”

Filmmakers use The Bottlesnakes’ music in all sorts of ways – to soundtrack cooking videos, ASMR videos and mischievous dogs.

In addition, you will often find their music in some of Artlist’s collections, which helps people find relevant tracks quickly and easily. This includes cinematic collections inspired by films, like the Wes Anderson-inspired collection. More than anything, though, The Bottlesnakes connect with listeners because they so clearly love what they do.

The skill, fun and passion that go into each track can only come from a place of love, and that warmth oozes into and from everything they write.

Evolving

The Bottlesnakes are in the process of writing their second album, this time with a drummer. They say this album is more experimental and an exploration of the boundaries of their sound. “We’ve been writing tunes that can mean anything and drawing from our other sources, whether my love for classical music or [Nick’s] love for oldies,” says Ethan. “We’re just putting it all out there and trying not to be afraid.”

It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. There are challenges to being friends, bandmates, roommates and almost brothers-in-law. “We’re both very sensitive and passionate people,” says Nick.” So there’s like a lot of ups and downs. And sometimes maybe I’m passive, and Ethan’s aggressive.” Ethan laughs and nods in concurrence again.

The Bottlesnakes’ ambition isn’t to sell out stadiums but to protect their creative ecosystem at all costs. “Our ambitions are to maintain it healthy so that it can continue to live as long as possible,” says Nick. “And not to force it, never make it something it’s not, and always allow it to grow.” He pauses for a moment. “Was that too vague?”

“No,” Ethan shakes his head, smiling. “That was beautiful.”

Listen to The Bottlesnakes full catalog on Artlist.

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Alice Austin is a freelance writer from London. She writes for Mixmag, Beatportal, Huck, Dummy, Electronic Beats, Red Bulletin and more. She likes to explore youth and sub-culture through the lens of music, a vocation that has led her around the world. You can contact and/or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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