“Melody Day” and “Odessa” are easily two of the best singles of the last five years. Both are penned by Daniel Snaith aka Caribou, and while recognisable as coming from the same artist, Snaith’s androgynous vocal sees to that, they are very different in feel. “Melody Day” combines an euphoric melody with whip sharp snare drumming that masks the disillusionment of the narrator’s relationship while “Odessa” is more musically paranoid, with disturbing animal like electronic screeches tempered by the soothing “She can say, she can say, she can say/Who knows what she’s gonna say” of the chorus. Not an artist prone to repeating himself “Melody Day” comes from Caribou’s second album 2007’s Andorra which took ’60s psychedelic pop and merged it with complex rhythm patterns, the latter from his LP from last year Swim, which saw Snaith heading into a denser electronic direction while still retaining a fair amount of pop smarts.
Caribou with long time friend Kieran Hebden better known as Four Tet will soon be the Antipodes for a series of shows but late last year Chris Berkley caught up with Snaith whilst on the never ending Swim tour where Dan took time out to talk about the art of Caribou live versus recording, his electric friends, how some people perceive Swim to be a dark album and thoughts on how not to win over the doom metal crowd.
Did you ever envisage Caribou as this non-stop traveling circus like it’s become, Dan?
It’s happened kind of gradually. After the last album we toured a lot and every time we have so much fun and there’s fun things to do so we say yes to them.
But it must feel like it’s working live as well.
It’s working really well this time actually. It’s by far the show that I’m most happy with since we’ve started. All of the newer more electronic elements are fitting together really nicely.
I don’t know if you’d call it a gradual thing but it seems like you’ve really developed into this live act and it almost seems like there’s a different edge to you how you now make the records. Does it feel like a separate thing to make a Caribou album and then take it out on tour?
Yeah it really does. It feels like two totally different things especially because it’s just me making the records for the most part. But it’s not like when we go on tour and it’s me and some hired musicians. We’re a real cohesive unit, we put the show together all four of us equally. The songs have taken on lives of their own, they’ve totally developed a lot since the versions that are on the record.
So how conscious do you have to be of doing that when you’re making a Caribou album? I thought after the Andorra tour when you did feel like a real live band to watch and you all had the yellow Thunderbird cravats on and that sort of thing, you’d actually take those people in the studio to make an album, but you kind of drew a line in the sand for the latest Caribou record and still went back in on your own.
Somehow I think that will always work best for me. The way I make a record is I spend a year by myself working at home constantly, just sifting through ideas rather than an intense period in a recording studio. I like that slow pace of me just doing things on my own schedule and I co-ordinate things. There are collaborations on this record but they are me planning it out in advance and then working together for a couple of days rather than always being involved with people throughout the whole process.
You must yearn for a bit of human contact here and there, because I know Luke from Born Ruffians did vocals on one of the tracks on the album.
That came about from we just did this ATP New York show last year, there was a fifteen piece band and he was part of that, and Luke is a friend. We toured with Born Ruffians a fair bit, and just hearing him sing when we were rehearsing for that big show just made me think. There was a song that I had recorded a vocal for that I wasn’t happy with I was thinking who should sing that song, I asked Luke and he was up for it.
Do you ever get those grand visions if you’re making a record on your own, are you that guy that sits there and thinks “Oh I should try and get in touch with Bryan Ferry” or someone more legendary or are you happy to keep it local?
Yeah, I’m kind of wary of. I’m always more worried about trying to collaborate with somebody like Cluster or whatever, heroes of mine.
They say your heroes let you down Dan.
Well that’s exactly the thing that I’m afraid of, but then Marshall Allen, leader of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, played with us at this ATP show that we did last year and that was so the opposite, he was so affirming and inspiring , the best experience of meeting one of your idols that I could imagine.
Was he aware of the Caribou back catalogue then or is he still not completely up to what you’d done?
He had never heard a second of Caribou music before he stepped on stage at the show, and he was incredible! If he can do that, more power to him.
I guess in tandem with taking the band on the road these days and having those kind of shows, does it feel like it’s become more of a joyous experience, the kind of records your making as Caribou anyway? I guess the earlier stuff, the Manitoba material was a bit more introspective, do you feel like even with the Swim you are making things that are more joyous and meant to be played out, for people to hear out?
It’s funny because people have said exactly the opposite to me! That this is the kind of dark sounding record.
People think this is dark? It’s a joyous album!
From my perspective they all are because they’re all the process of making music which is such a joyous celebratory thing for me, I always get a thrill out of it. I like music that has a culmination of some kind of melancholy next to some kind of euphoric feelings, so that’s my perspective on it but people always hilariously tell me polar opposites of how they respond to music.
What kind of nights in are people having if they think it’s a dark album?
I don’t know, maybe they just listen to Abba or something the rest of the time.
There seems to be a great camaraderie as well, this year especially, almost like this holy triangle where you have done some Four Tet remixes you’ve done some Hot Chip, you guys all seem to be bouncing off each other. Do you feel like when you get out on the road there is some kindred spirits around as well Dan?
Definitely, but not because a musical alliance or something but because those are friends of mine. Kieran’s Four Tet is the guy who got my music released in the first place now we’re close friends and Hot Chip we saw them at Electric Picnic at Ireland last night and Jeremy from Junior Boys mixed part of the record. Fuck Buttons and Born Ruffians, I guess we’ve just ended up touring with and becoming friends with. I’ve always been kind of wary of being part of a scene or too closely associated with any particular sound, but they’re just this growing family of musical friends that has developed over the years. It’s really nice.
I guess everybody has been pretty consistent as well in terms of making interesting records and keeping on keeping on.
I won’t just have anybody as a friend!
(Laughs). How are you with the Doom Metal community? Have they embraced you yet?
We’ll see, I like some of those records. This jacket that I’m wearing is a rainbow gradient! I don’t think that would go over so well with the Doom Metal fraternity.
It’s a definite festival jacket though, it’s easy to find you in something like that. It’s good to see you’re teaming up with Four Tet to come to Australia. You’re not doing shows together it’s strictly you’re doing your thing and he’s doing his, right?
As far as I know we won’t be on stage together but the shows are together.
I think you should be planning your stage invasions during Kieran’s set right now!
I’ve always thought he needs a couple more drum kits as part of his show.
Interview broadcast on Static on 28/10/10. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).