Caribou on new album Suddenly and finding joy in tragedy
Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, tells us about his intimate new album, Suddenly
Until 2010, Dan Snaith was contentedly plodding away making cerebral electronic music, garnering a good amount of critical acclaim but without much mainstream attention. Then he released his third album as Caribou, Swim, and his audience started to expand, paving the way for his most successful release, 2014's Our Love.
Six years on, Suddenly marks a new chapter in the Caribou story, an album that sees Snaith exploring his most personal material yet and using his own voice a lot more, while still retaining a veteran producer's touch when it comes to sample management and song production. Snaith sings on every song on Suddenly, often without any reverb or effects, bringing the material into sharp focus. “I've been getting more comfortable with the sound of my voice over the years and the songs I kept coming back to were more emotionally direct, probably because of the subject matter," Snaith explains, speaking from his home in London. "The things I was singing about were far more personal and intimate than in the past.
“The big things that have happened in my life, with my family and kids – one was born in the back of a car! – these are things that shifted my perspective in an instant," he continues. As well as the birth of his second daughter, there have also been tragic events, such as deaths and health scares among his close family. Because of this, many of the songs came from more melancholy beginnings than the jubilant compositions may suggest. "Music is so enmeshed in my personal, day-to-day life, so it's natural for that to be the subject matter. I felt like I needed to write about it; to some degree, it's therapeutic. It's nice to have music to turn to, to help make sense of [these things], to feel optimistic and process them.
“Often I was in the supportive role, trying to comfort the people that were more directly affected, so some of the songs are written to those people. My role was to be positive, but also the music is doing that for me. I'm going through these things too, and music is always the thing I've turned to to bring me joy and happiness, so I think that is always going to be there in the music.”
A sense of joyfulness is palpable throughout the album, not just in Snaith's hopeful lyricism, but also the sense of free-wheeling fun that he has behind the decks. “Right from the start,” he says, “I had the thought: Our Love was the most polished, most digestible version of my music, without being pejorative. It was meant to be shared out in the world as widely as possible, as a big thank you after Swim had kicked off in a way that I didn't expect.
“So I didn't want to do that again; I can't push that idea any further," he continues, "so let's do the opposite... and emphasise all the eccentricities in music that I like, and that had a tangible effect. On You and I, for example, the verse and the chorus are from completely different musical worlds, and in the past I probably would have built a bridge, as a producer, from one to the other, so it's not such an abrupt change. But I was excited about the idea of having those sharp edges sticking out and not messing with them.”
A prolific worker, Snaith is continually making music in his home studio and had to pare down the material that would comprise the album from hundreds of pieces of music. One of his “virtual cratedigging” styles might strike some as familiar, but few of us are likely to make our YouTube rabbit holes so productive. “I might end up on a video of some weird record I'd never heard of, then I'll see that the person has uploaded like 500 songs and I'll listen through every one, not knowing who this person is or where the music has come from. So I follow threads," he says.
However, this tactic, along with all of the self-produced music Snaith makes, leads to an inevitably gargantuan task of choosing what to cut and what to keep. Snaith is pragmatic, even cheerful, in his approach. “The first stage is fairly easy: out of the maybe 900 'songs' there are 600 to 700 that are obviously not going anywhere," he says. "They were fun at the time, but after a second listen it's clear they have nothing to offer. Then there's always three or four that I know for sure are going to make it, but then there's a whole bunch in the middle – maybe the top 100 – that I really get lost in.
"That's when I turn to my wife and Kieran [Hebden, aka Four Tet], and their feedback is completely indispensable for that middle ground," he says. "I'm too close to it to really get a sense of what's needed or missing.” The level of detail, along with the intimate subject matter, is what makes the album stand out. The final product is much smaller in scope than the broad maximalism of Our Love or Swim, but there’s no shortage of beautiful moments for listeners willing to get lost.
Suddenly is released 28 Feb via City Slang
Caribou plays Barrowlands, Glasgow, 4 Apr