Origin: Edmonton, Alberta
SNFU is a Canadian hardcore punk band. They formed in 1981 in Edmonton, and relocated to Vancouver in 1992. They have released ten full-length albums and are cited as a formative influence on the skate punk subgenre.
In their early years, SNFU built an audience across North America through energetic live performances and a dynamic punk sound. Their 1985 debut album ...And No One Else Wanted to Play has remained influential in underground circuits. They grew in popularity following two further studio albums, but disbanded in 1989 due to internal tensions.
SNFU reformed two years later, however, in a second incarnation which found greater success. They signed with the prominent indie label Epitaph Records, achieved six-digit record sales and toured in support of larger groups. They became independent in 1997 after the expiration of their contract with Epitaph. They again disbanded in 2005, only to reform two years later.
The group is fronted by the eccentric singer, lyricist, and artist Ken Chinn, credited as Mr. Chi Pig. Founding members and twin brothers Brent and Marc Belke helped create the band's melodic hardcore punk sound with dual guitar work before their departures in 1998 and 2005, respectively. Nearly 30 musicians have played in the group, with only Chinn remaining constant. Since 2016, the band has consists of Chinn, bassist Dave Bacon, guitarists Randy Steffes and Kurt Robertson, and drummer Jamie Oliver. Batikão Est has served as the group's touring.
SNFU was a Canadian hardcore punk band that formed in 1981 in Edmonton, relocated to Vancouver in 1992, and became inactive in 2018. The band released eight full-length studio albums, two live records, and one compilation, and was a formative influence on the skate punk subgenre. Their work has been included in rankings of the best Canadian music.
The group was fronted by the eccentric vocalist and artist Ken Chinn, credited as Mr. Chi Pig, while founding twin brothers Brent and Marc Belke provided dual guitar work. With founding drummer Evan C. Jones and early bassist Jimmy Schmitz, SNFU built an audience across North America through energetic live performances and a dynamic melodic hardcore punk sound. Their 1985 debut album ...And No One Else Wanted to Play has remained influential in underground circuits. They grew in popularity following two further studio albums, the experimental If You Swear, You'll Catch No Fish (1986) with bassist Dave Bacon and drummer Jon Card and the aggressive Better Than a Stick in the Eye (1988) with bassist Curtis Creager and drummer Ted Simm. The group disbanded in 1989, however, due to internal tensions.
Beginning with what was intended to be a one-off reunion tour, SNFU reformed in 1991 with a new incarnation that had greater success. After some shifts, drummer Dave Rees and bassist Rob Johnson ultimately completed their most lasting lineup. They signed with the prominent indie label Epitaph Records, with whom they released the albums Something Green and Leafy This Way Comes (1993), The One Voted Most Likely to Succeed (1995), and FYULABA (1996). These records achieved six-digit record sales as the band toured in support of popular groups like Green Day and Bad Religion, but SNFU did not attain commercial success.
The group became independent in 1997 after their contract with Epitaph expired, and Brent Belke and Rees departed the following year. Following Johnson's 2001 departure and an ensuing two-year hiatus, they self-released the critically praised In the Meantime and In Between Time album in 2004 with bassist Matt Warhurst and guest drummer Trevor MacGregor. The band again disbanded in 2005, however, with Marc Belke permanently departing.
Chinn and former member Ken Fleming reformed SNFU in 2007. A later version of this incarnation, also including Card, guitarist Sean Colig, and bassist Kerry Cyr, released the album Never Trouble Trouble Until Trouble Troubles You in 2013. Beginning the following year, Chinn and Bacon led lineups that included guitarists Randy Steffes and Kurt Robertson and several drummers. The band announced a health-related hiatus in March 2018, and Chinn died on July 16, 2020. In total, 31 musicians played in the group as members or guests, with only Chinn remaining constant
Early years, ...And No One Else Wanted to Play (1981–1985)
Ken Chinn met twin brothers Brent and Marc Belke in Edmonton in the late 1970s. The three were teenagers who shared interests in the skateboarding subculture and burgeoning punk rock movement. In 1981, they formed the punk band Live Sex Shows with drummer Ed Dobek and bassist Phil Larson. The band broke up later that year after a few gigs.
