Packed into a van, along stretches of interstates leading to the Northern tip of the United States, sits the members of the wildly unique, Snake Oil Medicine Show. Riding along, singing a song, happy-go-lucky and all that jazz, Snake Oil and their road manager agreed to fill out my survey of playful interrogation so that I, You, We could get to know what makes this “zany, original, enlightening, inspirational, mystical, and colorful” band tick.
Although the band has seen many lineup changes, its core is still the same: George “Geometrognome Warpextor” Pond (bass and guitar) as the band’s founding member, his lovely wife Caroline (fiddle), and his brother Andy (banjo). Also adding to the mix are Sean Foley on keyboards and accordian and Phil Cheney on the canvas. Although MANY things separate Snake Oil from other bands, having a live painter on stage, creating art as the music progresses, catapults SOMS into a league of their own. Billy “Festus” Herring rounds out the rest of the crew, making sure that “galactic unity is being preached” as the voice of a road manager, and below the sextet answers some of music’s craziest questions.
GP: George Pond
CP: Caroline Pond
AP: Andy Pond
PC: Phil Cheney
SF: Sean Foley
BH: Billy 'Festus' Herring
How Did You Join The Band?
GP: Long Interview Process
AP: The band joined me.
SF: Through a Phil Cheney Recommendation
What’s Your Favorite Color?
CP: First purple, now red!
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
AP: Teaching Children
PC: I’m not a musician, but I like to paint. If I wasn’t a painter, I would probably like to be a musician.
CP: I have a secret desire to be an actress in a movie or a play. I would need to take classes to hone that art though.
GP: Activist/Advocate for awareness, perhaps Peace Corps?
BH: Riding around in a van with SOMS making sure that galactic unity is being preached.
Would you rather play to an audience of 10 diehard fans, or 150 who know none of your songs?
BH: that’s tricky because 150 people would help pay the bills but the 10 diehards(they know who they are) are the reason we can keep doing this beautiful thing.
AP: 150—they will become Diehard
PC: Diehard fans are awesome and we feel the love, but 150 fans helps pay the bills and at this point we need that help.
CP: Although I love both, I especially love playing for family and friends, I dig playing for huge crowds because I feed off the energy of the crowd—and I feel my performance is more animated and fueled.
GP: Happy to do both. I love the family and friends, but I love to spread the word!
SF: Either or, you can’t change the weather!
Does one person usually write the lyrics/melodies, or is it a collaborative effort?
AP: Group contributions of song and melody.
PC: Usually one person does write lyrics to a particular song, although some songs have more than one lyricist. Then the group will help with the music, each adding their own distinct flavour.
CP: Well mostly George is the genius who writes some crazy, whacked-out fun tunes. But we all have dabbled in it. Andy has beautiful compositions with wonderful, melodic ideas. I have been writing maybe two a year.
SF: Everybody does something.
What 3 adjectives would you use to describe what it’s like to be at a SOMS show?
SF: Zany, unpredictable, weird
BH: Mystical, colorful, WIDE-OPEN
AP: Original, fun, energetic
PC: Amazing, enlightening, inspirational
CP: Energetic, original, positive
GP: Happy, colorful, weird.
George, what’s with the funky outfits?
AP: Hey! It’s a show (said like the Fonz)
CP: Yeah Geo, what’s up in the air with your clothing choices?
GP: Haute Couture (Hot Cooter!)
What would you say to people who “just don’t get your music?”
GP: Please try again!
SF: What are you deaf?
CP: Maybe open your mind one more time, or hey, thanks for listening and trying!
BH: It’s not all about the music, it is about audio/visual stimulation to awaken the minds, hearts and spirits of those who partake of Snake Oil.
AP: I know, it IS a little complex.
PC: Well, they either do or they don’t—its art so it’s open to interpretation.
How did Phil join the band?
GP: Long interview process
CP: We had a mutual friend Woosel who introduced us. Phil has been with us for 5 years now and we truly love him and he is part of our family and a huge part of what we do.
SF: Ask Phil
AP: He started coming to gigs.
PC: Woosel bugged me to come see a show and I finally went. After several shows we were invited to paint the first and only festival.
What do you think his artwork brings to the music? Does it reflect in the songs?
PC: I am greatly inspired by the music and grateful to be around such awesome, creative people. They are my family
GP: I love it! Yes, the paintings have theme music and songs have theme paintings.
CP: The artwork of Phil’s brings the music to life! The colors, the comedy and the clearness of it all.
SF: It encompasses the energy and lore that laces all the music.
AP: The art reflects in the songs and the songs reflect in the art. Most art pieces reflect happenstances, situations and fictional eye imagination scenery.
BH: A completeness; Yes
Where did the name, Snake Oil Medicine Show derive?
PC: The name derives from the old-timey Medicine Shows which used to travel around in carts and buggies doing Vaudevillian performances.
GP: We were “The Jaguars” but we changed to SOMS.
CP: From the old covered wagon days. “Step right up and get your cure—all tonic” Snake Oil heals what ails you.
SF: Ask George.
BH: George Pond’s mind.
AP: Old Timey Medicine Show stuff. The Snake Oil is the Ultra Tonic.
What Song do you secretly long to cover?
AP: Any North Indian Raga. Truly the finest most spiritual experience I can imagine.
PC: Anything by the Beatles or Abbott Vaughn Meader.
GP: Princess Papodi has plenty papaya.
CP: “Midnight in the Oasis” Maria Muldaur.
SF: None, maybe old forgotten originals by the other bandmembers.
What 3 cds are in your cd player now?
BH: Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, Abbott Vanugh Meader and Blue Bunny Express, A Cajun Mix CD
AP: Spike Jones, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Bela Fleck: "Tales from the Acoustic Planet"
PC: Les Primitifs Du Futur, “World Musette,” Hypnotic Clambake “Square Dance Messiah,” Thelonius Monk, “Underground.”
Note: This article was one of the first featured interviews on PhreshWater.com, was written by our first intern writer Bacon, and appeared in the Fall of 2002