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The story of SNFU, the most successful punk band to emerge from Alberta, is not unlike your typical three-act narrative.
It starts with scrappy Edmonton kids taking the hardcore world by storm in the ’80s, proceeds into the ’90s when SNFU reaches its highest commercial heights during the mainstream SoCal punk explosion, and winds into the present, facing strife, personal struggles and dissolution along the way.
For Chris Walter it was a tale that needed to be told. The heavily tattooed author, who specializes in punk-focused books, has known the core members since the band’s inception in 1981 and was itching to document its career.
The only obstacle was another writer who had the same plan.
“There was another guy who was working on a book and I didn’t want to cut his grass,” says Walter from his home in Vancouver. “He was taking too long and I decided I had waited long enough. It was an incredible story and nobody was doing it.”
While the 2010 documentary Open Your Mouth and Say… My Chi Pig focused on lead singer Chi Pig and his personal battles with addiction, Walter’s book gives the whole band a chance to recount SNFU’s sprawling history of endless tours and music industry intrigue.
The book also illustrates just how unique SNFU was within the punk genre. First, as a Canadian band with a gay Asian frontman, they skipped the typical ’80s anti-Reaganisn and wrote songs like “Victims of the Womanizer,” which ripped apart macho concepts of male conquest. Second, after an ill-advised breakup and reformation, there was the band’s pressure-filled Epitaph years in the ’90s when SNFU created off-kilter punk while sharing a label with mainstream heavyweights like Bad Religion and Offspring. (“Painful Reminder,” off 1993’s Something Green and Leafy this Way Comes, is a poignant slow-burn rocker that is one of the band’s most enduring fan favourites, even though it sounds almost nothing like what was considered punk in that decade.)
“SNFU were a bit too offbeat for the American masses,” says Walter. “Even Marc and Brent’s (co-founding guitarists Marc and Brent Belke) guitar lines weren’t as formulaic.... Some of the songs on Something Green and Leafy are fairly experimental.”
Despite in-fighting and turmoil, the band released In the Meantime and In Between Time in 2004, thanks mostly to Marc Belke’s perseverance. He disbanded the group soon after due to Chi’s increased substance abuse, though the singer refuses to acknowledge the end and still sporadically tours under the SNFU banner with a group of ringers.
Chi Pig’s health issues were the reason behind a tour cancellation this summer and, as Walter points out, the saga is still unfolding. Walter, however, is ready to move on.
“It was emotionally draining,” he says. “When it was done I felt worn out; not just physically but emotionally. It was like I was with them when they went through all that shit.”