interview by Keith WallaceDan Snaith is one happy camper. Touring the world on the back of his third album The Milk of Human Kindness, the multi-instrumentalist, electronic musician/mathematician is rocking with a three-piece band.
Onstage, Caribou consists of a drummer and guitarist, with London-based Canadian Snaith switching between guitar, keyboard, electronics, recorder, melodica and glockenspiel. Their powerful pulsing concoction of Neu-wave metronomic grooves and unearthly radiophonic tones meshes with dueling drums, sequenced electronica and synchronised visuals (by Irish animators Delicious 9, whose Marino DVD collection of Caribou videos has just dropped!)
I caught up with Dan on a rainy night after the soundcheck...
PSF: With the constant evolution of your music how do you feel about tags like Ďfolktronicaí being applied to your music?
People get bees in their bonnets about having categorizations and names applied to their music, but I donít really care too much. Itís sometimes kinda lazy journalism, people are always gonna have to clump music together and assign names to it. People tend to use the word "psychedelic" a lot, which is fine with me. Itís slightly different from the records when we play live.
PSF: Has the integration of live instrumentation in the Caribou stage set-up been a way of getting away from the underwhelming live presentation of electronic music with just a loner on a laptop?
Everything we do live is to try and get away from that, and to try get close to bands who are more physical, such as Lightning Bolt or The Boredoms, bands that are more sort of hypnotic and wall-of-noise and have all sorts of shit going on, because those are the shows that I enjoy going to and I assume those are they type of shows that anybody in their right mind would enjoy going to.
PSF: When you make the records itís just you and a computer, so is it difficult to translate that to the live performance arena?
Itís not really difficult because a lot of the things Iím sampling are guitars and drums, even though Iím not playing the guitar or drums or whatever... so we pick it apart and see what makes the most sense for us to play, and what to put on the backing tracks.
We start with it being somewhat faithful to the record but then it gets more and more aggressive and noisy and loud, and we rework songs and... theyíre more bombastic, I guess. The reason this album was more in that direction was because when we were playing songs from the last album live I wanted the songs to be more repetitive, more kinda Ďkrautyí-sounding... so I think thatís why this album ended up that way.
PSF: Does your early piano training affect your compositional creative process?
I think it definitely does, itís just so in the background. When I was a kid I took classical lessons and jazz piano and I was really obsessed with figuring out how music fit together and stuff like that.
I never consciously think about that, itís just running in the background. I have that framework to work in. Iím always really amazed by people who donít know what a chord is or donít know what key a song is in and theyíre making music Ė it must be totally different.
PSF: Youíre singing more on this record than ever before?
Itís terrible! I canít sing at all! I didnít used to sing in the live shows, it was all kinda coming off the video, but Iíve started singing more and more Ďcos people have been like "why the fuck donít you sing live? You sing on the fucking records, whatís your problem?"
I donít have a good voice, at all, but I can get by. Iím really happy with the end result on the records. Itís obviously not the focus of the music, even though there are more vocals than before - it sort of fits in as another instrumentÖpart of the arrangement rather than the lead.
I think I realized when I was making Up in Flames that most of the music that I love, even though I never know the lyrics to a song - I never pay attention in that sense - most of the music I really love has vocals in it. Because itís such a good instrument for conveying something, I think thatís why it sort of made sense to start singing, although I never sang in my life.
PSF: You recently earned your PhD in advanced mathematics; do you find much of a crossover between math and music?
Iíve noticed that people who do math tend to be musical a lot of the timeÖor the other way around. But people think about the mathematical side of it in an inaccurate way, they kinda think itís like "computing" or calculating; very structured and scientific. The way I make music is just kinda throw shit together, and the bits Iím always happiest with are the accidents, where two sounds just fit together in this interesting way or whatever. I think math is more creative than people imagine it to be. Itís just like playing with ideas, thereís some kind of abstraction to the way I make music too.
PSF: Do you feel that you are part of a community of like-minded individuals? People such as Kieran Hebden, Boom Bip and Fog Ė who are fusing different elements into their own take on electronic music?
Definitely, Four Tet just cause heís a really good friend of mine, weíre always trading ideas off of one another. I sort of feel more akin to people who happen to be my friends, like the Russian Futurists or the Junior Boys or Koushik who sang on my last album. It never affects the way I make music or what Iím thinking when I make music, they just happen to be mates.
PSF: How do you feel about illegal downloading? Thereís a Sage Francis quote that goes "You pretend it doesn't bother you when they ask if they can download..."
Iím always surprised when it does really bother musicians to be honest, like I download music all the fucking time and yíknow, I donít think about it twice. I kinda think of it as being sorta flattering if people are interested in getting the music. Iím sure some people are downloading it and not buying it but then they tell three friends about it and one of them buys it, or they go to a show or buy a T-shirt or whatever. Ask me when Iím selling zero records! [laughs] Right now, I couldnít criticize it because firstly, I do it myself and secondly, I think itís more a good thing - it kinda just spreads the word for like a small artist like myself.
PSF: What have you been listening to recently that youíre excited about?
The new Animal Collective album and the new Lightning Bolt album, the same bands I was into two years ago. Iím always looking for a lot of old music, weirder music - thereís this French band called Lard Free that I just found a bunch of stuff by thatís amazing, and free jazz records all the time. This year that Gods Money album by Gang Gang Dance I thought was a really cool recordÖthe Daft Punk album this year I thought was really good even though everybody else seemed to hate it! Iíd like something to come out of the blue and really blow me away but it hasnít happened in the last little bit.
PSF: Whatís next for Caribou?
Iím so content and so happy being able to make a living making music, and being able to travel around the world playing music, and then going home to fuck around making music, itís just the ideal life. People are always like "one of these days you guys are gonna be big" and that doesnít really appeal to me. This is fine by me. Iím always really excited to be making music, as long as I keep doing that Iíll be happy!
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