For Dan Snaith, the Canadian composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist also known as Caribou, the past four years have been anything but quiet. After the unexpected success of his 2010 album Swim, Snaith released a world music-influenced dance record under the moniker Daphni, founded a record label, and toured with none other than Radiohead. Nonetheless, he’s still managed to record arguably one of the best electronic albums of the year. Our Love is a euphoric paean to tenderness and camaraderie, one of those albums that take the listener on an emotional yet cathartic journey. We spoke to Snaith about how he crafted this nuanced work, becoming a dad, and making music for others rather than himself.
Your last release as Daphni was pure sample-based music, and you can definitely see a harder edge on Our Love. Did your time working as Daphni influence your work as Caribou?
It did in the sense that a lot of what’s musically exciting to me in contemporary music comes from club music. There are times when I’m starting a track and I don’t know if it’s going to be a Dapni thing or a Caribou thing. The thing that separates them for me is the intention: the Daphni stuff is purely to DJ with; it’s purely club music; it’s made super fast and it’s just jams that I put together really quickly and don’t go back to, whereas the Caribou stuff is a lot more considered, thinking about where they’ll fit in on the album and working them over and over again until everything about the arrangement sits right with me.
Over the course of the album, songs change pretty dramatically in style and tempo, with pulsating dance tracks shifting rapidly to low-key instrumentals. Was this stop-start atmosphere purposeful?
I wasn’t thinking so much about that but I want the album to be quite comprehensive of my taste and my life. Swim was all disco-house tempo tracks, and this record has more reflective stuff- more changes of mood, more changes of diversity so it makes sense to me that there’s a variety of tempos. While dance music and club music has been interesting me in the past few years, a lot of exciting music I listen to at the moment is from the world of contemporary R&B and hip-hop, and that’s a world where the tempo is mostly a half speed slower. It has something to do with that but I wanted it to have more different moves.
Mars reminded me a lot of Fatima Al-Qadiri’s work on Asiatisch and on the Daphni record you played with Chinese and Middle Eastern sounds. As a North American artist, how do you interact with those cultures?
In the Daphni stuff there’s lots of diverse influences from African music and Middle Eastern scales. Is that true in Mars? Maybe you’re right. As a music fan, as a record collector, and as someone who’s omnivorously interested in music, those sounds from all over the world are gonna be likely to pique my interest because they’re less familiar. There are people like William Onyeabor, who I sampled on the Daphni record, who are just amazing. He’s a genius anachronism living out of time and place, so to find that kind of thing is amazing. I definitely am sensitive to these issues though. The Daphni album is more like a DJ set, less reflective of my identity. I do see tensions about including things like that in the music of a middle class white male musicians, but on the Caribou record I wouldn’t make things that use big samples and take influence from around the world because that’s not authentically me. On Mars, I hear baroque music in the main flute riff.
See, the flute riff is exactly what reminded me of Fatima’s music. You spoke about Caribou’s music containing your identity. Our Love is definitely a more loved-up record than Swim, so what changed in your life?|
Two things, mainly, and the title kind of refers to both of them. I could really feel the response to Swim, either through playing shows and interacting with people, or people interacting with me through Twitter. It had taken on this life that I didn’t anticipate. I didn’t think Swim would connect with the dance music world in the way that it did, so that was really affirming and really special for me. It meant for the first time that I wanted to make music for those people, for somebody else. I’ve only made music for myself, motivated by what excites me in music, so right from the start I wanted to make something to share. I also had a daughter in the last three years and I’m more integrated in my social life because of that. Having a child has changed my perspective and it’s meant that I’m closer to my friends and my family because I’m out there spending time with them when I’d previously be locked in the studio. It means my personal life is much more integrated into making music. If everybody’s going to hear it, it should be as much me as possible.
It’s interesting that you say that, since you include collaborations with Owen Pallett and Jessy Lanza on the record.
I’ve known Owen for twelve years and I’ve been close friends with him for a while. I’ve know Jessy for a few years. Her album was co-produced by Jeremy from Junior Boys, who’s a high school friend of mine, so I’ve become friends with her. It’s central to the idea of collaborating with me that the collaboration isn’t just musically fruitful but personally meaningful. They’re her lyrics and her melody, which pertain to her personal life, but when I look back on this album in a few years, it’ll feel special because it’s something I created with a friend. They both know me well enough to know what my life is about.
You’re also touring with Jessy over the next few months. Do you think the experience will be very different to touring with artists such as Radiohead?
I became friends with a bunch of the guys from Radiohead during that tour and some of my closest friends are people who I’ve spent a lot of time touring with. I did a lot of touring with Fuck Buttons, Toro y Moi, Emeralds, and all those people became close friends afterwards. Jessy’s going to be in the band with us. We’ll be spending all that time together just like she’s another band member, and that’s always been the atmosphere on our tours. It’s not about support band and headline band or whatever. Radiohead made us feel welcome but it was on an industrial scale, since they have hundreds of people building a stage every day. Still, they were very good at keeping it personal.
In places you’ll be playing in, such as Germany and the UK, house music has permeated mainstream pop in a big way. What do you think of current pop trends?
Pop is definitely something I’m aware of. The influence on this album came more from pop and R&B music here than from those house acts in the UK. A friend of mine, Morgan Geist, who has a project named Storm Queen, was remixed by Marc Kinchen and it became number one in the UK. That blew my mind. It’s not something I’m aiming to do. When I listen to Disclosure’s music it’s clearly aiming to be populist and I’m not trying to do that in the same way, but I’m not shying away from the strengths of pop music. I’ve always really loved pop/dance music, like Eric Prydz. That kind of filtered pop-house sampling was the influence behind “Can’t Do Without You.”