Caribou – Dan Snaith on Making An Album for His Fans

By Any Other Name

Dec 02, 2014 Issue #51 - September/October 2014 - alt-J
Bookmark and Share


It has now been 10 years since punk rock has-been "Handsome Dick" Manitoba forced Dan Snaith to drop his Manitoba moniker and rebrand himself as Caribou. It's difficult to know what effect, if any, that rebranding has had on the evolution of his creative persona, but it has taken Snaith 12 years and six studios albums to get to the point where he feels comfortable enough to insert himself into his music as its central character. To this point, Snaith has played the role of the invisible studio auteur, turning out album after album of experimental pop that was so meticulously arranged that it was easy to forget that little was known about Snaith, himself. Following the unexpected commercial success of 2010's dance-influenced Swim, he has taken yet another creative detour, adding shades of contemporary R&B and classic soul to his textural palette. Somewhat counterintuitively, just as he is opening up his creative process to share more of himself, he is also attempting to make music with the expressed intention of pleasing his increasingly fanatical audience. Here, Snaith examines the contradictions inherent in finding yourself by giving yourself away. [Note: These are extra portions of our interview with Dan Snaith, quotes that didn't make it into our main print article on Caribou.]

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): So do you think the success of Swim changed the way you approached Our Love?

Dan Snaith: It had connected with people in a different way than my previous records had, so I definitely started thinking early on about making a record that was for the listener or thinking about the listener explicitly when I was starting to make tracks, which is something I'd never done before. I'd always shut myself off from the thought that someone else would hear this music someday. This time, I was much more integrated into the process of making a record. Also, when I started making the record, it was much more clean and digital sounding. It was two-dimensional, glassy sounds, inspired by the current sonic palette of contemporary R&B records. I got really into the allure of that really pristine kind of sound, and I think you can hear that on some of the tracks on the record. But as it developed, the warmer analog and strings that were added later made it less of that kind of thing and more of a hybrid of something more analog sounding and the pristine digital sounds.

How did deliberately thinking about your audience influence your songwriting process?

I guess a lot of people when they hear that have asked me, "Isn't that what you're not supposed to do?" You're not supposed to think about the people and make the music that people want. That makes you kind of a sellout or makes the music compromised in some way. I never felt that in any way. I wasn't making music with the intent of pleasing the most people or making it as populist as possible. But just having an awareness of that people were looking forward to it.

If you were writing from the perspective of trying to please your audience, how did you get a sense of what your audience would want?

It wasn't a question of having an imaginary focus group where I pick, "What genre of music do you like?" It was more a sense of trying to make the music feel generous. There's some music where you have the feeling that the person who is making it is being ironic or artificial intentionally or is constructing something where they're intentionally not giving you everything or telling you everything. It was more about making music that hopefully has that feeling of warmth, that you feel like it's genuinely me who is trying to communicate with you. That's more the thing I was thinking of, I guess.

What role do you think having to change your project name from Manitoba to Caribou played in delaying you getting to this point?

That's an interesting question. People always ask me, "Did you change your music identity when your name changed?" And I'd say, "No. I just need a name for my music." At that point, I didn't have the Daphne pseudonym. I just had one project and this was the music I was making and it needed a name. I think the thing that slowed me getting to this pointand I still like and am proud of the records I made early onbut it's a confidence thing. The earlier records I made, some of them were more genre records that looked back to '60s psychedelic music or a particular genre. It's really only with Swim that I started to get a sense of how this music sounds contemporary, and that's a good thing because all of my musical heroes were trying to make the most contemporary music possible, whether that's Miles Davis or Stevie Wonder. So it sounded contemporary and like me, like hopefully someone who heard the record would be able to identify all these kicks and things that are particular to me as being my music. I think it was a confidence thing more than anything.

I also know you became a father before making this album. What role do you think that played in opening you up to writing more about yourself and your personal life?

A big one, definitely, not only because it's such a transformative experience and is so amazing that it changed my life in every way. My relationship with my daughterjust spending so much time seeing someone develop from nothingthat also knitted me together with all the other people in my life. You end up spending a lot of time with them, hanging out in the park doing whatever, doing those day-to-day things. In the past, I would have been locked in the studio all the time. I was definitely a workaholic. I have those tendencies in my personality. This meant that, aside from all of the other benefits, it forced me out in the world. I'm in touch with the people in my life more than I would have been otherwise, as well.

Do you think you now see your role as an artist differently than you did before making this album?

This is probably a confidence thing, but the thing that I've embraced more over the years is that after it's released I don't have a say in that anymore. With Swim particularly, people would come up to me after a concert and say, "Oh, man, when I heard that song in Ibiza at this place, it meant this in my personal life." That doesn't have anything to do with me, but I got much more of that feedback, and I started really loving it. People whose lives are really different from me, the album had integrated itself into their lives and meant something to them. I think earlier on, like when I released my first record, I did everything I could to be like, "Oh, it's mine. You can't change it." I wanted to keep control over the music, even after it was out there in the world. I have less of those impulses, I enjoy that it will travel more. There's not any kind of specific response, but part of the pleasure is to see what happens.

So this has all been a process of learning to stand back and just let your music reach people on their own terms.

Definitely. That's part of why it has taken me this long to do this. It shouldn't have taken me this long to figure out that the most special part of making music is the way it's received by other people. Making music by myself is great, but the magical thing is when other people listen to it. That should have been apparent earlier on, but I guess having the confidence to make a record that puts as much of me out there as possible has taken me a while. I've increasingly done that a little more each time, and things have gone well and haven't been catastrophic. I guess a good central example of that is my singing. I started out not singing on my records, 10, 12 years ago. And the first tracks I'd sing on would have just a tiny bit of singing hiding under a lot of reverb and layers of vocals and stuff. It's just slowly taken me to this point where I feel like I'm comfortable with my voice and making the record that I would want to make uninhibited by those concerns of ego or anxiety about what people think about it.

[Note: These are extra portions of our interview with Dan Snaith, quotes that didn't make it into our main print article on Caribou.]    

[Note: This article first appeared in digital version of Under the Radar's September/October print issue (Issue 51).]
(www.caribou.fm)

 

 



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.