By Tom Lynch
Canadian-born Dan Snaith has a mathematician’s mind. Actually, he has a Ph.D. in the subject.
Snaith, who now calls London home, began recording under the name Manitoba right about the turn of the century, releasing a handful of simple, minimalist IDM-pop records, mostly instrumental, including the marvelous “Start Breaking My Heart.” A percussionist at heart, Snaith’s ability to craft unassuming, elegant and somewhat ambient electronic soundscapes made him, in some eyes, the Philip Glass of the genre.
Then he got sued. Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, leader of The Dictators, took issue with the use of his invented surname. Snaith, without the funds to put up a fight, changed the band’s name to Caribou. With the new moniker, he reissued the older full-lengths in 2004, created the impressive “The Milk of Human Kindness” in 2005 and, in August, released “Andorra” (Merge), perhaps his most straightforward effort. Undoubtedly inspired by the work of the Beach Boys, Snaith uses more vocals than ever to create bubbly, but somewhat vast, sweet tarts, each more memorable than the last. He creates all the sounds on the record himself, except for a vocal contribution on one song from Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan. The second half of the record, a bit disappointingly, falls back into the ambient, obscure sound of Snaith’s previous work, but again, it’s only frustrating because the explosive new Snaith on the record’s first half is so affecting. “Andorra” is a darling record as a whole, though, and could be Snaith’s best since his debut. I caught up with him over email to discuss the record’s creation.
How did you conceptualize “Andorra” while you were writing/recording? Was there a specific sound you were going for? Lyrical themes?
The record was primarily about compositional ideas for me. In the past my music has been about sonic and production ideas but this time I wanted to write some real pop songs. I’ve never had to squish my music into that format and there is so much pop music that I really love but I hadn’t really tried that myself—making the melodies immediate as possible, the harmony interesting and the compositions flow with some sort of arc.
How do you feel “Andorra” is different from your previous work?
The production is in some ways—at least in the first half of the record—a continuation of things I’d been doing before but the compositional element is something totally new for me. In the past I just wrote the tracks by building loops on top of one another while I recorded. This time I wrote the tracks before I recorded them.
There seems to be a significant influence from pop bands like the Beach Boys and The Zombies—at least on the first half of the record. How influenced are you by sixties pop bands?
It was more the attention to exquisite compositional ideas that drew me to them on this record—the more baroque psych-pop bands like The Zombies. But I do love the widescreen approach to production from that era, too.
The second half of “Andorra” is more sprawling, spread out. Was the separation intentional? Just something that happened when track-listing?
I didn’t set out with the intention of the tracks being in that order but when I was putting the tracks in order (the last thing that I did in finishing the record) I liked the idea that the album opens with these joyous pop songs and then ends with wearier music that’s collapsing in on itself.
While touring, you’ve played with a live band for some time now. What are the benefits of that, as opposed to playing solo? Does it make you a more confident performer? Give you a chance to expand the sound even more?
It’s more fun, results in a better show and allows for many more possibilities. I can’t imagine not playing with a band. It’s something separate from the making of the records but playing live is something that I’ve always loved ever since I was in crappy bands in high school.
Talk about the importance of collaboration in songwriting. I found it interesting that you did everything on “Andorra” except for Greenspan’s contribution. How did that come about? Why did you decide to bring in an outside performer?
I’m generally wary of collaboration in recording as I’m a control freak, but Jeremy is such a good friend I knew we could be honest with each other about what we did and didn’t like. I think that’s paramount. He’s a great songwriter which perhaps isn’t as appreciated as his production aesthetic.
As your career has progressed you’ve included more and more vocals in the songs. Why do you think that is? Are you more comfortable singing now, or do you just have more to say?
I wanted this album to be pop songs and to be emotive. It’s not about the words but more about being able to carry emotion uniquely by singing as compared to other instruments.
Is isolation necessary for you to be able to complete a project?
I really like that it allows me to work to my own schedule and spend as much time as I like working on it—usually more than most other people I’ve met would be interested in putting in. Also, no one disagrees with me.
Caribou plays November 8 at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, at 8:30pm. $16.