Caribou: Love will set you free
“I’m broken and tired of crying,” sings Dan Snaith in a brittle, tender falsetto on Cloud Song, the final track on Suddenly, his new album as Caribou. “If you love me, come hold me now,” he pleads, the melody wobbling as if trying to simulate the cracks in his voice. It’s an achingly poignant and personal song on a record that’s made up of them. The song is so personal, in fact, that it almost didn’t make it onto the album.
“That song in particular, I kind of just tricked myself into thinking that I wasn’t gonna release it. I told myself ‘I’m just trying it out, this is just for me’. For a long time I was like, ‘I don’t know whether I’m ready to put that on an album’. But then people I’d play it to, like Kieran [Hebden, aka Four Tet], told me it needed to be on there. Now it’s become one of my favourite songs.”
We’re sat in an east London cafe, a short walk from his family’s house – where he records in the basement – chatting about the quirks of fate that led Suddenly to be Snaith’s most personal album yet. “I guess it was inevitable because of the circumstances – there were unexpected, sudden changes. That’s the whole thing about the shape of my life in the last five years. It wasn’t something I intended, and it wasn’t something I even necessarily thought was going to be so prominent on the album. But the songs that I kept coming back to were the ones that were the most directly or dominantly about those things in my life. That makes sense to me – that’s what’s been going on, so that’s what should be in the music.”
© Anthony Yates
It’s clear that in the five years since his last album, Our Love, a lot has happened: that in his house and around these streets, life has carried on, taking as it does its unpredictable twists and turns – his second daughter was even born on one of these busy streets when she arrived unexpectedly quickly while he and his wife were en route to the hospital. There’s been a divorce in the family, a death in the family and his dad had a health crisis, as well as other close calls with mortality. The album deals with all of this: family and connections and the ache of loss – the dramatic changes and the not knowing what to do – taking it all and creating something warm and comforting. At its essence, Suddenly is a collection of songs that offer, if not answers, at least some solace.
The extremely personal nature of the songs means that for the first time Snaith’s the only singer on a Caribou record. “There were some songs that I was thinking ‘Maybe I’ll get somebody else to try singing on this’ but once I’d written the lyrics I thought ‘I need to be saying this, this is my story’.” The album’s title reflects that personal element too, taken from the word entering his youngest daughter’s vocabulary. It seemed to perfectly encapsulate everything that happened. “It’s funny, now I spend all these interviews talking about how much the word fits the music and how much it fits my life. It seems like a totally inevitable thing.”
The fact that it’s all recorded in his basement, an ex-coal cellar – as he hears his wife and daughters going about their day upstairs – also made it more confessional. The studio is part of his daily life and he admits the comfort and reassurance of being at home allowed him to express himself more openly. Not that he didn’t try recording in other environments: “Sam (Floating Points) went away for a few weeks, and he was like, ‘Come and use my studio, it’s just gonna be sitting there’. He’s got this incredible studio with the best synthesisers ever. There’s definitely lots of stuff on this record from there – the more expensive-sounding stuff.”
You wouldn’t blame Snaith for making a more expensive record. It’s been five years since Our Love, the biggest album of his career, and his biggest hit, Can’t Do Without You. It showed he had mastered the type of warm, euphoric dance music that enveloped you; a sound he had refined since 2010’s Swim. But as he approached the new record he felt he had taken that sound as far as he could, and a willingness to take more chances informed what would come next.
© Anthony Yates
It partly explains why this album has taken him the longest to make. “When I was making this record, I was like, ‘When am I gonna finish this fucking thing?’ It took forever.” But he knew he wanted it to be different. “I wanted it to be weirder than the last one. I wanted [Our Love] to be kind of digestible, this nicely wrapped up package, a concise pop-version of what I do. [This time] I thought ‘I don’t want to do it again’, I need to make some weirder shit.”
As a result, throughout the album there’s a feeling of exploration and trying new things – whether that’s jamming songs together or taking them off in unlikely and surprising directions. “There was definitely that feeling of not having to fix these things; just allowing it to be weird. Like Sunny’s Time is a pitch bend piano, chopped up rap vocal, and then the end of the track just goes all over the place.”
