Interview with Caribou (Dan Snaith) at Babylon
May 4, 2010
MW: Ming Wu
EMJ: Emily Jeffers
DS: Daniel Snaith
MW: Hi, I’m inside Babylon right now and I’m with Dan Snaith of Caribou. Nice to meet you.
DS: Hi there. Nice to meet you too.
MW: I’m going to ask you some questions. It’s been almost two years since you played in Ottawa. How excited are you to be playing here again?
DS: It’s awesome. I’m really excited. It seems like a long time since we’ve toured. Coming back to Canada—we did Toronto last night—Canadian shows are always really special. Playing here is always really great.
MW: Yeah, I can’t wait. Hopefully I can get in and see how crazy fun your set is going to be.
EMJ: People are obviously excited. There have been people waiting for a couple of hours now, waiting to get those last few tickets.
DS: Wow, that’s crazy.
MW: I love the new album, Swim. It’s very different from the last one, Andorra.
DS: It is, yeah.
MW: It’s more techno-y, I guess, trance-y.
DS: Yeah, I’ve been listening to lots of dance music in the last couple of years. I’m excited by lots of new things going on in dance music. That’s where it’s been coming from.
EMJ: You’re living in London now. Being in an electronica epicentre, has that been inspiring for you?
DS: I think so, yeah. It’s the first time, really, that the place I’m living seems to have had an effect on the music that I’m making. It’s been an exciting time in London for dance music recently, with all the dub-step stuff, funky house kind of stuff. There’s lots of interesting things going on.
MW: Going back to the album, was there any pressure to make the new album, considering you won the Polaris prize two years ago? Or was it last year? When you won the Polaris, was there any pressure to do a follow-up after Andorra?
DS: No. I mean, things have always just gone really, well, great for me, doing what feels right to me. I’ve kind of had a history of changing from album to album. I feel confident to do what I want to do and hopefully people will like it. I definitely don’t feel any pressure about being commercially successful or whatever. Everything is just going so great so I just do what feels right to me.
MW: Oh cool. You can take your time and all that stuff.
EMJ: I guess between music and doing a PhD, you’ve got a pretty busy schedule.
DS: Yeah, I don’t do mathematics anymore. After finishing my PhD, I just do music full time. I definitely was very busy doing both of those things, but music can take up all my time quite easily without doing anything else.
MW: I was going to ask about the math. Did you incorporate any maths in the album or is that behind-the-scenes stuff?
DS: No, for me music is all about intuitive emotional response. That’s what’s exciting about music. I mean, mathematics has some of those elements in it. That’s what I liked about it. At some point it becomes more creative and abstract and imaginative and all those things. But I think the kind of idea people have of me using formulae to make the music couldn’t be farther from the way I approach it.
EMJ: That’s really cool, the creative aspect. You let yourself flow. I was going to say music is so mathematical at times. It’s all fractions and that kind of thing. It’s sometimes an easy connection to make between the two. It’s really interesting that you just let everything out and experiment.
DS: Yeah, for me that’s always been the excitement. If you try to describe it in mathematical terms, to me that kind of misses the point. The whole point is it’s mysterious and magical. People don’t understand, really, why you like this song and not some other song that’s similar. There’s those magical elements that are irreducible. You can’t figure out why something really catches your attention.
MW: Speaking of that, I heard the song “Bowls” when I heard Q yesterday. I didn’t know you used Tibetan bowls. Before you played on the album, did you try playing with the bowls?
DS: These are the first ones that I’ve owned. I bought them when I was in southwest China for a month last year. I think probably the first place I saw them was Kieran Hebden of Four Tet has a big collection of them for some reason. He just loves them. I saw how they were properly performed by him.
MW: Did it have that healing or spiritual feeling to it?
DS: Just the kind of sonority, I love rich bell sounds. I don’t know what it is about bell-like sounds being used in spiritual music all over the world. I don’t know what it is about that particular sonority that kind of connects in that way with people. It definitely has that character.
MW: At the Ottawa Folk Festival, I missed that thing that they had last year with the bowls and stuff. As I said, it had spiritual and healing properties. I wanted to go but I missed that session.
EMJ: Let’s talk about the contest you have online. You’re asking people to remix songs and send them back to you. Do people do that spontaneously on a regular basis? Do they send you mixes of your songs?
DS: You mean apart from this?
EMJ: Yeah. That, and what are you expecting from people to send back?
DS: There’s already been so many. There has already been over 100 remixes we’ve been sent, which is amazing.
A couple of times in the past, actually, people have. You kind of need the individual parts to remix. Most people want to have the individual parts. People in the past have made a remix just out of the tracks on the CD. They edit or add elements on top. I’ve always thought that was kind of cool. But I’ve also been kind of careful about giving out the parts to tracks. Only a few people have done remixes.
This time I thought it would be fun to see what people want to do and if people want to do it, and the response has just been crazy. Lots of the remixes I’ve heard so far—we still have to make sure we go through and listen to every one of them—but we’ve listened to a bunch of them that have come in and they sound great.
