BYT: I know that you’ve got a show tonight in Boston – how are things going up there?
Dan Snaith: We’re actually not in Boston yet. We’re currently racing to get there.
BYT: That sounds about right for this tour. I checked out the dates and it looks aggressive – 79 shows between September 1 and December 9. Some bands are content to play a couple of dates on one coast of America, but it seems like every time you tour, you make a point to say damn it, we’re doing it big.
D: Yeah, we haven’t really had any time off this year; it’s been pretty relentless. When we’re out on tour, I don’t see the point in having a day off. I’d rather be doing a show or getting home a day earlier and be back at home, with my wife, making music again. I’d rather be doing one or the other.
BYT: I recently saw the “Sun” video, and I think it looks really great, but I really want to know what the conversation was like between you and Simon Owens when he pitched the idea. Did he approach you and say, “Alright Dan, I’ve got four words for you: geriatric, hypnosis, chandelier, Macarena?”
D: It was like that. We met up in Berlin after we played. He was there, and my European label was there, beside this canal with boats and yachts parked at it and Simon’s looking pretty fabulous in these huge sunglasses and stylish clothes. I’m looking like I just got dragged through a pile of garbage because we had just played the night before and he’s just talking this amazing stream of consciousness. We were going to do a video for “Leave House,” and he was like, “You know what? I don’t want to overstep my boundaries, but I want to do a video for ‘Sun,’ and I’m picturing Turkish waiters from the neighborhood where I live in London, and middle aged women, then older women, and then maybe at one point, you know, there’ll be Bobby Brown.” And I’m just listening to it, and I’m thinking that this thing is going to be completely insane. But I just loved it, right from the start. And I love the idea that it is a proper dance video – that there’s a dance routine around the song.
BYT: I really like when The Macarena makes an appearance. And when Bobby Brown shows up, you know that things just got real.
D: I love that video so much.
BYT: So when you play shows, do you have a preferred audience dance move? Do you like to look up and see the audience doing a particular routine?
D: I’m not that particular. But I think that we enjoy the shows more and get into it more when the audience is dancing, doing whatever they want. They can do The Macarena or whatever they feel like.
BYT: I’m going to try to organize a mass Macarena freakout at Thursday’s show.
D: That sounds great.
BYT: Swim sounds like a departure in a couple of ways from your earlier work, especially the drums, which, unlike Andorra, The Milk of Human Kindness, and Up In Flames are entirely sequenced. Did Brad (the drummer) listen to it and say “Dan, what are you doing to me?”
D: There also aren’t that many guitar parts, so both Brad and Ryan were like “What the fuck?” They’re both really talented musicians, and especially for Brad, who was used to playing songs off of previous records which were entirely made of ostentatious drum solos. But I was consciously aware of that. As much as I love a huge drum solo, I don’t want to have to keep relying on that same trick or that same sort of thing.
BYT: It does sound like there are some sounds that have evolved throughout the Caribou catalog – the flute sound, for example, which was pretty prominent in Andorra, makes a reprise on Swim.
D: I particularly love all different kinds of flutes and harps. I don’t think that I’ve ever released an album that doesn’t have a harp on it somewhere. Those sorts of lush, sonorous instruments are hard for me to get away from completely – I just love those sounds so much. And the rich, bell-like textures on the track “Bowls,” that percussion sound. Those sounds are prominent on lots of my favorite records, like Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, late John Coltrane – those sorts of spiritual free-jazz records use those sounds to make this massive, lush sounding music. Maybe that’s why I’ll always keep coming back to those sounds over and over again.
BYT: You are asked all the time about the Math Ph.D. It’s cited in every album review I’ve read of your records. Did you get your Math Ph.D. to give indie rock critics something to write about?
D: I didn’t even get my Ph.D. [ed. note: curse you, Wikipedia] It’s just been in the press packet so long that people believe it. I wish I’d thought that far ahead; maybe I should have spent those three years becoming a heroin addict.
BYT: Critics would love talking about that, too. Though it seems that the content of the material would be rougher. But maybe that Parental Advisory sticker could help sell records.
D: Next album. It’s going to be explicit. I’ve just been lulling everybody into a false sense of security.
BYT: Another thing that I noticed about the new album is that it’s the first which incorporates a sort of narrative. Many of the songs focus on a female protagonist who wants to leave something (or someone), the penultimate song is a melodic reprise which wraps up the female song cycle, and the last song tells the same story from the male perspective. How much of what I just said is complete crap?
