1998: Remembering Snot, and the untimely death of Lynn Strait

A shot of lynn strait on stage

At the time, it would not have been rash to assume that Get Some, Snot’s riotous 1997 debut album, had signalled the arrival of nu metal’s next big thing. Bristling with the bare-knuckled pugnacity of frontman Lynn Strait, its enthralling blend of funk, nu metal and hardcore breathed renewed vitality into the era’s generic alt- rock stagnancy. A vast and auspicious career opened wide before them, but 20 years later, Get Some stands as both a debut and a swansong, their meteoric ascent cut tragically short with Lynn’s death in 1998 along a nasty stretch of Southern California highway.

These days we take it for granted that a new album can reach millions of people instantly thanks to Spotify, YouTube and social media, but in the mid-90s, the Internet remained a remote and exotic vista for many fans. Word-of-mouth was a slow-burning process sparked by mainstream radio exposure, relentless touring and shit-tons of tape-trading among fans.

Which makes Snot’s ascent all the more remarkable – in just three short years, the band would form, score a major label deal, release a debut and land on one of the biggest tours of the 90s. That was as close to overnight success as you got back then. And at the centre of it all was Lynn Strait, a whirlwind of pure energy, exuding equal parts talent, charisma and menace.

“I didn’t realise until later how talented Lynn was,” recalls producer Ross Robinson, who produced nu metal’s big guns Korn, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit. “I just thought everybody was that good. I hear it now in other places. Corey Taylor on the first Slipknot record did something that really reminded me of Lynn. He was so unique that when he just did his thing, he really stuck out.”

But Lynn wasn’t without his demons. By the age of 27, he had already spiralled into addiction, and notched up a prodigious amount of jail time for offences ranging from weapons violations, to assaulting a police officer, to robbery. And yet in the roguish tradition of original AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, he could enrapture a room with his stupidly infectious charm. He always made time for friends, and he was ever-shadowed by his beloved boxer, Dobbs, whose furry visage graces Get Some’s cover.

“On one level, he was a criminal,” remembers Snot guitarist Sonny Mayo. “On the other level, he’d love you more passionately than you’d ever been loved. He was somewhere in the middle of those extremes.”

Snot larking around backstage at the Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana, California on August 26, 1997

Snot larking around backstage at the Galaxy Theater in Santa Ana, California on August 26, 1997

Lynn and guitarist Mikey Doling formed Snot in 1995 in Santa Barbara, a sleepy, seaside hamlet in California known for its sun-drenched beaches and ultra-chill vibes. Through mutual friends, they summoned guitarist Sonny Mayo and bassist John Fahnestock from the east coast and the four men quickly congealed around a love of jamming and the libertine pleasures of rock’n’roll. When drummer Jamie Miller arrived in 1996, the line-up was complete.

“We basically started the scene in Santa Barbara,” says Sonny. “We started playing shows down on State Street and there were skaters, surfers, metalheads and every other token 90s, dreadlocked, hacky-sack-kicking motherfucker showing up. We got it all going.”

With a sweaty, roof-destroying live show, Snot were soon packing clubs on LA’s Sunset Strip, pioneering a vibrant new scene with bands such as Coal Chamber, Incubus and System Of A Down. On the strength of these gigs, Snot scored a major label deal with Geffen in 1996. For the five musicians, their dreams were drawing into focus with head-spinning acceleration.

“I had never met Lynn Strait until I arrived in Santa Barbara,” remembers Sonny. “Fourteen months later we were signed to Geffen, and literally two years to the day that I arrived in Santa Barbara, our one and only album was released – on May 27, 1997.”

Five months after this photo was taken, Lynn and his faithful Dobbs were dead

Five months after this photo was taken, Lynn and his faithful Dobbs were dead

Critics weren’t initially sure how to assess Get Some. There were so many styles at play that it was impossible to file under any one genre. It sounded like Pantera and Sublime smoking weed in the garage while cranking 80s So-Cal punk pioneers Descendents. Lyrically, Lynn dragged his real life experiences with prison, crime and drugs out from the corners of his psyche and laid them bare. He even wrote some songs, including Stoopid, from his jail cell. Meanwhile, their shows kept getting bigger as their rabid new fanbase kept pace.

