Unbelievable! Snarky Puppy is coming to Poznań (Poland) … After three years spent listening to their music, and after missing two opportunities to see them in Paris, I was finally going to see them here in Poznań. After a few fruitless attempts to obtain an interview, I received a positiv answer and was able to meet Michael League right before the concert to ask him “a few” questions. For those who do not know them : Snarky Puppy is an American jazz fusion band, lead by Michael League.
It was pretty stressful to talk to a person that I have admired for so many years, especially because I didn’t see these guys as humans, more as some kind of genius … But anyway, here is the interview!
What is your musical training?
Michael League: Personally or the band?
You personally and then in general, if you know more or less
M.L.: Yeah I do, I know everything about everybody and they know everything about me ahah. I grew up in a somewhat musical family. My grandfather -who was my mother’s father- was a high school orchestra director for 30 years. So he made all of his daughters play instruments. My mom played the flute : I grew up listening to her playing and my dad has really good taste in music so between the two of them there was a lot of music in the house. And my brother, who’s five years older than me, became a professional musician so he was always having people over. There’s always been music in my house!
And then I went to college, at the University of North Texas, with most of the guys that are playing tonight. I did four years of a jazz degree there. I actually didn’t finish, I dropped out but I did four years, four full years. For most of the guys, it’s the same situation, almost all the guys went to school for jazz.
Your latest album “We like it here” was fully recorded live. I wanted to know how this experience was. Was it difficult?
M.L.: It was the fourth record we’ve done live so at this point doing live record is “normal” : half of our records are live. Thanks to that, it wasn’t stressful at all, we did it over four nights and it was very laid back. When you’re doing it over four nights, when you’re playing a song six times, you’re recording it six times, you get to try different things and experiment and it was not that kind of “we only have one shot” thing so it’s relaxed. We played so many live shows so that’s our natural environment actually … it’s not a big deal.
Cool, so will you do that again?
M.L.: Yeah, we’re doing it in February for “Family dinner Volume II” so.
M.L.: I guess each song is written specifically for a different number of people but when we record, we adapt the arrangement for however how many people are playing. Then when we go on tour, we always play with less people on tour than on the records, we basically use common sense and our knowledge of all of the parts in the song, not just our own parts, to figure out whatever everyone needs to play. For example, Chris Mcqueen tonight will be playing a different part on “Shofukan” than he played on the album because there are two other guitar players. We just think about who is playing the melody, that’s the most important thing, then who is playing chords. We don’t even talk about it anymore because it’s kind of understood. Everyone thinks like a producer, not like “this is my part and I’m gonna play it” but we think about what is going to make the song sound best and now it’s very intuitive. But we’ve played over a thousand gigs : it comes easier when you do it more.
What is your writing process? You’re writing the songs for the band, right?
M.L.: Most of them yeah, I write maybe about 85% of the tunes.
So you’re just composing by yourself and then you adapt the songs with the rest of the group?
M.L.: Well … No, actually adaptation happens before as well. So whoever writes the song arranges it for the whole band. Before they come in and we’ll make a demo of it and we’ll email it to everybody and everyone learns all the parts. And then when we rehearse things might change but it’s not like we‘re doing it as a band.
What makes you want to collaborate with an artist?
M.L.: I think the more you go through the music world the more you kind of see common characteristics in people that you enjoy playing with. You know what I mean. You realize that certain kinds of musicians don’t mix with you well and that certain kinds of musicians mix with you very well. So I think that at this point we’ve really kind of found the type of personality that we relate to as musicians. Mostly it comes down to being very kind of kind, respectful, aware, open and down to earth … Nobody likes to deal with divas in this band! There are so many people in this band that if there was a diva in the band they would not last very long because there are just too many people for egos. There is no egos and when we invite an artist to work with us, we try to keep it the exact same way: zero ego. And also we are a creative band so we want to work with artists who are interested in pushing themselves in creative directions, not in commercial directions, financial directions or fashionable directions … these are important things. Most of all, we like working with musicians who are consummate musicians not just a great guitar player or a great singer but a person who’s a musician.
