It’s been four years since Dan Snaith aka CARIBOU released his critically acclaimed Swim and for the Canadian producer those years have been anything but quiet. He’s since toured with RADIOHEAD and produced Jiaolong under his dance savvy moniker DAPHNI. His newest album Our Love is his most ambitious to date and, as Snaith remarks, his most personal and most confident. What sets Our Love apart from his previous albums is that, for the first time, he made the record for others, not just himself. It certainly shows; it’s a wholly inclusive record and doused from top to bottom in everything that comes with love; the pleasures but also the pains. Humble and affable, Snaith certainly validates that ‘loveable Canadian’ stereotype.
Great to meet you… Actually, we met before at RADIOHEAD’s Boiler Room takeover in 2011. So much has happened since then for you, hasn’t it?
Oh, yeah. On camera, that was when we got offered the RADIOHEAD tour. Jamie was playing and I was talking to Thom about the shows that were coming up and if he ever wanted a support band, we would love to do it. He knew I’d had a daughter just a few months before and he said he wasn’t gonna ask ‘cause of that but I told him we’d figure out a way (laughs). She ended up coming along with us.
Let’s start with you talking about where the album ‘Our Love’ came from in you and your intention with it. Love is obviously its fundamental theme, what were you going through at the time?
So I guess the first impulse was… the response to Swim was kinda overwhelming for me, but in a really lovely way. I’d made this record in which the lyrics were really personal to me, where I felt the sound was, for the first time, identifiable as me – it was idiosyncratic, I thought it was a really weird record. I was really surprised when it connected with people. I’d talk to people and they’d say ‘Your song XYZ means so much to me, I heard it when I was at Space in Ibiza.’ I was just like, wait a minute this has connected with more people in a different way, in a more intensely personal way than any of the music I’d released before. That took me aback a little and made me realise that I’d never thought about this part of music making at all. I’ve had such a wonderful four years since that came out and I realised I want to make music that’s not just for me anymore but for everybody that’s going hear it. The contradiction in that is that I wanted it to be a more about me, I wanted it to be personal, to capture more the texture and stuff going on in my personal life. I started doing that with Swim and I felt a little unsure and hesitant about doing that and the way that it was received was such a vote of confidence for me to put more of myself into the music.
A number of your songs really resonate with people on a very personal level. How does it feel to create a track that holds such importance to a particular point or moment in someone’s life? How do you manage to get so much emotion into one track and get so much back out of it?
I think getting to that point is a confidence thing and being willing to be more exposed in the music that I make. I guess my thoughts about the music I made when I first started – and I think this is also a confidence thing- was ‘Yeah, but it’s mine – what if it means something different to you than it does to me?’ It should mean and do what I intended it to do. Definitely with Swim, I realised it’s amazing that it changes and its not really mine anymore once it’s out there, people can have it be part of their lives in whatever way, in ways I thought it might or in ways I thought it wouldn’t be at all. That’s an amazing process and I guess because of releasing music for so long I’ve kind of gradually become more comfortable with the idea. I made Can’t Do Without You thinking about sharing it with people; while making it I kept thinking ‘I can’t wait to play this at a festival in the summer’ but also I made it thinking about my daughter and the people in my personal life. It’s great that it has a life; what more could you ask for?
Let’s talk about DAPHNI, that’s a project that’s been birthed in the time since your latest release. I’d like to ask about the writing process of the two. ‘Our Love’ naturally feels a lot more like DAPHNI than the other releases, especially tracks such as ‘Mars’ and ‘Julia Brightly’ whereas ‘Back Home’ and ‘Silver’ are more CARIBOU tracks. I know that with your other alter ego it’s more of an immediate process, you’ve produced the tracks in an afternoon whereas CARIBOU is more of an intense labour – a labour of love if you will. For ‘Andorra’ you wrote 670 songs but ‘only’ ten made the record. Am I wrong in assuming that the writing process starts the same for both but you stop or progress at a different point for each?
Yeah, that’s true. A lot of the time, I’m not sure whether… I mean Mars was a track that I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I think people, understandably, want to know whether these two things are completely distinct and maybe they’re not.
So you’re not shying away from that? They do influence and inform each other?
Sure, yeah. For me (holds his hands out and forms a circle), if this is CARIBOU, DAPHNI is in there… if this is what I love about music then DAPHNI is a little sub-set of that. I want CARIBOU to have everything that I love about music in it and so it’s going to be in there. My experience of it is different I guess, it’s about the intention and about the way that I work on it. I could’ve just finished Mars… actually, I played it first at that Boiler Room we met at… I made it for that, in the week leading up to that.
