Caribou Talks Handsome Dick Manitoba, New Album Swim, and Living in London
Originally, Canadian indie guy Dan Snaith called himself Manitoba. He recorded a whole batch of eclectic electro-poppy stuff, sent it out into the world, and started gaining cred with brainy music fans.
But then proto-punker Handsome Dick Manitoba (real name Richard Blum) crawled out of a black hole, claimed total ownership of the word "Manitoba," and threatened a lawsuit. Hence, the name change.
Called Caribou ever since, the 32-year-old Snaith has lived and recorded in London for nine years. And right now, he's touring his new album Swim and he'll be stopping in Miami October 19. So Crossfade asked him about Dick Blum, the new music, and living in England.
New Times: You originally went by the name Manitoba. Why did you choose that name?
Caribou: I quite literally picked it off a map of Canada. I mean, I'm not from Manitoba. In fact, I don't know if I've ever been there when I chose it. But I wanted a name that reflected in some sense Canadianness, but also the solitariness of being set away from the music hubs of the world. It's not like I grew up in New York and I was hearing the most current thing. I was just part of a group of friends figuring it out in our own weird way, listening to new music next to old music and working on music by myself. That culture of where I grew up and all the nostalgia around growing up in a small town or out in the country was important to the way that the music sounded.
What did losing your name feel like?
Well, it's the name of a province and one that I don't even come from. But losing it to this American dude [Handsome Dick Manitoba] and the fact that he was claiming exclusive rights to that name felt just totally unfair. And I was failing to stand up to him, I guess. But I just quickly realized that it was completely impossible and it was going to cost far more money than I had to go to court. So I chose Caribou, which has similar connotations of Canadianness and remoteness.
Photo by Nitasha Kapoor
When you're recording an album like Swim, how much do you work alone?
There were a few people who contributed to Swim in a really important ways: Luke from Born Ruffians sings the last track on the record, a free jazz horn player from Toronto played on several tracks, and obviously [engineers] David [Wrench] and Jeremy [Greenspan of Junior Boys] who mixed the record. But those were done in a very limited period of time. Like 99 percent of the time, it's just me working by myself.
How much of your music is carefully composed and how much just happens?
Andorra was the first time that I tried to compose music in advance rather than just kind of letting it happen. This album's a bit of both. It's more back in the direction of starting with a loop and building something. But there are still sections that are composed in advance as well.
Do you have formal music training?
Yeah. I took, like, all the conservatory grades and then got into jazz piano and learned about improvising. As opposed to a lot of electronic musicians who just come to pieces of equipment and synthesizers totally cold, without knowing harmony or any kind of theory, I came to those instruments with a background in more traditional instrumentation, classical music, and jazz.
What were your early experiences with electronic music?
All the music was pretty much coming from this guy, Koushik, whose brother was already involved in making techno. For the rest of us, it was something completely new. You know, I had a group of friends in high school and our friendship was definitely cemented by our need to find out about weird types of music.
Was Koushik the only one of your friends who also ended up having a career in music?
No, not at all. A couple of my friends from Hamilton, Canada -- Jeremy and Matt -- went on to start the Junior Boys. And another one of the guys, Ryan Smith, plays guitar in Caribou now.
Does it seem uncommon that so many people from your little group of friend in Dundas and Hamilton were able to become professional musicians?
Yeah, it does. In retrospect, it seems like a really special atmosphere. We were lucky that we all ended up in this same small town where it was just us who were interested in this music.
You haven't lived in Canada for years now. Has living in London affected your songwriting at all?
This album [Swim] is maybe the first one that I feel like living in London has had an effect because it's so much influenced by the excitement of contemporary dance music and club culture. Before that, I always felt that I could make my music wherever. It was more about what was going on in my head than what was going on in the city around me.
How about life in another land? Has the foreignness of the place had an emotional influence on the music?
Before I moved to London, I had musical friends here in Hampton who released music under the name Quartet and the guy who helped me get my music released in the first place. So I moved over there and immediately had friends. And also, I know a lot of Canadians who ended up moving to London around the same time. And my wife, who was my girlfriend then, also moved over to London shortly after me. So it didn't have that feeling of being an alienating place. I mean, it's a harder city to live in, more stressful and aggravating, than Toronto. But not in a way that had a serious impact on my psyche or anything.
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