The culture of cool

Bassist Michael League, front man for American fusion band Snarky Puppy, says they went back to basics for their latest album, Culcha Vulcha.

Updated - September 16, 2016 11:07 am IST

Published - June 01, 2016 05:07 pm IST - Bengaluru

Dying for an india tour -- Michael League

Dying for an india tour -- Michael League

American fusion band Snarky Puppy have been on the up and up ever since they won a Grammy in the Best R&B Performance category in early 2014 and it seems to have all come full circle quite quickly for the band, which often scales up from eight to 14 members. Snarky Puppy’s collaboration with Netherlands’ Metropole Orkest on their 2015 album Sylva won them their second Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album just earlier this year.

What’s surprising is that despite all the collaboration-heavy, video-led music content they have gained enormous worldwide success for, Snarky Puppy, led by bassist Michael League, have gone back to basics for their latest album, Culcha Vulcha . League says over the phone from New York, “It’s our first studio album in seven years. No audience, no video. We went into this ranch in West Texas. It is a desert and it is five minutes from the Mexican border. We stayed there for a week and cranked up 12 tunes.”

In an interview with Metroplus, League talks about being better prepared while attending the Grammy Awards ceremony for the second time, their collaboration-led album Family Dinner Vol. 2 and touring. Excerpts.

What was it like at the Grammys this time?

It was cool man, it was crazy. It is not my scene. The red carpet, music celebrity vibe is not really my favourite part… Not only is it not my favourite part, I would say it is as far as you can possibly go from the creation of music (laughs). You know what I mean? Like, why we play music, why we all started as kids and what it means to sit next to someone and play a guitar with them. It is as opposite as you can get from that.

The first time we went, we were completely unknown. We walked in, got our award and left. Nobody knew us before we came in and nobody knew us before we came out. This time, some stuff has changed and we’ve worked with artists that are a little higher profile. We’ve become a little more successful. As a result of that, we did what you’re supposed to do at the Grammys, which is talk to people that are in the music industry and meet other artists that you always wanted to meet.

There was one moment where I turned around and I was walking down the red carpet with David Crosby and then he wasn’t there anymore. And then he was a couple of feet behind me and he was talking to Alice Cooper and Joe Perry. And I was like ‘Woah!’ I snuck in and got a photo with the three of them.

Family Dinner Volume 2 released right after the Grammys, right? How has it been received?

Yes, the record came out three days before the Grammys. That was just coincidence, though. It’s been amazing. The response has been so good. I never stop being surprised when people are receptive to our music. We’ve made so many records and in so many forms that I’m just waiting for the record that comes out and people say, ‘All right, this one sucked. They’re done.’ People seem to be open-minded about what we do. (Laughs)

What was it like recording with all your guest collaborators in New Orleans, that too during Mardi Gras?

Yeah, we did. The only bad thing was that it was a pain to get to the studio, because of all the parades, but it was cool. It was really so that people who were coming to the recording would stay and have a good time in New Orleans.

Tell me a bit about your new album, Culcha Vulcha.

There are 12 brand-new Snarky Puppy instrumental songs, old school, regular, no special guest vocalists or orchestra. Sonically, it’s very different. It’s much more ambitious and much less natural. It’s a little warmer and sonically explorative.

Because our audio engineer – Eric Hartman, who mixed all our records – he passed away very suddenly this year, so now we have a new engineer, Nic Hard. Rather than have the new engineer do what Eric used to do, we have a guy who’s the exact opposite. We’re trying to give him an opportunity to really express his voice as an audio engineer. Which is important – to let people do what they’re best at.

What was it like working on Culcha Vulcha? Who was involved?

The way it works in this band is always that whoever writes the song, writes it by themselves. We don’t co-write. For this record, I wrote six songs.

Six other guys wrote one each. With this record, it’s darker and moodier. It’s really more of a groovier record. It doesn’t have the kind of bombastic, fireworks stuff that We Like It Here has .

You’re going on a world tour now to promote the album, have you had any offers from India?

I don’t know, man. When I was going to India, I was just going as a tourist. I taught a masterclass at the True School of Music in Mumbai (2015), but man… I’ve been dying for an Indian tour. Please, somebody make it happen. Call Oranjuice (organisers of their 2015 India show at Johnnie Walker the Journey in Mumbai) or whatever. I really want it to happen. India’s one of my favourite places in the world and I’m waiting for the day I get the call saying, ‘We got a tour in India’.

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