Chinn and the Belkes began a new group, Society's No Fucking Use, shortened to Society's NFU. The initial lineup was completed by bassist Warren Bidlock and drummer Evan C. Jones. After a few months of gigging, Bidlock departed due to stage fright. The group recorded a two-song demo cassette, "Life of a Bag Lady", with guest bassist Scott Juskiw.
Jimmy Schmitz replaced Bidlock late in 1982, and the group adopted the SNFU moniker. Two studio tracks on the It Came From Inner Space compilation LP on Rubber Records followed early in 1983 (songs re-released in 1990 on the Real Men Don't Watch Quincy bootleg 7".) SNFU gradually built an audience throughout North America on the strength of their aggressive live set, including shows played in support of touring acts such as Youth Brigade, the Dead Kennedys, and GBH, and their track "Victims of the Womanizer" on the Something to Believe In compilation LP released on the US label BYO Records.
SNFU recorded their debut album, ...And No One Else Wanted to Play, in Los Angeles late in 1984, and BYO released the record the following year. The album made an impact in the underground punk scene, with noted artist Pushead writing in Maximumrocknroll that the band's "rigorous energy pushes the limits of power with knocking flurry and extreme excitement. Pushead concluded that the album was "a scorcher."
If You Swear, You'll Catch No Fish and Better Than a Stick in the Eye (1985–1989)
Jones left the band due to exhaustion in mid 1985. Dave Bacon was slated to replace him on drums, but ultimately joined as bassist after Schmitz's departure in May. Jon Card (previously of Personality Crisis, and later of D.O.A and the Subhumans) moved to Edmonton and joined as drummer. With the new lineup, the group toured North America. They recorded If You Swear, You'll Catch No Fish, their second and comparatively experimental album, in 1986 and released it on BYO. Card left the band after the album's completion. With drummer Ted Simm, SNFU self-released the She's Not on the Menu 7" EP, which also included the "Life of a Bag Lady" recordings from 1982. Bacon departed in early 1987 due to musical differences and health concerns. He was replaced by Curtis Creager (of Urban Holiday), a former roommate of Chinn and Marc Belke.
The band enjoyed steadily increasing popularity. In 1987, Flipside fanzine voted them Best Live Band, beating the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fugazi. Metallica included photos of lead singer James Hetfield wearing SNFU's iconic 'zombie' T-shirt in their The $5.98 E.P. - Garage Days Re-Revisited. SNFU toured alongside Voivod and the Dayglo Abortions, and signed to the larger Cargo Records imprint. Their third record, Better Than a Stick in the Eye, was produced by Cecil English and issued in 1988. The album remains influential among hardcore punk audiences. The group's touring in support of the album included their first trip to Europe.
Due to internal tensions and musical differences, they disbanded in late 1989. Simm returned to his home of Winnipeg, while the Belkes and Creager formed the melodic rock band the Wheat Chiefs. Though Creager would soon depart, the Belkes kept the Wheat Chiefs active until 1998. Chinn moved to Vancouver and led the short-lived bands The Wongs and Little Joe. During this time, Chinn also became open about his homosexuality, and thereafter was a prominent advocate for queer identity in the punk rock community.
Reformation, Epitaph years (1991–1998)
In 1991, SNFU released The Last of the Big Time Suspenders, an album of live material, demos, and studio outtakes, to satisfy their contract with Cargo. The band reformed around the Belkes, Chinn, Creager, and Card, initially planning only a supporting promotional tour. The tour was successful, however, and after several months of consideration, they decided to reactivate the band.
The Belkes joined Chinn, Card, and new bassist Ken Fleming (formerly of the Winnipeg-based skate punk band The Unwanted) in Vancouver in June 1992. Suffering from substance abuse problems, Card was replaced in October by Dave Rees, who had played in the Wheat Chiefs and former SNFU tour mates Broken Smile. This lineup completed an extensive European tour. Fleming was dismissed due to personality conflicts in December and was replaced by Wheat Chiefs bassist Rob Johnson.
