By Jules Muir
Dan Snaith has made music as Manitoba, Caribou, and Daphni over the course of six albums and 15 years as a recording artist. Whether making gentle IDM, psychedelic electronica, lo-fi pop, straight house and techno, or a mix of all of the above, Snaith has steadily pushed the boundaries of what one person can create. Now in his mid-30s and with a young daughter, Snaith’s new album as Caribou, Our Love, is his most personal to date, but also his most expansive.
Our Love, released on October 7 (buy here), takes some of the best elements from Snaith’s previous albums, and presents them in a golden package of catchy vocals, warm analog production, and crisp electronic beats. The influences and musical references come from far and wide but listeners needn’t have any knowledge of these far-flung influences and musical reference points to enjoy Our Love. It’s that rare accessible album that will delight the core fanbase but also function as an entry point into a rich body of work.
We spoke to Snaith in New York before the album’s release, talking about how much Four Tet helped shape Our Love, the hazards of working alone in his basement, and trying to make music that he’d want his daughter to be around in the first few years of her life.
What’s going on?
I’m passing through New York on the way to North Carolina and then I have a holiday upstate.
A little vacation from your extensive touring.
Which is kind of a vacation in itself.
Is that how you look at it?
Definitely. I’m playing amazing shows and traveling all over the world. Sure, sometimes I have to get up early and travel for long periods of time, but it’s so amazing.
What are your favorites places to travel and play shows?
It correlates with the places that I’ve been least often. We’ve only been to South America once, we’ve only been to Mexico twice, and next year we’re going to do a proper Asian tour with a lot of places I’ve never been to before. Places like New York and London are always great shows but the new places are always the most exciting for me.
You tour extensively, ten back-to-back days in October for example. How is the chemistry within the band?
That’s a good question. With Swim we did over 200 shows in a year and there was a period of seven months where we were only at our homes for ten days—we were with each other the entirety of that time. We get on remarkably well, but of course if you spend an extensive amount of time with anybody there will be small things like, “Move your shit I need more room!” [laughs]
Besides the fact that we’re good musically together, we get along really well. That’s one of them most important things, because that’s what makes bands implode almost all the time—they just can’t stand each other any more.
Alongside the live dates are you doing club shows at the moment too?
Here and there but not really that much. I only do them when it seems like I’m in the right place and it seems like fun, but there’s a lot going on right now. I’ve done more of that in the last couple years but at the moment it’s time to do the band thing and focus on that.
The Daphni album was your club music side-project, but when you’re creating as Caribou, what inspires you? What inspired you specifically with this new album?
Caribou is everything musically for me. The Daphni thing is a very particular side-project, everything else I’m interested in musically, including some of the dance music influences, is in my Caribou stuff. It’s the main thing I do. The way Swim was received I felt this vote of confidence and affirmation from people, so one of the most important things was to really make a record for everybody. That was kind of the impetus, this idea of making something in the way that you make a handmade gift for somebody.
I also wanted to get as much of my personal life in there as well, because there was some of that in Swim but I’ve become more and more confident. The Caribou music means more to me personally than Daphni, I want it to represent me. I wanted to make something really special for people and that was where the energy came from, rather than from an environment, a genre of music, or clubs. I was thinking about how to cram my life into an album.
There’s heartbreak, there’s love, it’s delicate but it’s danceable. What was your mind-state going into the recording?
The thing about the way I record now is that it’s so integrated into the rest of my life. My studio is just in the little basement in our house and I’ve got a young daughter now, so I spend a lot of time either looking after her or being with other friends who have kids. I’ll have a couple of hours while she has a nap where I’ll go and try and make music.
I’ve got a young daughter now, so I spend a lot of time either looking after her or being with other friends who have kids. I’ll have a couple of hours while she has a nap where I’ll go and try and make music.
The music is knitted into the whole fabric of my life in such a cohesive way, and I wanted the music to capture all those things that are important to me. I have my child, my family, my friends, all those things—I wanted to represent that and celebrate it in the music somehow. There are these melancholy moments, there are the euphoric moments, I think the whole thing is generally optimistic but I hope it’s a mix of things. It’s not like, “Ok here’s a euphoric dance album,” and it’s not like, “Oh, a sad singer/songwriter album.” I hope a bit of everything is in there.
