Published Jul 06, 2012For last record Swim, PhD mathematician Dan Snaith married deep house, psychedelic trance and elements of the Ethiopiques series to expand the same singular, ever-shifting style that, with 2007's Andorra, had already earned him the Polaris Music Prize. Two years of hard touring later, not to mention his contribution to the King of Limbs remix LP and a string of releases under the dance floor-leaning Daphni moniker, new Caribou material is on the horizon. Ahead of shows opening for Radiohead across North America, we caught Dan to chat stadium crowds, blog culture and that much-awaited new LP.
So, Dan, the good news is you're working on a follow up to Swim. What stage are we at there?
I've been recording for several months, starting different sketches of songs and different ideas. The general process for me making an album is to record loads and loads of raw material ― bits of songs, a rhythmic element ― and not really work on finishing any of them. Just collect loads of half-finished ideas for six months, and come back to them later on and see what sticks. So I'm still in that phase of collecting a large pool of raw material. It's very hard for me to say when it's gonna be finished, or even what it's gonna sound like yet. There's such a variety of tracks.
Around the recording of Swim, you'd just visited Ethiopia. You noted how far removed their musical culture is from Western traditions and trends. Is it important that you get away from a Western mindset before making a record?
Not particularly removed from Western music. I mean, I'm always listening to new contemporary music and I'm not detached from it. But also I keep a distance. It's important for me not to be following whatever the recent trend is. I guess that's always been my perspective on music. It just comes about because of the way that I listen to and absorb music. I guess that's more common now, you know? It's common for people to be looking up rare records from wherever in the world, on different blogs and stuff, at the same time as they're checking out the music that came out that week.
For sure ― and it's much easier to hear that music, as well as hearing about it. Anything in particular you've listened to that's struck a chord recently?
It's an incredible time to listen to music from around the world. There's so much being reissued, boutique reissues... I guess the whole genre of Shangaan Electro from South Africa, which Honest Jon's did a compilation of. Also, I don't know if you know Mark Ernestas ― he's one half of Basic Channel / Rhythm and Sound ― who just went over to Senegal and produced a few tracks with a couple of bands. They were amazing; a genre that I didn't even know before. And at the same time, I'm buying old records of field recordings from the '50s and '60s, from around the world. It's overwhelming. There's so much music. And, I dunno what effect this has had on me, but it's become fashionable to be interested in that music again. For a long time there was a kind of taboo, after the... Paul Simon-isation of world music or something. That took a little while for people to be able to be enthusiastic about, without feeling like they were going to WOMAD fest or something.
Ha ha. Gets you thinking about the difference between experiencing those countries' music first hand, as opposed to trawling through blogs, and perhaps people checking something out through a positive Pitchfork review. How important is it to go beyond that first online port of call?
Well, it's not so much whether it's online or not ― it's about understanding. I always have this dialogue in my music listening, because I like to think that I can appreciate music in a vacuum. Is it aesthetically exciting, or is it something that sounds new and interesting? Which is the blog way of listening to music: you don't necessarily read all the context about the music ― it's so easy to download music, and you don't particularly know where it came from. But that's problematic when listening to music that's come from very different contexts, all over the world. If that's being lost, I'm not critical to the degree where I think everyone should go back to studying, reading a book about something before they listen to a particular type of music, but I'm interested to see where that goes: whether people genuinely become interested in the context of music that they are listening to, or whether that starts to matter less and less as it becomes easier to digest music from different times and places.
OK, let's bring it back. I know that in Europe, Swim was your breakout record. So when it started to pick up steam, did you have any sense of that as it was happening, or any anticipation that it was going to?
No anticipation, and you're right in that it happened much more in Europe and the UK than it did in North America. I thought Swim was quite a weird record and wasn't gonna necessarily connect with people who'd liked my previous ones. As we were on tour, constantly throughout the period, it slowly dawned on us. The shows that we were like, "Why are we playing in this city? No one's gonna come." And we get there and they've moved it to a bigger venue, and the show would be sold out.
And now the coming months will see a North American and European tour in support of Radiohead, including shows at Toronto's Downsview Park and Montreal's Bell Center in June. [Editors note: This interview was conducted before the tragic stage collapse at Downsview Park and the subsequent rescheduling of Radiohead's tour.] Have you been to a Downsview Park concert?
I haven't, actually. Some of the other guys in the band have. The biggest show I went to in Toronto was probably when I was quite young. This is part of the excitement of this tour: not only have we never played big shows, I never go to big shows. Most of the bands I really wanna check out play tiny places. When I lived in Toronto, the largest place I would've gone to was the Phoenix. So it's interesting to be part of these shows, watching Radiohead play these huge venues ― as well as getting to play ourselves.
How you feeling? Excited, scared?
I'm really excited about it. I really like the idea that we're playing to tens of thousands of people who, probably the majority of them, don't know anything about us ― have never heard a minute of us before the moment that we start playing.
Are you thinking of throwing in anything that hasn't been played live before?
Well, you're phoning me as we're taking a break from rehearsing right now. We'll definitely play predominantly stuff on Swim, but we're also working on some stuff that we haven't played before. And it's not actually from the new album, but we're reworking remixes I've done and various bits of music that haven't been played live before.
And quickly, back to the direction for that new record ― you might not be able to say what it'll sound like, but is there anything you want to do, that you've never wanted to before?
I don't think so. I just feel lucky that after ten years, I'm as excited about making new music as I was, maybe even more so. So I just let enthusiasm lead the way, and in the past that's worked.