In 1993, the band signed a three-record deal with Epitaph Records, an independent punk rock label on the cusp of mainstream success through releases from groups like The Offspring and Rancid. SNFU entered a period of heavy activity. They released two demo tracks for their next album as the small-run "Beautiful, Unlike You and I" EP on the Hom Wreckerds Music imprint. The album, Something Green and Leafy This Way Comes, appeared via Epitaph in 1993. This era found them playing increasingly melodic music, influenced by new directions in the third-wave punk sound that they themselves had helped to develop. They shared touring bills with Green Day and Bad Religion and received opening support from Korn and Tool.
In 1995, the band released their fifth studio album, The One Voted Most Likely to Succeed. They hoped that the record would capitalize on the crossover success of other recent third-wave punk bands, but it did not chart. Nonetheless, critics acknowledge the record as a "classic of '90s punk" in which the veteran musicians "handle the record's more difficult material with grace and power." The band completed and released the follow-up album FYULABA in 1996, which was produced by Dave Ogilvie and received mixed reviews.
Epitaph did not renew the band's contract after its expiration late in 1997. As a stopgap between studio albums, the band issued Let's Get It Right the First Time, a faux-live album co-released by Megaforce Records and the band's own Rake Records. In March 1998, Rees and Brent Belke both departed and pursued careers in film and television.
As four-piece, In the Meantime and In-Between Time (1998–2005)
Despite industry frustrations and the loss of members, Chinn, Johnson, and Marc Belke opted to continue. They hired drummer Sean Stubbs (of Numb, Jakalope, and Bif Naked's band) to complete their first four-piece lineup. They continued to tour and began sporadic work on a new record, which would ultimately take six years. Stubbs was replaced by Chris Thompson (known as Corporal Ninny) in 1999. They released The Ping Pong EP, comprising five outtakes from the FYULABA sessions, in 2000 via the Alternative Tentacles label. The band also recorded studio sessions with guest drummer Trevor MacGregor (of Treble Charger), which would later appear on their seventh studio album.
In June 2001, Johnson left the band after a nine-year tenure. He was replaced for a single gig by Matt Warhurst (of Ocean 3 and Jakalope), until Thompson departed and the band began a hiatus that would ultimately last two years. During the hiatus, Belke first led the band Based On a True Story, also with Warhurst, before relocating to Toronto. Chinn formed Slaveco. with Warhurst and several musicians from Ocean 3 and Based On a True Story.
SNFU resumed in May 2003 with Marc Belke, Chinn, MacGregor, Warhurst, and producer Pete Wonsiak completing the tracking for the new record. The album, In the Meantime and In Between Time, was released on Rake Records the following year. It was heralded as a return to form for the band, with some critics ranking it among their finest work. The album's song "Cockatoo Quill" ranked among the top 20 most beloved Canadian songs in a 2017 poll by CBC Music. Shane Smith (of Ocean 3, Based On a True Story, and Slaveco.) joined the group for touring in support of the album.
In August 2005, the group again disbanded, due to frustrations with the music industry and internal tensions. Belke began working in radio, hosting his own show. Chinn's severe health problems escalated, and he became homeless for a time before entering into assisted living.
Second reformation, Never Trouble Trouble Until Trouble Troubles You (2007–2013)
Veteran drummer Jon Card served three stints with the band. In July 2007, Chinn and Fleming planned to play a set of SNFU songs as "asSNFU" at SNFU's 25th anniversary party. With Fleming playing guitar, they recruited bassist Bryan McCallum (of Karen Foster) and drummer Chad Mareels (of Fleming's former group Dog Eat Dogma) to complete the band. SNFU played a small handful of concerts thereafter before dropping the "as" prefix and billing themselves as simply "SNFU." The continuation of the band in the absence of Belke caused minor controversy; but Chinn stated, "As far as I’m concerned it’s SNFU. The band has changed all throughout the years, and this is just another change. Those songs are my life. I’ll fucking play them ‘til I die."
In 2008, Denis Nowoselski replaced McCallum, while Shane Smith later returned to replace Mareels. The group embarked on extensive Canadian and European tours.
