Caribou – Hiding in Plain Sight
“I wanted to put my own life—my personal life—[in the record] and obfuscate what I was saying as little as possible.”
Issue #51 – September/October 2014 – alt-J
Though he doesn’t sound like a man who lacks confidence, Dan Snaith says he has spent much of his career hiding. Lacking confidence in his voice, he spent his early records hiding his vocals under layers of reverb and densely-textured psychedelia. Not wanting to write about himself, he hid himself inside lyrics that were more philosophical than personal. Making music was an intensely private affair, with endless hours spent alone in the studio, pushing away the reality that his work was destined for someone else’s ears. Then Snaith released 2010’s Swim, an experimental dance record that connected with listeners in a different, more intimate, way. For the first time, he started to understand just how deeply people experienced his music, not to mention how eagerly they were anticipating his next Caribou release. With Our Love, Snaith is finally ready to come out of hiding.
“It made me imagine somebody sitting beside me as I was working,” Snaith says of Swim’s critical and commercial success. “That made a central theme of this record shortening the distance between me and them as much as possible. So the sounds were as direct as possible, where Swim is much more miasmic and floats around you and is hard to pin down. My voice is right there in the mix, as close as possible. The lyrics are more direct. There’s much more ‘me’ and ‘you’ in the lyrics. On the previous records it was always some kind of imagined ‘she’ or some hypothetical story I was telling. I wanted to put my own life—my personal life—[in the record] and obfuscate what I was saying as little as possible. It felt like I could have the confidence to make a record that was as much me as possible.”
Drawn to the “woozy, glassy” sounds of contemporary R&B, Snaith started the album fixated on clean, digital textures. But the resulting arrangements seemed a little cold emotionally, cutting against the sort of inviting mood he was hoping to create. He wanted warmth, and without knowing it he started incorporating the sort of rich, analog textures that defined the classic Stevie Wonder albums he was then exploring in his free time.
“I just kept coming back to them and being amazed, marveling at them,” Snaith says. “It was only afterwards where I realized that’s where a lot of the warmer analog sounds and big, fat synth sounds come from [on Our Love]. It all made sense, in retrospect. Not that I want to compare myself to Stevie Wonder, but those records were doing exactly what I wanted to do. What more warm, enveloping records can you imagine?”
Snaith admits that at least part of his newly outward-looking perspective is due to becoming a father for the first time, as raising a toddler pulled him into the world of friends and playdates and out of the studio where he indulges his workaholic tendencies. Making an album that fit this newly openhearted stage of his life—where his fans, friends, and family are all aligned to give him the confidence he needs to assume center stage in his own work—was only natural. Still, it’s not an approach that comes without risks.
“The worst case scenario would be that no one likes it or listens to it,” he laughs. “But as long as it means something to people, I just want to hear those stories and hear how it travels through the world. It’s not up to me.”
[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s September/October print issue (Issue 51).](www.caribou.fm)