It’s been a pretty crazy 15 years for Snarky Puppy. Looking at their discography and touring history, it would almost seem that the band just hasn’t stopped. This is no easy feat when you consider that the collective is far larger than your regular four- or five-piece ensemble. With a list of members and collaborators over 20 people long, it’s no wonder that the musical collective has churned out more than a dozen records in their lifespan. Band leader and bassist Michael League attests this work ethic and longevity to simple efficiency and good planning, he says.
“I think, it's just be efficient, I guess. Make plans and do the plan. Tour for nine months, which leaves you three months to write and record. We had four weeks to record, a week and a half to mix. It’s about meeting the schedule. If you have to do it, you do it.”
The newest Snarky Puppy offering comes in the form of Immigrance, their 13th album. Rather than recording the album live with an audience, like the majority of their previous releases, they opted to return to a studio setting, much like their previous album Culcha Vulcha.
“We had a such a good time making Culcha Vulcha we were like 'oh, you know, let's try it again', but change some things up. We actually have all three drummers on every tune, but instead of playing simultaneously, they're alternating sections. The majority of the record was done live and then we just did kind of just over dubbed with kind of finishing touches. It feels raw, and it feels natural, like the way we’ve done it live, but we were able to put that extra love and care in it without pressure of doing everything live.”
The album title is particularly poignant when you look at the last few years for Snarky Puppy. The band have toured so relentlessly that they’ve grown accustomed to the feeling of constant motion and being immersed in different cultures around the world. This expanded world view specifically inspired the tone of the album, League says.
“We travel a lot and when we go to new places, we try to explore new culture with the time that we have. We're always incorporating the elements from different musical traditions into our new compositions in our way. When you do this, you try and be aware. You want to respect these traditions without kind of like appropriating them or disrespecting them. When you've grown up with your native language, then you start looking at the root of forms of music, or the root of a musical phrase and it's through the rhythm you realise that it's just the migration of that rhythm.
It's like music is a language. That language originated in many other places and it just reached your country. People, like rhythm are always emigrating, moving around the planet. Whether we travel or not, as we learn new things, we're kind of leaving behind previous versions of ourselves and becoming new versions of ourselves. Nothing is really fixed and we’re all in a constant state of immigration.”
This open-minded mentality has played a huge part in the history of Snarky Puppy when looking at their back catalogue. Rather than sticking to specific boundaries of genre, the group have constantly expanded their sound and incorporated a wide array of instruments. Each member and instrument also come with a fresh perspective and new voice to the band. With so many members contributing their voice, it’s easy to understand how the group has such a wide breadth of sound and style.
“Whenever we add a new personality, we all become influenced by that person, that person becomes influenced by us. One person’s perspective can change the way that everybody thinks about certain songs,” League says.
Immigrance, like all of Snarky Puppy’s previous releases, is a hard record to pin down when it comes to genre. Featuring vibrant horn lines interlaced with searing guitar and keyboard hooks upon a bedrock of infectiously funky rhythms, it’s a wonderfully immersive musical journey from start to finish, and makes for what could quite well be their most dynamic release to date. Not quite jazz, not quite funk, not quite R&B. Simply Snarky Puppy at their finest.
Next month sees the band return to Australia to perform as part of the 30th Byron Bay Bluesfest, one of the many festivals the band is constantly in demand for around the world. Looking back to the humble beginnings of the band in 2004, League admits that he never could’ve dreamed that the band would be where they are now.
“Oh, no way. No way! It was always just a vehicle to play the songs I was writing. I mean, I just didn't really think there was any commercial future for it.”
Despite the undeniable success of the band nowadays, it’s clear as day when talking to League that his motivation hasn’t changed at all after 15 years, 13 albums and countless world tours. The excitement and passion for music is still the driving force that keeps Snarky Puppy moving forward, and that’s exactly why no matter where they’re playing in the world, the incredible connection with their audience is always there.
“As the band went on it wasn't really about those successes. It was about trying to get better music in the hands of the customer. That was the goal: the music.”