Caribou plays the Bowery Ballroom

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Daniel Snaith.
Image: David Shankbone.

Daniel Snaith, better known as Caribou, formerly known as Manitoba until a lawsuit by musician Richard "Handsome Dick" Manitoba, recently played New York City's Bowery Ballroom. Below is Wikinews reporter David Shankbone's conversation with the electronica pioneer.

David Shankbone: How is the tour going?

Caribou: It’s been really good so far. We started with a few festivals in Europe and then did a month around the UK, Germany and France. Over here we just did Canada and this is the start of a big tour for us around the States. Then Europe for another month. It’s pretty full on, but I love playing shows.

DS: How do European and American audiences compare to each other?

Caribou: I get asked that all the time and I feel people are expecting some kind of an answer like we are better received in Europe, and I don’t know if people expect that of an electronic musician.

DS: But they are more electronic in Europe than they are here, right?

Caribou: Maybe, but my experience is that people are more similar than different in all the shows, and the reaction is more similar than different.

DS: You reach the same fans in each place?

Caribou: Yeah people are so connected to the interests that they share with other people around the world. It’s not like one place is completely different from another anymore.

DS: Do you play to larger audiences over there or here?

Caribou: It’s about the same, again. When we play in London we play about same size venue and size crowd as we do here.

DS: Do you have a favorite venue?

Caribou: A few, actually. Bowery Ballroom is one of my favorites. It's always awesome. The sound is so good here, which is really important. It sounds good on stage, which is important for getting into the show. We always have really amazing crowds in this place called Richards on Richards in Vancouver. This venue in Slovenia we played that is this old commune squat that has lots of gigs and art going over there called the Metalkova. The best ones are the surprises we'll play in a tiny little town in some venue that is like whatever.

DS: What would be a dream venue to play?

Caribou: Something along the lines of this place we played in the south of France that was this 1920s arts patron villa where Cocteau and all these people lived and worked, and we played just outside there overlooking the French Riviera during this tiny little festival, so those ones are always fun when you just end up at some idyllic spot where they have put together a little festival with great bands. Those tend to be in Europe, to be honest. The surprise is part of the enjoyment when you arrive and it's like, this is an insane place to play.

DS: Is there a continent you haven't played where you would like to?

Caribou: We have never been to South America. Brazil.

DS: Rio or São Paulo?

Caribou: I can't remember, I think people—I'd love to go to Rio, but friends who have played in Brazil have said that shows are amazing everywhere.

DS: How has the Iraq War affected you as an artist?

Caribou: Not too much, directly, to be honest. The process of recording music, for me, is very insular. I'm just recording at home and it's very much headspace music. I'm escaping and I'm not a social commentarian or anything. It's more about escaping into this world of sound in my head. I don't think it's affected the business of us touring or anything at all.

DS: Has it affected you as a person?

Caribou: I'm an opponent of the war and I live in the UK where I live under a government that has taken troops to the war or whatever. It hasn't changed my perspective that much where I feel there have been lots of terrible situations like this in the past and you just have to do whatever is in your power. I was at the big march in London. Use your vote and protest in whatever ways you can, but I haven't dropped everything in my life and drastically changed my life.

DS: Do you find you're more inspired by manmade things or things in nature?

Caribou: I think manmade things, but specifically ideas. I'm not interested in things in the real world as much as I am interested in mental ideas and mental contexts. That's why I did a PhD in Pure Maths, this elegance of pure ideas and things that are somewhat intangible and about ideas. Music is very much like that, playing around with ideas and creating this aesthetic of sound.

DS: What sort of ideas inspire you?

Caribou: In mathematics at the PhD level when I was studying was about constructing these elaborate systems and concepts, playing around with them, and fitting them together. More than ideas is playing around with the ideas, constructing them, and creating something out of them. For example, in music I will have an idea to put some different sounds together or a melody that meshes with a chord sequence or a sonic mood, or whatever. I'm not the type of person who takes physical things apart and plays around with them, but I like taking mental ideas apart and playing around with them. That's what appeals to me about what I've spent my life doing.

DS: Would you consider your music to be mathematical?

Caribou: No, not at all. It's completely aesthetic almost. It's about tinkering around with ideas in my head and seeing what kind of sound that actually produces.

DS: Do you have a favorite mathematician or unsolved mathematical problem?