The lead single “Can’t Do Without You” has elements of both—what roles do the euphoria and melancholy play on the album?
Music is the best at synthesizing those two things which seem to be opposed, music like disco where marginalized people are celebrating their difficulties in a really euphoric kind of way. Dance music in general has often been about that as well as the blues. It’s this way of celebrating difficulty and making something that’s both happy and sad at the same time. I’ve always loved that kind of music. I feel good now, my music feels genuine, truthful, and honest, it just naturally has both of those things in it because life has both of those things in it.
On the Daphni album you used the modular synth that you built yourself, but going into this album what was organic and what type of electronics did you use?
It was a combination. I got really fascinated with the contemporary sound of R&B music which is generally so synthesized, pristine, and two-dimensional—it’s like a mirage you know. I think you can hear that in some places in the record, but I was also listening to music I would want my daughter to hear as a kid. I put on classic Stevie Wonder albums, the music you want to be around in some of the first years of someone’s life. I didn’t really think about that in terms of the music that I was making, but in retrospect that had a huge impact on what I did on this record.
I was also listening to music I would want my daughter to hear as a kid. I put on classic Stevie Wonder albums, the music you want to be around in some of the first years of someone’s life.
The intention of making a really personal record that’s warm and generous—that’s exactly what those Stevie Wonder records do. That’s where I think a lot of the production sounds come from, there’s me playing drums, electric piano, analog instruments, and those kind of sounds ended up more and more in the music as the record developed. It’s this synthesis of the hyper-digital and the warmer analog sounding stuff.
The album has these two sides, there’s the male perspective but then on a song like “Second Chance” there’s the female perspective too.
Jessy Lanza sings on that track and she’s been a friend for a while. Her album is co-produced by Jeremy from Junior Boys and he’s a good friend from High School—Jessy’s actually from the same town that I grew up in. Three or four years ago Jeremy gave me some of the tunes they were working on together because he was super excited, and I was blown away right from the start.
I knew that I wanted her to be part of this record. I see one of the failures of my music as the fact that it’s the work of one man, and I wanted to not just include the sonic difference of the female perspective but also include her actual perspective to make it less masculine. I’m wary of making masculine music, I want it to be more encompassing and open. She’s an incredibly talented musician and producer so I sent her that loop and getting it back was probably the most enjoyable moment of making the record for me. Working by myself I don’t get to be surprised as often as if I were working with another musician and they come up with something that just blows me away.
I see one of the failures of my music as the fact that it’s the work of one man, and I wanted to not just include the sonic difference of the female perspective but also include her actual perspective to make it less masculine
When she sent me back the melody and the lyrics it totally changed what that track was for me. That melody is so gorgeous and that was a real treat for me. It’s one of, if not my favorite tracks on the album. Her and Owen Pallett who does the string arrangements on the album both had a big part to play the way the album turned out.
You write and record all the music yourself, correct?
Yes, on the record it’s just me, the guys in the live band don’t play on the record. It’s just me apart from Jessy and Owen.
I know you have a relationship with Four Tet, but is there anybody out there, a Jessy Lanza type, who you want to bring into your musical process?
The central thing for me is that it’s somebody I am friends with personally. The music is almost like a photo album for me. It doesn’t make any sense to just hire somebody who’s got a nice voice or plays guitar really well and stick them on the record. Why are they there?
The music is almost like a photo album for me. It doesn’t make any sense to just hire somebody who’s got a nice voice or plays guitar really well and stick them on the record. Why are they there?
This is about my life and if I just hired someone it doesn’t represent me. That’s why both with Owen and Jessy—and I’m glad you mention Kieran [Four Tet] actually because he’s one of my closest friends—we bounce our musical ideas off each other. Kieran really should have some type of credit on this album because even though he doesn’t produce or play anything on the record I got so much feedback from him. I asked him about different tracks on the album, different arrangements, I wasted so much of his time and like a good friend he was so generous being that sounding board. Working by yourself you need that outside perspective some of the time, and he was really, really key for the music coming out the way it did.