D: This is definitely the first album where the lyrics are personal to me and relate to things going on in the lives of friends and family members around me. In the past, all of my lyrics have been fictional scenarios and this album is the first time I wrote about that I wanted to, that were important to me. Things that had to do with the stage of life that I’m in – people getting older or sick, passing away. It’s definitely a more reflective album in that sense. There are definitely a couple of melodies and themes which reoccur throughout. It also has to do with the notion that I really wanted this album to have a signature of its own. I realized that I love albums that do that, where every song somehow feels like its connected to the others. My favorite example is Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, which is one of my favorite albums ever. And it seems to me that every song on that album is just a different version of the same song. I’ve always liked the idea of reprising the same idea at different points in a record.
BYT: It seems that – particularly on Swim, but also in your earlier work – that much of the creative process is “following the sounds.” How much of your creation process is a series of happy accidents?
D: The vast majority of it. I make such a large volume of music when I’m making these records – six or seven hundred sketches of tracks over the course of a year of recording. Both because I love the experience of generating new music that wasn’t there an hour ago and because I really don’t understand people who make twelve tracks and ten of them go on their album. And their album has ten good tracks. I really cannot understand that. If I make 10 tracks, one of them might be good, eight of them might be mediocre, and two of them… wait.
BYT: There goes the math Ph.D.
D: Yeah, people are going to think that the math thing is a load of bunk. Six of them would be mediocre, and three would be absolutely terrible.
BYT: Your tour schedule pushes the limits of human biology; what’s the transition like between touring and recording at home?
D: The change always happens right when I’m excited to get to the other one. So after a year of recording, being by myself, making music, I’m totally excited to go on tour. And I’m sure that in the middle of December, I will be so excited to be at home, and you know, wake up and make breakfast. The only scary aspect of the transition back home is that on tour we sleep in hotel rooms every night, and I get used to sleeping in a bed by myself. And so when I get home and wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “Who’s this person next to me?” “Did one of my bandmates crawl into bed with me?” Then I realize that it’s my wife.
BYT: Last time you spoke to BYT, you were reading 2666, by Robert Bolaño. I’m a nerd. Any update on the lit front?
D: I didn’t get to finish Bolaño, actually, I had to leave it at home because it was too heavy to carry around on tour. A friend gave me A Light in August, and I had never read any Faulkner before, and I’m touring around the states, so I figured that now would be a good time to read that. That’s what I’m working on at the moment.
BYT: My fiancee is reading Infinite Jest, and I’m convinced that she’s never going to finish it because she leaves it at home every time she travels.
D: I’m sure that you get this a lot, but that is, if not my favorite, then one of my favorite novels of all time. I think that I’ve probably read everything that he’s ever written.
BYT [in a nerd flurry]: Are you touring through Austin? Have you seen the library archive of his work that they have in place?
D: Oh, wow. No, I hadn’t heard about it at all. If we can make it work, we’ll have to check it out.
BYT: I know that you’re a big synth enthusiast and you’re playing MoogFest this year. Does that event have any particular significance to you?
D: Yeah, definitely. When I was a teenager, it was the first time I had started finding out about synthesizers and stuff and went to see Bob Moog talk when he came to the University in the town that I grew up in. At the time, I was a big cheesy overblown prog-rock head. And bands like Yes and Rush were notoriously the ones that trialed out using the Moog Modular. And also, my first connection to the guys in Junior Boys, who lived in the neighboring town were, was that Matt was the first guy I knew who owned a MiniMoog, and I was like “Wow. Who’s this mysterious guy who owns this incredible piece of equipment?” I guess that anybody who works with electronic music and synthesizers recognizes Moog’s special place in the history of the music they love. So, yeah, it’s special. The last time we were in Asheville – in 2003, opening for Broadcast – they had Moog literature in the dressing room, someone offered to take us on a tour of the factory in the morning, and I ended up buying a pedal from them.
BYT: You’re dad’s a math professor, one of your sisters is a math professor, and your other sister is an English professor. When you come home for Christmas, are you the indie rock black sheep?
D: No – my parents specifically really enjoy it. They’ve been to a lot of lectures and they’ve been to a lot of graduations, but this is the first time that they’ve gotten to go to grimy clubs and festivals. They love it.