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Caribou talks math and Zombies

The Ontario-born, London-dwelling, math-whiz musician Dan Snaith has been kicking around the electronic music world since 2000, when he released an EP called People Eating Fruit, under the moniker Manitoba. Originally, music was a part-time gig, pursued on the side while Snaith taught and pursued a PhD in math. Just before earning that degree, he was forced to abandon his musical claim on Manitoba, when former Dictators frontman Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba decided to sue... even though, you know, Manitoba is the name of a Canadian province, and not just Handsome Dick’s. Luckily, Snaith got over it, and switched to Caribou after a meaningful LSD trip, then ditched math to make music his full-time job. His excellent, multi-instrumental 2007 album, Andorra (Merge), saw Snaith confidently wading into the world of 60s-referencing psych-pop music, and not in a bad way. He’ll play the Paradise with Fuck Buttons tonight, and he chatted with us last weekend, from the snowy roads of Canada (we meant to post this earlier, but we were held back by technical snafus - bummer!).

When asked about his political preferences in a recent interview with XXL magazine, DMX admitted he didn’t know who Barack Obama was. Do you consider yourself well-informed, in terms of world news?

That’s definitely shocking to me. I’m not the most informed, but I definitely can confirm I’ve heard of Barack Obama. If he hasn’t heard of Barack Obama he probably hasn’t heard of previous political leaders in the past decade or so.

You may be sick of this question, but there’s an obvious transition from psych-electronica to psych-pop on your latest album, Andorra. How did this come about?

It was one conscious decision to switch styles. In the past my music has been made by building loops on top of one another. I wanted to make pop songs with big melodies and not just a hypnotic kind of music. The last 3 of the 4 albums have been psych influenced. I like the ambition and the scope, big headspace music, rather than the stripped down post punky kind of sound. Im kind of a record nerd, so I’ve got piles of obscure psych rock bands that I might only like one or two tracks from. This last record, the Zombies were a big influence – they do this baroque psych pop –  and they embodied a lot of what I wanted to do. That’s probably something that won’t continue. I’ve done what I wanted to do with that.

You studied and taught math for several years, but now you’re a full-time musician. Have you always juggled the two? Now that music is your full-time gig, do you ever miss math?

I‘m a nerd, and I just love learning about things so I ended up learning about both music and math. But there came a time when I had to make a decision. I’ve always wanted to be a musician. I don’t really miss math – I never do mathematics at all since I got my PhD. I grew up in such a mathematic environment -  almost everyone in my family has a math degree -  so I don’t feel entirely away from it.

Technically Caribou is your solo project; music created while you were holed up in your bedroom. But for live shows, you perform with other musicians. Why?

There’s four of us on stage. I do everything on the records myself. Doing it all day everyday is sort of something that makes more sense on my own, but the live thing is different - it’s better when it’s very much a collaboration.

Your albums are amalgams of instruments and sounds. How many instruments do you play personally?

I’d probably only say that I play piano well, but that’s an open ended question. Other instruments [on the album], I learn enough to get what I want out of them.

When did you start writing music?

I started playing piano when I was 5 but it didn’t really consume me till I switched teachers at 13 or 14, and they started to emphasize improvisation, and understanding how music fits together. It was a weird little town that I grew up in. The kids were into Rush and Yes, or the Grateful Dead so I was into that. But I was also into Aphex Twin, so my high school band was this terrible car crash of the two things. It sounded like a teenage misindulgence in music. But it was a good starting point in learning how to make music.

LISTEN: Caribou on MySpace

--Caitlin E. Curran

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