Snakadaktal: The Water's Fine Interview | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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The Water's Fine

Jan 17, 2014 Issue #48 - November/December 2013 - HAIM
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"We often play games like creating our alter-ego animals," says Phoebe Cockburn, vocalist for Melbourne-based quintet Snakadaktal. "I'm a squirrel because I like nuts a lot.... Our drummer was a sea elephant. Like a seal type of thing."

But when naming their music project, the Melbourne-based 18- and 19-year-olds had to think outside of the animal kingdom as we know it. Based on a sketch in a school notebook, Snakadaktal is a portmanteau of the words snake and pterodactyl.

"We all felt a bit strange about how seriously people took their band names," says Cockburn, laughing at the memory. "It's a mythical creature. Nobody sees it around. But it exists!"

It was a name that the band was sure wouldn't be heard outside their Melbourne suburb. Cockburn joined the band, originally started as an after-school project by Sean Heathcliff, Joseph Clough, Jarrah McCarty-Smith, and Barna Nemeth, on a whim, despite having no previous experience as a vocalist. Together they began crafting hushed, understated pop, blending acoustic guitars and synths with Cockburn and Heathcliff's ethereal vocals, which often recall those of Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino and Youth Lagoon's Trevor Powers. Urged by friends, the band submitted the single "Chimera" to a contest for undiscovered talent run by Australian radio behemoth Triple J. Because they entered with no expectations, they were stunned when they won.

"They announced it on the radio," says Cockburn, mulling over the moment that transformed the band from an extracurricular activity to a career path. "They called Sean. He was so confused. I think he was maybe a bit tired or sleepy or something. It was very funny. I was listening just to see who would win."

On the strength of the exposure, the band signed with I OH YOU Records and began writing their hushed debut, Sleep in the Water, its production hinting at both The xx and Beach House. Of lyrics often co-written by other members of the band, Cockburn says she developed a technique for channeling the needed emotion to bring the words to life.

"We often like to record in the dark, because it helps us focus on that moment and exactly what we're expressing in that moment," she says. "When it's someone else's story, it's about making it your own, but respecting where it came from."

Water imagery is interwoven through Sleep in the Water. Cockburn attributes the thematic through line to the members' seaside upbringing, rather than a desire for artsy metaphors. Even the trip-hop-leaning track "Too Soon," featuring the chorus "hold me closer/sleep under water," comes from a real experience.

"The place that I brought those lyrics from was when you're under the waves and it feels so still," says Cockburn. "It's not from a scary place. It's about that real, momentary wave; it's just beautiful. The word sleep comes from the stillness that you experience underwater."

It's a sensation of calm that Cockburn also says she finds while singing. 

"It's just that state of mind where it's quite limitless and boundaries don't exist anymore," she says. "We've always loved the concept of that and we hope to approach our music in that way. We don't like the idea of coming up with a formula and repeating it. We're very interested in the idea of being free. That's why we enjoy it, because it is such a free thing to do."

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's November/December 2013 issue.]



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January 21st 2014

They were all sold out sort of shows.

January 21st 2014

where we haven’t been, seem really, really excited by the record.

January 21st 2014

The word sleep comes from the stillness that you experience underwater.

January 21st 2014

It’s not from a scary place. I