What is your process when you work? Just in a basement surrounded by instruments?
That’s been the challenge about the way that I work. The way that I used to work was closing the door of the studio and sitting by myself for 12 hours until I was totally lost and absorbed in the music. The best things would happen when I shut everything else out and really got in the zone. Now, though, my time is much more fractured between work and personal life. I maybe only get to go down to the studio and record one thing and then I have to go back up again.
There are always months and months at the beginning where I think I won’t be able to make another album I like. It’s frustrating and things are very slowly coming together, but not in a clear way. Then, one night, maybe two thirds of the way through the process, I went down to the basement late at night but I was thinking, “Oh I should go to bed.” So I went to bed but I couldn’t sleep and I was just thinking about what the songs needed. Then I went back down and recorded another thing, went back to bed and the same thing—I couldn’t sleep. It happened three or four times one night. When I woke up in the morning I had three or four tracks that I knew how to finish. That was a very exciting time.
A track like “Mars” has a house feel but it’s on the Caribou album—where do you see the personas of Daphni and Caribou overlapping?
I played that track in 2011, I did a Boiler Room set with Jamie xx and I played that track back then while I was billed as Caribou. “Mars” is a track that could be a Daphni track or a Caribou track, there isn’t really a distinct split that makes it obvious. The thing that differentiates it for me is the process and the intention. The Daphni stuff is all just super fast jams that are intentionally raw and unedited. They’re made to DJ with and they work in the club. I’m happy with them and excited by them but I never go back and rework them, whereas the Caribou stuff I’m like, “Ok lets put this in the file, work on the arrangement, and consider how everything relates to each other.”
“Mars” is a track that could have gone either way, I could have just left it the way I played it on the Boiler Room but in the end I thought it related to the Caribou stuff so I added another a section to the end and I worked on it some more, but it could have gone either way.
Daphni is based on whims and quick creativity and Caribou is more meticulous?
Every album you’ve made has a running time of 39 minutes to 45 minutes, is there some sort of algorithm or method you use when going into an album?
And they all have like between nine and twelve tracks—something like that. There isn’t a formula, but I’m sensitive to the importance of editing. I make so much music, hundreds and hundreds of things that could be turned into tracks. I could have made this Caribou album four hours long but it would be a much worse album. I love that music can appear in many different forms and you can have songs that are 28 minutes long and you could have a song that’s 2 minutes long and they kind of live in the same world.
Maybe my albums are that length because that’s the length of all the classic albums which were dictated by how long a piece of vinyl could be. That’s why all the albums we love from the past are that kind of length. But there’s something about making a statement at that kind of length that just makes sense to me, in some ways I need a mark to say, “I’m done.” It does help that once I make ten tracks that I’m happy with I look at them and see what they sound like. If there was no accepted album format I’d just keep making tracks forever.
Here we are in a nice New York hotel room, is this what you envisioned growing up?
I knew from a really young age that I wanted to be a musician, from when I was five maybe. I had an older sister and she was into ’80s music, I don’t even remember why, but Depeche Mode and that kind of thing. It just seemed exciting and interesting but also my experience with music at that age was sitting listening to the Top 40 on the radio and taping songs off the radio that I liked.
Music always spoke to me a lot and I was that kid playing with spoons on a pot or pan. But for a while that wasn’t what I was going to be, I was going to be a scientist or a mathematician, or a musician of a very different kind—I played jazz piano a lot when I was a teenager. I thought I might be a pianist and it wasn’t until my late teenage years that I connected to making my own music. At that point though it seemed obvious, it seemed like the most exciting thing to do in the world, but I didn’t have any idea of what the reality of it would actually be like.
Are you happy with how things have turned out?
Oh my god, I’m so happy with it. I’m so lucky and I often think about going back and telling my 15-year-old self that this is what it is. It’s absolutely a dream come true.