Once in a long while, you may just come across a band that, no matter what musical genre they throw themselves into, you find yourself respecting and feeling inspired by. Dan Snaith is Caribou; the most vivid example of this rare quality that I could give you right now. After the beautiful Andorra, his highly praised psychedelic-pop album, Dan decided he could no longer extract any more creativity from this genre that he made such an indelible stamp upon; and made his way into the electronic side of music with his biggest selling album so far, the impressive Swim.
Instead of suddenly becoming inspired by a different genre, Dan became inspired by the ideas behind music; which in many ways is a more special form of inspiration. He was amazed at how liberating electronic music could be; because, in his own words, the genre has a way of "doing stranger things", whilst “still making people dance”. So no matter how abstracted or weird the music can get, or how many new ideas are thrown at it, it can all be connected via a danceable rhythm.
And that way of viewing music is something that you could only find in someone who loves it as much as Dan does – and there's much evidence of this in our interview. Born into a family of mathematicians (and the owner of a PhD in mathematics himself), and obviously a 'brain', Dan seems to be one of the few people in the middle of the music industry who is not only satisfied with its current state, but says that he's in fact happier with the state of the music today than he ever imagined being in the past. "With more access to more music, more music being made, and more people listening to music - how could it be better?”
Yes, how can it get any better? Caribou have not only reached the Billboard 100 list, but have also released a live album (Caribou Vibration Ensemble, featuring friends, people who have been involved with the band and his idol Marshall Allen), a remix album (soon-to-be-released with tracks from Swim and lots of gig-only releases such as mixtapes, unreleased tracks and mixes) and is currently touring through South America for the first ever time - with the Brazil gig happening today with Gold Panda.
The future of Caribou? Who knows. Dan doesn't, and laughingly tell us that he probably shouldn't pretend that he does either. Never mind techno, electro, rock, pop or hip hop, undoubtedly it's something great and unexpected to look forward to.
Yes, we’re in Miami.
How’s tour being so far?
It’s been great. It’s been pretty much this whole year. It’s been an incredible year. We’ve in lots of places and the shows have been amazing. We are really lucky.
Have you been to Brazil before?
No, we’ve never played in Brazil. I’ve never been to anywhere South America, but lots of friends who have played in Brazil always talked about how amazing the shows are so we are really excited.
How did a mathematician become a musician?
I think I was always both, since I was a kid. I started playing the piano when I was 5 years old and always have been interested in music. I was always interested in mathematics largely because my dad was a mathematician, so it’s something that was always around. I think I always knew I wanted to become a musician primarily, but it’s something that has been so unreal. Even now it often seems unreal.
What did your family think about you dividing all your time between maths and music? Were they particularly supportive of either one?
They definitely enjoy having a musician in the family, so that they can do something different, something new. Going to grimy clubs weren’t something they generally do otherwise, so that’s fun. And, I gave them the impression that I knew what I was doing.
Your latest album shows you moving away from your ‘indie sound’ and fully embracing the electronic sound. What was the drive behind that move?
I’ve always listened to lots and lots of different music. And I knew I wanted to make a very different record from Andorra. I kinda felt that I’d done everything I wanted to do or could do in the kinda psychedelic, pop sound in a traditional vein of things for a while.
What kind of music do you listen at the moment. Who do you think is really cool?
There are so many. Every week there's another record by somebody who's name I don’t even recognize. Some people that have released music recently though, are James Blake, Ramadanman, Ikonika, Motor City Drum Ensemble...And also people I’ve played with like Nite Jewel, Emeralds (though they’re not particularly dance); and even the kind of classic guys like Omar S, all are making really exciting music. So it’s a great time I think.
Could you pinpoint one particular artist or song that inspired you to do Swim?
I see. That’s interesting that you say that this was 'liberating', in a sense. Had you trapped yourself? Had you reached the ends of where you could go? Is this why you ‘freed yourself’ into electronica?
It wasn’t like it was suffocating me, but I guess I’m always looking for something new that makes me excited. And that’s the only reason I make music. I knew I didn’t want to make the same record twice. We didn’t wanna get down and try to make some psychedelic pop. I’ve done that a lot. I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do with that and I was waiting for the next thing to bite. And it happened to be what it was. And with good reason, because I think there’s a lot of things pointing in the same direction in the music I was listening to.
What's your starting point as a remixer? Do you tend to use the Caribou sound or is it more the music itself that you let do the talking first?
I almost always turn remixing jobs down, not because I don’t like doing it – and I know this is going to sound horribly selfish – I never have enough time to do the music I wanna make and I always got a pile of my own music I wanna be working on.
That makes sense! And I don’t think it is particularly selfish at all to want to have time to make your own music.
It definitely is selfish! In the sense that I always have too many ideas that I want to be doing on my own.
When a track of yours is remixed, what do you expect? What are your favorite reinterpretations of Swim?
I guess the reason I asked lots of people to be on this remix album (that’s coming out in a couple of weeks), is because their music excited me, or influenced me or because they are friends - like James Holden. I know the kind of head space he’s in whilst making music at the moment. I knew that if I gave them a track that was dance floor oriented that it wasn’t going to come back even more dance floor oriented, that he would make it more weird or more abstract and I was so excited to hear that. And that was exactly what he did although it also has a more rhythmic dance to it.
You keep inspiring people to go to your gigs by giving away – or selling – unreleased material (songs, recorded gigs and mixtapes). Do you think the future of the indie market is to go back to the home-made CDs sold by the band itself?
I definitely don’t think that the future of music has anything to do with CDs. I mean, I definitely don’t know want to make some prediction, but the trend in all of this seems to be that the distance between the person making the music and the person listening the music has been shortened.
Yes, it’s a big question…!
Yes. It is a big question. But, you know, I think I’m more happy with the state of the music right now than I could never imagined being in the past. More access to more music, more music being made, more people listening to music. How can it be better?
Can you explain the ‘Caribou Vibration Ensemble’? How did it come about? How did you collect the musicians?
We’re asked by the Flaming Lips to do the show, and they always been heroes and also we’ve always been fans. They’ve always been very verbal and vocal at our shows and stuff, you know which is very inspiring. When they asked us to do this show, they asked us to do something special. And I always thought a lot of the previous records sounded like they had a big group of musicians on them, so, why not make that happen?
Do you think seeing Caribou’s music being played by 15 people might have an impact in way you make the next album?
I don’t know. It may do. It already had an influence on Swim. The other horn player - not Marshall Allen, the other one played three albums before Swim for example - I mean, who knows. I actually have no clue how the next album is going to be like. I probably shouldn’t pretend that I do.
If you could, would you rather tour with Caribou as 15 piece band rather than the usual 4?
I’ve read that you like swimming almost better than hanging out with friends. What was the best pool you’ve ever found whilst on tour?
What was the best pool on tour... Actually, this one isn’t really for swimming so much but, a few days ago we had some days off with us and Emeralds went to the Grand Canyon. And we ended up in a town in Utah.
Are you planning to find a beach or something whilst in Brazil?
Depending on how much time we have, we were just at the beach today because we’re in Miami. So there maybe more exciting things to do? I’m looking forward to doing whatever comes up!