In spite of the fact, or maybe because, his latest recording, "Swim" (Thrill Jockey-Merge, 2010), is proving to be one of the most successful of this season, Dan Snaith is a tough man to interview. I mean it. And it isn't that the man behind Caribou doesn't like giving interviews -far from it, he's affable and friendly- but more because he is quite literally almost impossible to get hold of. After several attempts, I got him on the other end of the phone to answer a few questions.
“Swim” in fact poses so many questions that the burgeoning change in direction for Snaith's musical moniker is just the tip of iceberg. After all, as with all good books or films, the latest Caribou album pivots on the axis between directly challenging the listener and preserving the subtlety of a subtext; maintaining tension between the lines, and preserving the emotional space within the record.
Questions or answers aside though, one thing is indisputable - “Swim” is an object capable of mass destruction closer to biological weapons than to an atomic bomb, acting covertly with lethal consequences. Sharp rhythms, intelligent beats and organic melodies construct a complicated biosphere which will without doubt engulf entire stages at Sónar 2010 in Barcelona and A Coruña this 17th to 19th June. Up there, treading the boards, we'll get to see the man in action. For now though, we hear his words.
The changes between your previous album "Andorra" (Domino, 2007) and “Swim” are pretty big. How would you describe that evolution?
I think there's a few things. The first thing is that I've been listening to dance music more, djing more, going more to clubs. And that has influenced the music... And the other thing is that I have found myself too busy with 60s pop before. This time I wanted to grow independently from those influences. Those are two of the things that have pushed the album to the direction in which it has gone.
It's funny, as we grow up, we listen to less dance music and we go clubbing less. But you're doing the opposite...
Yeah! I think it has something to do with a whole community of friends that I know: Four Tet is an obvious example. There's an exciting thing going on in London at the moment, and now we're more excited about that dance sound than ever...
But thinking about the success you had with "Andorra", some people might think: why change something if it was working? Why take that risk?
I didn't know how to do anything else. I didn't want to do the same album over again. I spend the day working making music, so I must feel motivated day after day. The idea [of making another "Andorra"] sounds safe, but it looked boring to me. The music for me must be something new, something to explore.
You've said that with "Swim" you were trying to escape from the metallic dance sensations we are used to. So I have to ask: what's wrong with the dance music we are used to?
Oh nothing! I think it's true there are a lot of people making the same dance music, but that there are some exceptions, and people that are doing something original. Some have crazy ideas that strike me as the most exciting. I wanted to come up with something that can be recognized as my own.
And maybe "your own" thing is about what you've said about making water dance music instead of metallic dance music. I think you've succeeded there: the album sounds like water. So let's analyze this as if we were in a science class... Could you describe what "water dance music" is with only one or two essential points?
I think that the essential idea behind it is the problem of transforming water into something sonic. The first point would be that everything kind of moves like a wave: it washes from one ear to another, like a pitch going up and down, everything flowing like a wave... The second point must be that I spent part of the time last year swimming. Everybody is familiar with how sound travels under water and how it sounds above: when you're swimming you're rocking from one side to the other, now you have your head in the air and then you're under water again... It's a sensation of changing sonic spaces. I found it interesting that although you graduated in maths, your music is less scientific than organic. Is your music a reaction against maths or do you let some slip into your songs?
Music is essentially emotional to me: the sound affects you in an emotional and physical way. So mine is definitely not mathematical music.
So mathematics has not influenced your music in any way?
I guess that mathematics are such a big part of my life, so it's difficult to figure out what is and what isn't connected to that. But my music is not connected with mathematics… or at least I'm not conscious of that.
You've mentioned Four Tet and I think I can sense his presence on the record. In fact, it's easy to recognize some of the sounds Hebden's using on his latest work. So, how has Four Tet influenced "Swim"?
He is one of my closest friends and he's the person that helped me release my music in the first place... For each other, we're the first people (apart from in our personal lives) to hear each other's new songs. And we're very excited about the same music, so we're always talking about new records. It's a kind of comradeship.
I don't know if I'm imagining it, but I find there's a resemblance between your song "Bowls" and Four Tet's "Our Bells", that was released with his "Love Cry" single...
There's no direct connection. When I first met Kieran it was really eerie how similar our music tastes were. We both loved the chiming bells sound. It's amazing that we ended up influencing each other in another very natural way. The other name everybody is mentioning when they talk about "Swim" is Arthur Russell. Do you find that pertinent?
I love his music and he's a true inspiration to me. He's such an interesting character not just in his music, but in the places he was searching for with his music: in between dance music, pop music, folk music and classical composition. It's almost unique.
Is his influence more important on "Swim" than on your previous albums?
It's not a direct influence, it's much more coincidental. I love the character of his voice 'cause it's not a singers voice, but it stills connects with people. And he hasn't influenced the way that I can sing, rather than producing my voice the way it sounds naturally to me.
The last name involved on "Swim" is Jeremy Greenspan. And in fact, sometimes on "Swim" you can hear something like your version of what Junior Boys are doing lately.
He mixed some of the tracks on the album... What I like about him is that he is such an amazing and precise mixing and recording engineer. I knew he would understand what I wanted to do and he would be able to do it far better that I could. And I love his touch on songs, so maybe that's the connection with Junior Boys.