One song, Lime, drops out completely. “That one really is two things just put together. And it’s kind of not in time. It was one of those things where I just decided to leave it because the way it drops is so weird and there’s nothing like that on any of my albums. It was making little decisions like that all the time with that in mind.”
Taking inspiration “from the mainstream US hip-hop and R&B worlds and their production ideas,” Snaith made an album that veers from one place to the next – a record of contrasts and sonic surprises, with song ideas often jutting up against each other. The fact that he was choosing from 900 drafts he had meticulously curated helped. “It’s an iTunes playlist and I tried to move the ones towards the top that I like and the ones towards the bottom that I never need to hear again. I had to go back and listen to the leftovers recently and I started going down the list and I was like, ‘I have no memory at all of making this’.”
Helping with mining through all of these sounds and making sure gold isn’t left at the bottom of the digital pile was Kieran ‘Four Tet’ Hebden. They’ve been friends since Dan started making music as Caribou, they’ve toured together and curated a Warehouse Project line-up together. Dan describes him as “like a brother” and a vital part of his creative process. “He’s so involved in it,” he explains. “He got my first record deal and he was even picking out tracks that he thought worked then. With this one, he’d listen through the tracks and say ‘I like this one. I don’t like this one’. He even saved New Jade from the garbage.”
They trust each other implicitly and there’s obviously a very close bond. Whether it’s about moving between record labels or deciding which shows to play, he seeks his opinion. Snaith talks of Hebden’s “crazy confidence”. “He knows what he wants to do and what he thinks is good music… I was trying to figure out the number of hours of his time he’s given and it’s insane. Home is the first time he has a credit [though], because he actually took two versions that I sent him and chopped them together.”
“But the thing I always want to say is that – not to the same degree here, as he and I are uniquely close as musicians and friends – but he does it for so many people. He does it for Sam from Floating Points, he does it for Jon Hopkins he does it for… just fill in the blank.”
Friendships like these are essential in Snaith’s creative process. In the run-up to the release of the new album this Friday (28 February), he’ll be curating a series of mixes for crackaud.io, featuring some longtime friends and peers. As far as Suddenly though, Hebden wasn’t the only person casting a critical ear over his music. His wife is also there to come down to the basement and share her opinion. “She’s a music fan but not a musician or professional and her take is normally way harsher than Kieran ’s!” Snaith laughs. “She’s really, really strict about it, which is great. I mean, both of them won’t bullshit me which is key.” Snaith has also been getting musical feedback from his eight-year-old daughter, who told him Home – the gorgeous, rich, Gloria Barnes-sampling lead single off the album – “will be the most popular track you’ve ever made.”
Soon though it will be time to leave the family home and head out on tour. Suddenly is filled with songs where Snaith is either writing from other perspectives or to specific family and friends and I ask whether the personal nature of the songs will make them more difficult to perform? “Some of the songs are still pretty raw and I’m going to end up in circumstances where I’m singing about a person that is in the room. So that’ll be interesting to find out.”
“We’re about to start rehearsing every song one thousand times so I’m hoping that it’ll become a little bit less like that so that I can focus more on performing them rather than what they’re about” he couches. “Though I don’t want to completely lose sense of that.”
As part of his tour, Snaith will perform in Bristol, where his mum lives – another family member involved, unwittingly, in the album’s creation. The track Sister features a sample of her singing a nursery rhyme to his sister when she was just a baby. It’s taken from one of many audio recordings his parents would post back to his grandparents in the UK after they moved to Canada. “She still doesn’t know about it. I’ve been waiting for the vinyl so I can say ‘Look at the back’ and her name’s there. She’s a very humble, quiet person so I think it will come as a shock to her. My wife told my sister and she started crying.”
Photography: Anthony Yates
Caribou curates crackaud.io this week. Today, Brandon Hocura.
Suddenly is out 28 February via City Slang.