Published Apr 19, 2010After receiving swimming lessons as a gift from his wife, Hamilton, ON export Dan Snaith spent hours submerged in water, allowing song ideas to whirl around in his head, resulting in fifth LP Swim. Refusing to lean on his 2008 Polaris Prize, Snaith kicks the album off with the dense and full-bodied "Odessa," featuring metal pipe percussion and a single sentence chorus that somehow never approaches ad-nauseam status. Snaith, who normally allows his beats to simmer, assembles his songs drip by drip on Swim, allowing his cup to spillith over as songs like "Kaili" and "Leave House" let rhythms flow across the table in a directionless gush. "Bowls" and "Lalibela" are vintage Manitoba ― beats pulsate and bounce against each other ― while "Hannibal" breaks character with late game soprano sax attacks accompanied by Snaith's haunting vocals, which make a brief appearance around five minutes in. On album closer "Jamelia," Snaith positions Luke Lalonde's (Born Ruffians) vocals in such a way that his sweet delivery comes off as downright ominous. Underneath all of Snaith's brainy ones and zeros, Swim stands not only as Caribou's most-ambitious attempt at psych pop, but as one of the most ambitious attempts in modern music, period. It kind of comes off like Arthur Lee with pro tools, and a math degree.
Is it true that you came up with the ideas for the album while taking swimming lessons?
It's not as if any of the songs started in the swimming pool. I was working on music for part of the day then I would go swimming and ideas from songs I would be working on would be percolating around. The whole idea was that I wanted to make a kind of dance music that sounded like all of the elements were fluid or liquid, in some sense. This was something I actually thought about before the whole swimming thing, but that reinforced those ideas: spending time in an environment where you're aware of the way things sound underwater or the properties of fluids and sounds.
How was the recording of this album different from the recording of Andorra?
I always record alone in my house in a room with piles of gear and records, but there were more new, interesting things to do with technology this time around, like making instruments, but some kind of hybrid between an acoustic instrument and a synthesized instrument. For example, on the track "Bowls," the percussion is the sound of these Tibetan bowls I got when I was in Southwest China last year. I brought them back and recorded the sound of one of these bowls being hit and then mapped it out on the keyboard and performed it like you would a keyboard instrument and I treated it like you would a synthesizer, changing parameters of the sound. I feel it's the first time I've used the current technology to form the way the record sounds. I also decided that I wanted it to sound as crisp and clear, and as good as possible, so Jeremy [Greenspan] from Junior Boys mixed one half of the album and David Wrench, an engineer from Wales, mixed the other half. It's the first time I've ever done any part of the process outside of my room.
Does it bother you that electronic musicians aren't viewed as songwriters the same way that a singer-songwriter might be?
I actually always felt that about the Junior Boys, simultaneously their music is about the aesthetic and the technology, but equally it's about classic songwriting. Andorra was the album where I really tried to figure out how to write songs, like compose and arrange, but with this album I wanted to make something that sounded aesthetically very different, but retained what I had worked on last time around. But this album feels like a hybrid, like a loop-based dance music approach, with the songwriting thing mixed in.
Luke Lalonde has a different delivery and tone on "Jamelia" than he does with Born Ruffians. How did you get this performance from him?
We discussed different things that I wanted, like the first half of the song the voice is very close up, it's like he's singing right beside your ear, and the last half has a very different kind of tone, much louder and emotive. It was something that was very interesting for me, like when I recorded "She's the One" with Jeremy from Junior Boys, collaborating with people and moving them into a context that they are not used to.
How different is life being a working musician in London rather than in Canada?
I collaborate mostly with Canadians; I've always felt that I can be anywhere, because it's me in this little room working away. Many musicians rely on doing lots of musical projects and bouncing ideas off of a large community of musicians and Toronto and London would be ideal places to do that, but that's not the way I work. But one way London has had an effect on this record is that I've been DJing more. I've been trying out theses tracks over the course of the year and it's been an exciting time in London with dubstep and now what's post-dubstep, and for the first time, it's been something that's really rubbed off on my music. Although it's placeless, like music that takes place in my head, it's also about the personal connections, like Kieran Hebden [Four Tet], who is usually the first to hear the music I'm making or Jeremy or Luke or having the chance to do the Caribou Vibration Ensemble with all of our friends together, which has a large impact on me.
Have you ever wondered what it is exactly that you deliver in your music that connects you to your listener?
The way I choose between tracks is whether they resonate emotionally with me. Does this make me excited, does this make me euphoric, does this make me sad or melancholy? Whatever it is about the harmony that makes me have an emotional punch in the gut, if it's making me feel like that then I hope it's something someone else would take from the song. There are some technical things in my songs that I find exciting, but I want it to have some emotional punch to it.
It might also be that you still find other people's music exciting.
I feel like I'm just getting more and more excited about music over the past few years. I've heard loads of exciting new dance music lately, which is part of the reason why this album was so much more dance music-oriented; I feel like it's such an incredible time for music. I'm always excited to hear new music. I'm always excited to hear my own music and I hope that never goes away, because if it does I don't think I could make music all day if I wasn't excited about it. (Merge)