What are your influences in general? Not only musicians but maybe painters or…
M.L.: One of my favorite artists in the world is Gaudi, the Spanish architect. Salvador Dali. I think a lot of the guys in the band read as well, they love reading books so I think that inspires a lot of the guys some of whom are film directors. I think that everybody gets inspiration from lots of different forms of art not just music.
And musically, it’s all over the map. We listen to everything from metal to country to folkloric music. Just everything, as long as it’s great music, we’re super into it.
How is the tour going?
M.L.: It’s great! Today was tough. I would say today was the hardest day of the tour. Two night s ago we played just outside of Paris and a couple of us went to Paris and hang out all night of course.
Oh ! You went to Le Caveau des Oubliettes?
M.L.: Well, it was closed! We went to Baisé Salé. We stayed there until 6 in the morning and then we caught a train to Villefranche and played there. We slept like an hour and then woke up at 3:30 this morning. We flew to Frankfort and then we took another plane to Warsaw, which was delayed, and then we got to Warsaw. To come to Poznań, it was supposed to be a two and a half hour drive but our driver drove slow as hell so it took four hours and 15 minutes. So that was today! And yes, we have days like that on our tour but generally this tour has been amazing because we’re on a tour bus for a lot of it. We were in Asia and that was really amazing. The crowds has been amazing and I think every show has been sold out, every single one. You can’t ask for more than that literally, so it’s been very good!
What song are you listening to a lot at the moment?
M.L.: The one I’ve been listening to the most right now is a song by David Crosby that he recorded with Crosby, Stills and Nash called “Guinnevere”. I grew up with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. My dad was a really, really, really big SCNY fan and then I just never listened to them on my own after I left his house when I was 18 and went to college. But a couple weeks ago, David Crosby started tweeting about us. Then we started talking to each other, I called him and it was super crazy, I mean to talk to him on the phone, someone that I was listening to when I was a newborn baby. Following this, we invited him to be a part of the next “Family Dinner”. He accepted. And when I asked him what song he wanted to do, he said that “Guinnevere” would be really cool so I listened to it and I just remembered how awesome it is. I’ve been listening to it pretty much every day. I guess it’s not really what you would expect!
What advice you would give to someone, a young person for example, who wants to be a professional musician?
M.L.: Jim Carrey gave a commencement speech for college, for a group of graduating students, or high school actually… I can’t remember. Anyway he was just talking about how his father always wanted to do something with either art or music but he didn’t want to take the risk so he spend his whole life basically working as a plumber or something very secure and safe and he ended up getting laid off. He spent his life not pursuing his dream because he thought it would be the safest, the smartest thing for his family and he ended up failing at that. And when you fail at something you didn’t even wanted to do, I think that’s a really bad place to be. I would say if you’re able to make what you love your living, you’re probably going to be one of the happiest people in the world. And if you try and it doesn’t work, you can at least have the experiences of along the way, the knowledge that you tried and probably no regrets about that. So I would say to a young musician: try to do exactly what you want to do. Don’t make decisions based on what you think is going to make money or what the music industry is going to like, what people like. Just do what you believe in, because ultimately that’s what people will related to the most. People are generally honest about what they love.
One last question, what’s next for you and the band?
M.L.: At the end of this tour, which is in 20 days, I fly back to Texas and I’m mixing the record we made with the Metropole Orchestra. Then we’re making “Family Dinner Volume II” in New Orleans in February. The Metropole album comes out in April. After that we’re making another record in August and I’m making a documentary on Texas’ musicians. We’re playing a bunch of shows in between. So a lot of gigs, three records…
Great, so many plans for the future!
After this cool moment and the fan picture (impossible to forget the fan part in me), the concert started. And it was a really great concert: good mood, great sensibility of the musicians, perfect listening among the band, crazy energy, dancing … It is hard to find the words to describe this moment, the main point is that is was an absolutely good moment, everyone was happy to be there and smiling!
After the show, of course, time for autographs and pictures with the other members of the band. And then, because these guys are crazy, they came with us at the Pijalnia (which is a bar where beers and shots cost 1euro, and where all the students go) and we had time to talk to them more!
The tour is not over yet, so check out if they are coming near where you are (don’t forget: they did come to Poznań) because their live shows are great!