Snot’s upward trajectory continued when they earned a slot on 1998’s Ozzfest tour. That July, at a show in Mansfield, Massachusetts, Lynn popped up naked onstage during Limp Bizkit’s set, reportedly on a dare from Fred Durst, copping a high-profile arrest for indecent exposure. It hardly slowed them down. By the autumn of that year, Snot had amassed 10 tracks of new material for their sophomore outing. Geffen also sent the band into the studio with Ross Robinson to re-record one track, The Box, with new vocals, for a more radio-friendly vibe.

“When Ross came into the studio, he said, ‘We can do that if you want to. Or we could record a new song,’” recalls Sonny. “We were all, ‘Yeah, let’s write a new song!’ So we wrote this song called Absent, which turned out to be the final song ever recorded by the five original members of Snot.”

Party people: Lynn and Drain’s Maria Sjöholm hanging out at Ozzfest

Party people: Lynn and Drain’s Maria Sjöholm hanging out at Ozzfest

On the afternoon of December 11, 1998, with Dobbs in the backseat, Lynn Strait cut across the southbound lane of coastal Highway 101 to make a left turn and was immediately t-boned by a driver heading south. Both Lynn and Dobbs died instantly.

“Are you sitting down?” With those words, Mikey called Sonny and steeled him for the news. Sonny recalls, “Mikey just said, ‘He’s gone, bro,’ and I knew exactly what he was talking about. Mikey told me what happened and I knew the exact spot. There’s a part on the 101 freeway where you used to have to cross southbound traffic to go north. They have since closed it off and you have to take another on-ramp that’s way safer – no one will die there again.”

Any notion that Snot might carry on was immediately squashed by Mikey, who said, “We can’t go on without Lynn. It’s just bullshit when bands do that.” As a tribute to their beloved frontman, the band released Snot’s unfinished songs in 2000 as Strait Up, with lyrics and vocals supplied by rock and metal heavyweights including Corey Taylor, Fred Durst, Max Cavalera, Serj Tankian and Dez Fafara. They later released Alive, a 1998 performance at The Palace in Hollywood, in 2002, featuring the band at the top of their game and including their final recorded song, Absent. Despite Mikey’s initial resistance, they’ve since played reunion shows with vocalists Tommy Vext and later Carl Bensley, but there’s no indication that they’ll ever try to pick up where they left off in 1998 by recording a new studio album.

Had Lynn turned off the freeway two seconds earlier or later, Snot might well have become the next Korn or, more likely, the next Faith No More. Sonny won’t even speculate on what might have been.

“I don’t know,” he says. “If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I might have had an answer. Now I just look back in a state of ultimate wonder.”

To Ross Robinson, Snot’s legacy stretches beyond their music and Lynn’s untimely passing. “They were just the best dudes,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine a sweeter bunch of guys. If you’re going to leave something behind, that’s way better than any level of success. As a band you can be just awful and still have lots of success, but who are you? What do you stand for? But Snot, they were truly great.”

A life and glorious career were cruelly cut short

A life and glorious career were cruelly cut short

Everything else that happened in 1998…

Headlines: J.K. Rowling’s second book in the series, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, is published… Pop singer George Michael is arrested for lewd behaviour in a Los Angeles public toilet. He pleads no contest, and is fined and given community service… A new internet search engine named Google launches… hmmm, wonder whatever became of it?

Movie: Hugely successful Japanese horror movie Ring introduces us to the most terrifying vengeful spirit ever to crawl out of a TV… The Big Lebowski becomes the finest stoner comedy for people who don’t even smoke… Johnny Depp goes full gonzo as legendary journalist Hunter S. Thompson in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

TV: Celebrity Deathmatch is the only place you’ll see a plasticine Marilyn Manson wrestling a plasticine Charles Manson to the death… Utterly surreal British sketch show Big Train is a barking-mad treat from the makers of Father Ted.

Charts: The good news? Aerosmith keep the rock flag flying with the biggest hit of their career. The bad news? It was with the soul- sapping I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.

Hero: During an interview to promote his new industrial metal band, 2wo, Rob Halford becomes the first high-profile metal musician to announce that he is gay.

Villain: Interscope records are accused of payola after paying a US radio station $5,000 to play Limp Bizkit’s Counterfeit 50 times. Sure, worse things have happened, but that’s just cheating.

RIP: Former Black Sabbath drummer Cozy Powell (car crash)… Original X Japan guitarist Hide (suicide)… Snot singer Lynn Strait (car crash).

WTF?: The UK finally officially abolishes the death penalty – even though the last executions took place in 1964.

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