QC INTERVIEW: CARIBOU

by christos mountzouros

Swim is Caribou’s follow up to the critically acclaimed and Polaris Prize winning record Andorra. The new album was released on April 20th via Merge Records. Quiet Color’s Christos Mountzouros recently had a chance to chat with Dan Snaith AKA Caribou about his new release. While the calling card provided by the label only had 14 minutes on it, Christos was able to have a great one on one chat and gets the honor and title of being the first person to ask Caribou about what winning a Polaris Prize is like.

Quiet Color: Hey, is this Dan?

Caribou: Yes, it is.

Quiet Color: Hey, it’s Christos from Quiet Color and I am going to be interviewing you today. I just wanted to say I’ve really been loving your new record. Congratulations on its release – I wish you the very best with it. I’m dying to ask you though, what happens to a person after they win The Polaris Prize? That’s a really big deal to a lot of people. What sort of impact did it have on you as an artist?

Caribou: Thank you! You know, it’s funny. I mean, the actual night of the event was really overwhelming. I’m not usually… for example… it was the first time I’ve ever had to stand in front of a press conference. People generally aren’t interested in me in that kind of way and just going up on stage- it all seemed so ludicrous and surreal. Which was only made more so in fact, by the fact that the next day I just went home and started working…because we hadn’t been doing any shows and haven’t released any music since then…this is really the first time I’ve been asked about it!

Artist: Caribou
Song: Odessa
Artist: Caribou
Song: Odessa (Night Jewel Remix)

Caribou: This is really the first time I would have any kind of inkling as to what effect its had apart from getting a nice check. It really does seems very surreal. It seems like that night almost didn’t happen, which is kind of easier to believe.

Quiet Color: I was going to ask what you have been doing in between Andorra and now? I guess the answer is writing a record.

Caribou: Well that was really the beginning. Coming home after that I started this album and it’s pretty much taken me all the time from then to now.

Quiet Color: What about the songwriting process? I’m wondering what comes first for you and if it differs from record to record – do you usually start with lyrics or melody?

Caribou: Lyrics are always last. No matter what. I don’t know, they are definitely not the primary focus of the music. Production ideas, rhythms, and melody – all those kind of things are part of a song before I even start thinking about what the words should be.

Quiet Color: I read somewhere that you are quoted as saying, “the most important thing for me with this record was finding my own sonic vocabulary.” Do you feel you did in fact find your own sonic vocabulary?

Caribou: To a certain extent actually, yeah. Seeing how people have reacted to it a bit …I mean at this point I don’t have too good of a sense yet… OK, well, the frustrating thing about Andorra, well the only frustrating thing about Andorra – it was really well received and I don’t want to sound like sour grapes you know, I feel really lucky. People maybe heard the last record and thought “Oh! I get it. This guy is one of these 60′s guys and he likes the 60′s and wants to make some nostalgic music that sounds like the 60′s.”

You know, I love lots of music from different periods including that type of sound, but the most important thing to me was making it harder for people to say “this comes from here” or “its a take on this genre of music.” Seeing people’s reactions – I guess inevitably people are going to want to compare it to this and that which is absolutely fine, but seeing what people are comparing it to this time around, it seems like there’s more kind of variation. Maybe it sounds to some people like one thing and some people another thing. So that maybe suggest that its more its own vocabulary… hopefully.

Quiet Color: When I first put the record on I didn’t necessarily think it sounded like you. My first thought was that it has a lot of soul which I felt was an interesting departure for you.

Caribou: Definitely! One kind of obvious thing about this record is that over the last couple of years I’ve been listening to more dance music, going to see DJs more often or going to DJ myself more often. Especially for example, in the month or so that Theo Parrish would come through town and DJ in London here, I’d go every time. I just love that connection all the way from contemporary dance music to various types of dance music back to soul music. It’s so evident in seeing him DJ and the music he plays and the kind of varied things he plays. Everything has some sort of angle back to the connection of where dance music has evolved out of. I guess that definitely influenced me.

Quiet Color: I know you’re not big on putting yourself in a genre, which I think is very important as an artist and a musician. What about your records? Does the word concept record make you cringe? Because I think you made one… a conceptual dance record. Would you call this a dance record?

Caribou: My records never really have a concept apart from the fact that they’re just kind of a document of me during the year that I’m making them and the music that excites me during the year I’m making them and the process of making music itself. There’s kind of a sonic concept with this album which is that I wanted to make dance music that sounded like it was made out of liquid – like all the elements are washing back and forth from one side to another and the pitch is waving, moving up and down like a wave. Things are appearing out of the mix and then disappearing back into the mix. I think that was probably more successful that any other kind of idea I’ve had about an album in the past. I was more successful in realizing what I wanted to do this time around. So that is a concept, but not say, in the world of Pink Floyd.

Quiet Color: You definitely succeeded. Even from track to track there is an ebb and flow and I love their placement.

Caribou: That’s awesome, that’s great! And I want the best of both worlds with regards to if it’s a dance record or not. I’ve been playing these tracks in my DJ sets and some of them just really work in a club as a piece of dance music which is extremely exciting for me. It’s something completely new, something completely different – that my music would make people dance! I also want it to retain some of the songwriting things from Andorra and be in that world as well – listening at home/headphones/production kind of album. I like those things to kind of fall in between two spaces – so they’re neither this nor that, or they’re both things simultaneously a little bit.

Quiet Color: But what about the title – Are you really obsessed with Swimming? That’s how you got the title?

Caribou: (laughs) Yeah I am! I mean aside the fact that I wanted it sound watery and all those things, it definitely comes from the fact that the only thing I really did in the past year apart from making music and occasionally going to a club was swimming every day or every couple of days.

Quiet Color: What made you get into that? Was it totally random?

Caribou: I’ve never been a good swimmer or been able to enjoy swimming. I wasn’t scared of water, but I was never able to be like “Oh that would be fun to go for a swim!” So for Christmas last year my wife got me swimming lessons. At first I was like, “Swimming lessons?! What am I 5 years old?” But then very very quickly I became obsessed by it. As soon as I started to do it I was able to enjoy it.

Quiet Color: I think I only have 3 minutes before the calling card your label gave me runs out, but I’m going to try and fit in two more questions. “Jamelia” is one of my favorite tracks on “Swim”. I love Born Ruffian’s Luke Lalonde’s vocals and the addition of the dissonant strings is just beautiful. How did this collaboration come to be?

Caribou: We did a show in NY, this festival with a 15 piece band. And the band was just friends and lots of different people and Luke was a member of that band. We had 2 days to rehearse for that show. The people who were singing in the band got together and practiced all the harmonies and those kind of things . I’ve known Luke for a while, but just hearing him singing certain harmonies made me think of “Jamelia” which I couldn’t get the vocal performance out of myself, I thought he’d be perfect.

Quiet Color: So any artists or records that have come out recently that have caught your attention?

Caribou: Lots I guess. As far as albums go I am a really close friends with Four Tet and I’m always a fan of his music and ideas as well. Another album, another friend of mine, actually this album really blew me away, is Owen Pallate’s album called “Heartland.” Such an incredible massively imaginative symphonic work which just totally floored me.

Quiet Color: Right? One of my favorites this year as well. I have about 60 seconds until my card runs out so let me wrap this up. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat. We really appreciate and again, best of luck with “Swim” it’s a beautiful album. We’ll see you on the road.

Caribou: Awesome thanks so much man, it was really nice to talk to you.

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