Caribou: I'm not that kind of person. I liked doing mathematics and learning about it, but I was never into mathematical history beyond what I was working on.

DS: What's a trait you deplore in other people?

Caribou: Apathy or laziness. I'm the kind of person who is always doing something and get excited about something, and I find it frustrating when people get good ideas that are interesting and don't make the most of that. Anything I want to do, I'm all about doing it as much as possible. Meanness, selfishness, obviously.

DS: What’s a trait you deplore in yourself?

Caribou: It’s probably twined with my possessiveness and being too controlling of the things I’m doing, which is probably related to the fact I’m so excited to do things. That’s the flip side of it, I suppose. Even more so, my self-centeredness. I spend all my time making this music, and I’m really proud of it and happy with it, but I kind of feel it is indulging my interests.

DS: You think that might be a negative?

Caribou: I do, because there are better things I could be doing in this world. I don’t know, I could be more helpful to humanity than just sitting in my room making music, but I enjoy doing it so much that I make the decision to do it.

DS: That's a challenge for any human of whether or not to pursue something you think is a greater good or indulge yourself. How do you wrestle with that question?

Caribou: I guess like most people I avoid it to a certain degree. I hopefully strike some kind of compromise, but very heavy on doing what I’m excited about.

DS: Well, we need music in this world and if people are responding to it, you’re giving something to them.

Caribou: Yeah, I hope so, or maybe you are just trying to make me feel good.

DS: Maybe. [Laughs] Hillary or Barack?

Caribou: My gut reaction would be Barack, but I’m not really on top of American politics to endorse either.

DS: What do you think of Gordon Brown?

Caribou: He's a funny one to pin down. I can’t figure him out. The effect of having him in government is probably going to be pretty close to the effect of having Tony Blair in government, which is a shame. I’d like to see someone more old Labour and Socialist, I guess. There's always a hint that he is that, but I don’t think it will be reflected in his policies.

DS: What would be a bigger turn-off for you in bed, someone who was overly flatulent, or someone who spoke in a baby voice?

Caribou: I could get over the baby voice, but the flatulence is a tough one to stomach.

DS: Do you have a favorite curse word?

Caribou: Nothing is springing to mind.

DS: Favorite euphemism for breasts?

Caribou: Nope.

DS: If you had to choose between the destruction of the entire continent of Africa or the entire continent of Asia, which would you choose?

Caribou: Oh, God. So, population-wise. It’s tempting…I think that is the only way to choose. Killing a greater number of people has to be a greater evil. That’s maybe the bottom line. I would hate to make that decision.

DS: What are traits you respect in a woman?

Caribou: The same traits I look for in anybody else in the world: kindness, thoughtfulness.

DS: It doesn’t differ in men?

Caribou: No. Being a nice human being is what I look for in anybody.

DS: What’s your most treasured possession?

Caribou: I have a massive record collection I obsess over, and it would be hard to let that go.

DS: Any favorite films?

Caribou: I haven't been able to see any in the last couple of months, but in the last year I went through a complete Herzog obsession. I watched all of his films, I read Herzog on Herzog and even read Kinsky’s biography. Almost all of his films are incredible.

DS: What difficult question in an interview do you anticipate but are never asked?

Caribou: I actually don’t anticipate the difficult ones, which is why when you asked me to destroy one continent I didn’t see that one coming.

DS: What question are you tired of answering?

Caribou: The ones I get asked the most, and I don’t mind answering them, but I don’t relish answering them: I had to change my name from Manitoba to Caribou a couple years back due a law suit. I don't mind this one anymore, but at first I got asked that in every interview. And also, the connection between mathematics and music, which you asked me in a form. That’s a valid question, though, because it’s a point of interest about the way that I work. The lawsuit is like reciting a history of facts I’d rather forget.

DS: In the last year, where have you drawn most of your influence, and you can’t have been listening to them beyond a year ago.

Caribou: The big thing for me in the last year that is reflected in this album more than in previous ones is songwriting. I never wrote songs I just built tracks out of loops. There were melodies in them, but there wasn’t any structure to the songs. One artist I didn’t’ listen to before a year ago was Ariel Pink who is a lo-fi indie songwriter and producer. His production is amazing, but it turns people off because it’s so lo-fi; but also, his song-writing is amazing.


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.