You made ‘Mars’ four years ago? That’s why I recognised it when I first heard the album; it all makes sense now!
Yeah, it’s been on that mix and on that YouTube video ever since. People are like ‘what is this track?!’ I could’ve been like, let’s get it out on a 12-Imch right away and have it be a DAPHNI thing but something about it, the feel of it – I know in some ways it sounds like a DAPHNI track- I felt like I want to hold onto this and I want to see where the CARIBOU stuff develops and if it fits in with that. Then I worked on it more and added the coda to the end of it and then it made sense as part of the CARIBOU record, after sitting with it for a while. But it could’ve gone either way.
Expanding on that then… ‘Andorra’ is more of a neatly composed album whereas ‘Swim’ is undoubtedly more dance-orientated. Despite this difference, they both have a strong narrative; they’re both very curated. For ‘Our Love’ it feels more like floor-fillers and big singles.
That’s funny, that’s not my perspective at all. My perspective on that is different, of course. When I’m making an album, – apart from the DAPHNI album, which isn’t really an album at all, it was just me making a bunch of music and people wanted to hear it, so here it is – with the CARIBOU albums, I’m always trying to create a narrative and thinking about an ‘album’, in the classical sense of an album. When I made Can’t Do Without You I was always making it as the intro to the record and the last track, I knew those two bookended the entire record. For example, that last track is essentially the same track as All I Ever Need – musically, it’s the same idea, reworked. I’m definitely always thinking about a narrative running through it. In fact, Swim surprised me most that people found it coherent because I saw it more like you’re talking about. Some of the tracks like Bowls and what other tracks are on that record? (laughs) It seemed very disparate, I didn’t have a good sense of what I was trying to do when I was making it, apart from this idea of the miasmic sound floating around kind of thing. It’s just funny what people’s perspective are on these things.
You listening to Theo Parrish and James Holden kind of informed ‘Swim’ and the departure from ‘Andorra’… you’re based in London, how much did this influence ‘Our Love?
The album is made in London but… Swim for me a very London album; it’s a very ‘Plastic People’ sounding album. It’s me going to see James play and meeting Floating Points and the ‘essel guys and JOY ORBISON and all these young London guys – it’s exciting, there’s something happening here. Whereas, probably because of having a daughter and- well I was already old when I was making Swim (laughs) – stepping back a bit… this album was very integrated into my personal life and not so much to do with the sound of… but on the other hand, one of the things I explicitly wanted to do with this record was make a contemporary sounding record because if I think about Andorra – which I’m happy with and proud of, but one of the flaws in it is the thought ‘Why am I making music that’s trying to sound like it is 1969?’ It’s a very peculiar fascination of our age, there’s all these people making music that should come from another time, which is fine, it’s great that music no longer has a singular narrative – but when I thought about all the people that I loved from the 60s and 70s, they were trying to make the most forward-looking, contemporary music possible, they were thinking ‘What can we do with technology at the moment, to make it the new shit?’ Then I realised that I wanted my music to not only represent my personal life but also the time that I was living in. I don’t want someone to listen to it and think ‘Oh this must be some guy from way back when’ (laughs) One influence on the record… the most exciting ideas in popular music production for me at the moment come more from, this is a general observation that people are having, but from R&B and contemporary hip-hop; both popular mainstream stuff and smaller scale stuff. A lot of what started out to be the sound of this record was the kind of really glossy, shiny sounding synthesisers productions. I thought the record was going to sound a lot more like that, and it was only as it progressed and I worked over and over the things that it became warmer and a mixture of those two things. If I listen to the tracks Dive or Second Chance, which Jessy sings on – that’s where I hear my excitement about those kind of ideas. I wasn’t trying to copy those sounds, but those are contemporary sonic ideas that are in the ether of the moment.
‘Liquid dance music’ is a term that was thrown around a lot during the ‘Swim’ release, would you say that still applies or have you coined a new term for this one?
I haven’t coined a new term. (laughs) It’s kind of a shame, and it doesn’t effect the music making process but I knew when I finished the record that somebody, my press person or someone was going to be like ‘So what’s the angle, what are we going to put in the press release?’ (laughs) I had to tell them there isn’t one. You know the swimming thing and the watery sounds, that was a genuine thing – it wasn’t invented or anything. I have a press guy in the UK that I’m really close friends with and he’s worked on every single piece of music that I’ve released, I wrote him a long essay saying I don’t have an angle, it’s kind of about all these things that you and I have been talking about – my life, and making something that reflects on things that can be shared. Luckily he said ‘Okay, that can be the angle.’ I didn’t have a ‘liquid dance music’ equivalent and I didn’t take up a new novelty or sports activity. (laughs)