MW: I love “Kaili.” I don’t know if I’ll try the remix, but the boom-boom-boom… I like that.
DS: Awesome. Cool.
MW: That and “Jamelia.” You called in Luke Lalonde from Born Ruffians for that song. Is that your first time having a different artist collaborate with you on your songs?
DS: No, the first time was this guy Koushik, who is a friend of mine. He’s on Stones Throw Records. He sang on a couple of tracks on Up in Flames years ago. Then actually Jeremy from Junior Boys on Andorra sang “She’s The One.” We wrote “She’s The One” together.
MW: I thought it was you that sang on “She’s The One.”
DS: A lot of people say that. I’m a terrible singer. He has the voice of an angel, so it’s very flattering. I’ll take that compliment.
MW: In the future, would you have more musicians sing your songs?
DS: I would imagine so. All those people—Koushik, Luke, Jeremy—are really close friends. It’s less about finding the best person in the world to sing your track and more about somebody I have a personal connection with and see eye-to-eye musically with. It’s an opportunity to collaborate with them. I’m sure those kind of connections will be happening. I hope.
EMJ: Has it been important for you to stay connected to the Canadian music scene and musicians here?
DS: Not in the sense that I only want to work with Canadian musicians or in the sense that I want to know about everything going on in Canadian music. It’s just in a really kind of family, community sense. All those people I just mentioned are Canadian. It just seems like through friendships, maybe I tend to see eye-to-eye with lots of Canadian artists. It’s not in a forced way, I guess is what I’m saying. It just has happened in such a way that I’ve remained friends or become friends.
With Born Ruffians, for example, I lived in London before they were starting to release music and stuff. I just heard their music and we toured together and became really good friends. That kind of thing is great.
MW: I know this might be a really weird question to ask. Since you live in London, have you picked up the culture or accent?
DS: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve picked up the accent, but occasionally people tell me that I have, which is very strange for me. My wife’s Canadian. She’s obviously the person I talk to the most, so we reinforce each other’s Canadian accent, I guess.
The culture’s not that different. I feel like a Canadian living in London. I don’t feel like I’m becoming a Londoner in any sense, which is kind of nice. I like that sense. That’s kind of why I moved there, to have a sense of being somewhere that didn’t feel like home, you know?
MW: I want to go to London but everybody says it’s expensive.
DS: It is expensive. That’s definitely true.
MW: I like the stuff they have, like BBC and the TV shows they have there.
DS: BBC is unquestionably fantastic. The CBC is fantastic, but BBC gets more tax dollars dedicated their way. I’d like to see a similar thing happen here. That’s why they can make more elaborate programming.
MW: Would you say your music is more accepted in Europe and the UK than in Canada, or both equally?
DS: Both equally. My experience is that wherever we go and play shows, people we meet are kind of similar. It’s not that things are so different. It’s that these days, everybody’s listening to the same thing on the Internet or in some way that doesn’t depend on geography. My experience is that things have been going great everywhere. People have been really nice.
MW: Should I ask?
EMJ: Do it, Ming. Ask.
MW: A few years ago I went to see a friend who went to the University of Waterloo. I met one of his roommates, I guess, and I was curious about what program he was taking. He said math something. I asked more about the program and he asked me: “What’s 1 + 1?” I said 2.
EMJ: So, we know you have very advanced math skills, so we would like to know: In your opinion, what is 1 + 1?
DS: He was telling you that it wasn’t 2?
MW: He gave me a really complex answer. His reasoning was really….what?
DS: Well… it depends… Everything in mathematics depends on definitions and how formal you want to be about defining. I mean, you could definitely give a long, involved, theoretical answer to that question, but whoever doesn’t answer 2 in a casual conversation is just showing off and being obtuse.
EMJ: He’s going to spare us the chart paper and the chalkboards.
DS: It’s 2.
MW: Okay. He said it could be 1, but it could be 0, or minus something. I was just like, what the hell??
DS: Don’t worry. Everything’s fine. It’s 2.
MW: My last question for you is: What’s your favourite format to listen to: CDs, LPs, tapes or mp3s?
DS: You know, I still buy loads and loads of vinyl. I buy anything I can on vinyl, for various reasons. I like the way it sounds, I like the way it looks. I guess that’s a kind of common phenomenon. It’s the nicest-looking format. But I listen to loads of music on mp3.
That seems to be a good combination to me. I’m really happy that, for example, the label that puts out my music and lots of labels seem to be going for when you buy the LP, you get the mp3s. To me, that’s the perfect combination. You want it to be convenient wherever you are.
The artwork on my record is done by this guy, Jason Evans, and on the vinyl it just looks amazing. It’s beautiful artwork so I want people to see it in the best possible way.
MW: I checked it out on the website. It’s very pop art.
DS: The artwork for this album? Yeah. This guy, Jason, who does the artwork, he’s done a lot of my previous records and he’s done all of Four Tet’s stuff. He’s really varied but has these really kaleidoscopic, bright colours and patterns. He has his own visual signature.
MW: Thank you very much for the interview. I can’t wait to see you play tonight.
DS: A pleasure. Cool. I hope you like it.