After 15 years of toil, Dan Snaith’s fifth album has made him a star, writes Ed Power
CARIBOU’S Dan Snaith has a high forehead, sometimes wears large spectacles, and portrays the jittery disposition of someone juggling 15 thoughts at once. He is exceedingly intelligent — from a long line of intellectual over-achievers, he holds a PhD in mathematics.
Instead of academia, he chose a career that, in small town Canada, was a little wayward: cult electronic artist and DJ. It’s a rewarding lifestyle, but riven with uncertainty (electronic music is at the mercy of fashion whims and youth trends). Does he regret not taking the safer path, following in the footsteps of his professor father.
“My dad was an academic back when academics sat around having deep, lofty thoughts all day,” he says. “My sister has gone into academia, too, and her experiences are very different. You have much less time for that sort of deep thinking, nowadays. You have to do a lot of administrative work. I see the way academia is now and have no regrets.”
Following 15 years of noble underachievement, Snaith has stumbled into unlikely stardom. Our Love, his fifth album as Caribou, just went top ten in the UK, while his latest tour is a straight sell-out (he could have filled Dublin’s Vicar Street twice over when he headlined the venue last month). It would be nice to say the success is due to all those years of toil and sacrifice, but the reason is more straightforward: Our Love is a thrilling record, at once wickedly catchy and full of depth. You have the option of enjoying it strictly as pop — if, however, you wish to delve a little further, there is no end of drama beneath the surface.
Snaith is 36, a point in life where the certainties of youth have fallen away and you can hear that in his bittersweet, highly emotive music. Love doesn’t last forever; people close to you grow old; beloved friends die in their prime. All of these feelings were swirling in the back of his mind as he toiled over Our Love, imbuing it with a richness that is rare in a pop album.
“A lot of dramatic things have happened in my friends’ lives,” he says. “Two of my closest friends went through divorces. I had someone pass away really tragically. I’ve just had a daughter. It all put me in a reflective state. I wanted this record to mean something — to be a statement about my life, not just to share with others, but to represent something I could look back on and and feel was meaningful.”
With a baby to mind, the recording process was unconventional. Snaith, who lives in suburban London with his wife, regularly DJs at the UK’s leading clubs. He describes slouching in the door of his home, after a packed house at Fabric, to discover his baby girl awake and needing attention. However surreal in the abstract, he finds that duality deeply appealing.
“I’d come in at, like, 6am and my daughter needs my attention. I’ve walked out of this room full of zombies and now I’m taking care of a child. I love that aspect of what I do. I’m DJing to a bunch of 19-years-olds. A lot of my friends would go to a club and think ‘I’m too old’ and get freaked out. They feel so ancient. I feel that way, too — the difference is, I think it’s hilarious.”
Our Love didn’t drop from the clear blue sky. Snaith’s previous record, Swim, was a success, too, albeit on nothing like the same level. For the first time in his career, he felt an audience was out there, waiting to hear whatever he recorded next.
“I never, ever looked at it in terms of sales or chart placing. There was an anticipation — I was undoubtedly aware of that. You get people tweeting, ‘When the hell are you releasing a new record?’ That was definitely on my radar.”
Snaith has been around the block. He toured with Radiohead and was impressed by their work ethic and perfectionism — the way they meticulously analysed each gig to see how it could be improved, where fat might be trimmed.
Snaith has, for his part, embraced several artistic identities: early on (when he went as Manitoba) his music was woozy and My Bloody Valentine-esque; having changed his name to Caribou, with 2008’s Andorra he dabbled in Beach Boys-informed ethereal pop.
However, it wasn’t until Swim (2010) that he seemed to become comfortable with his own voice: perhaps it is no coincidence it was his first truly personal record.
“Some of the songs are about my grandparents getting old and passing away,” he says. “What I learned as the album found an audience was that authorial intent tended to be set aside as people discovered the record.
“I wouldn’t even say songs were misinterpreted — it was that my original intent was irrelevant, once songs got repurposed by others. In my youth, maybe that would have annoyed me: I’d have said, ‘No, this song is about this or that’. Today, I get a naive joy from the fact my songs soundtrack all sorts of experiences.”
For Irish audiences, Our Love carries extra significance. The haunting video to the title track — in which an old woman wistfully traipses around a vast gothic mansion — was shot in Lough Ine House in West Cork.
Snaith wishes he could take credit: in fact, the location was suggested by the promo’s director, Ryan Staake, who had holidayed there.
“I have a troubled relationship with videos. We get a lot of pitches: often, they seem to be telling someone else’s story. I wanted something that spoke to what the album represented for me.
“Ryan sent me a handy-cam version of the video he’d shot in the house. There wasn’t anyone in it: he added text, saying stuff like ‘the old woman goes up the stairs here’, and so forth.
“The house was amazing and the video totally speaks to what the song is about: how love continues as you get older or how it ends, or whatever. It’s perfect.”
The album Our Love is out now.
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