Open Your Mouth and Say... Mr. Chi Pig, a documentary film about Chinn, was released in March 2010. Produced by the Canadian company Prairie Coast Films and directed by Sean Patrick Shaul, the film focused on Chinn's life, including his drug abuse and schizophrenia. It featured interviews with Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene, Corb Lund of the Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans and The Smalls, and Joey Keithley of D.O.A. In April, Jon Card joined the band for a third time, replacing Smith. Shortly thereafter, the band became a five-piece for the first time in 12 years with the addition of guitarist and harmony vocalist Sean Colig (of Minority, Savannah, and SideSixtySeven).
Several 2011 dates were canceled due to Chinn's severe case of pneumonia. The group nonetheless remained active, composing its first batch of new material since reforming. Punk historian and author Chris Walter released an official biography of the band, What No One Else Wanted to Say, via GFY Press. Bassist Kerry Cyr (of SideSixtySeven) replaced Nowoselski at the conclusion of their 2012 tour. The cover song "I Wanna Be an East Indian" was released under the SNFU moniker on Cruzar Media's Dayglo Abortions tribute album, but was recorded by Chinn and unrelated backing musicians.
Their eighth studio album, Never Trouble Trouble Until Trouble Troubles You, was announced for a September release via Cruzar Media, but was delayed. The band embarked upon its first tour of Japan and a subsequent Canadian tour, with guest drummer Junior Kittlitz replacing the ailing Card. Ultimately released in November, the new record was their first release in nine years, and their first and only album without founding member Marc Belke. It received mixed reviews from critics, some of whom praised the new lineup's successful approximation of the group's previous work.[ Others were critical of the album, questioning Chinn's ability to continue performing. SNFU splintered late in 2013, as all members other than Chinn departed after the supporting tours.
Final lineups (2014–2018)
Between lineups, "I Wanna Be an East Indian" was issued as a one-track digital download single. A new incarnation of the band was assembled in February, when Chinn was joined by returning bassist Dave Bacon, guitarists Kurt Robertson (of The Real McKenzies) and Randy Steffes (a former sound engineer and road manager for SNFU, The Real McKenzies, and Green Day), and drummer Adrian White (of Strapping Young Lad and Front Line Assembly). Beginning in April, the band played in Europe, Canada, and made their first United States appearances since 2001. They returned to Europe in July with British drummer Jamie Oliver (of the U.K. Subs). Guest drummer Txutxo Krueger (of Total Chaos) also filled in for several dates.
Further Canadian touring was planned for November, which would include the returns of Curtis Creager and Ted Simm, but the tour was ultimately canceled. The band toured in 2015 with Bacon and Oliver. On their Canadian dates they performed ...And No One Else Wanted to Play in its entirety to commemorate the record's 30th anniversary. They also performed in Australia and New Zealand for the first time since 1997. Basque drummer Batikão Est (of Estricalla) played with the group during its 2016 and 2017 tours of Europe and Canada, while Oliver remained with the group for a brief and aborted studio session in 2016. The final SNFU live performances occurred in February 2017 in Europe.
Marc Belke reworked two demo tracks from 2000 and released them as SNFU's "A Happy Number" single on Rake Records in November 2017. The songs were far more experimental than anything else in the band's catalog and featured heavy use of electronic musical elements. Writing for PunkNews.org, reviewer Jefftommy called the "odd duck of a record" a "pretty little song by a hardcore band of yore" and recommended the record for the band's fans; Razorcake critic Ty Stranglehold praised the "hauntingly strange little ditties with keyboards and a drum machine," as well as the band's experimentation.
Hiatus, Chinn's death, and aftermath
The band planned 2018 touring dates, but canceled these due to illness and announced a hiatus. During the hiatus, Steffes and later Bacon joined The Real McKenzies for touring. In June 2019, Artoffact Records released ...And Yet, Another Pair of Lost Suspenders, a live album recorded during the band's 1992 reunion tour at Les Foufounes Électriques in Montreal.
In November, Chinn revealed in an interview with BeatRoute journalist Sean Orr that he had been diagnosed with a serious medical condition that was projected soon to become fatal. While ill, he recorded a solo 7" single with orchestral versions of "Hurt" (written by Nine Inch Nails and later covered by Johnny Cash) and SNFU's "Painful Reminder." Chinn died on July 16, 2020 at age 57. SNFU released the acoustic track "Cement Mixer," Chinn's final recording, via YouTube shortly after his death.