Since forming over twelve years ago in Texas, Snarky Puppy have become one of the globe’s most beloved bands. With an ever expanding and revolving roster of members, the band have built a huge global following with their concoction of jazz, rock and funk.
Next April, the band will be returning to Aus for a performance at Bluesfest, as well as a run of huge sideshows. But before then, we caught up with the band’s leader Michael League for a chat.
Ahead of their return down under next April, we caught up with Snarky Puppy’s bassist and leader Michael League to chat working with David Crosby, stories from the road, and his love for Australia.
HAPPY: You’ve been announced to play Byron Bay Bluesfest again. What’re you most looking forward to about returning down under? Any highlights from your last time here?
MICHAEL: We love being in Australia. Most of the guys are coffee addicts, so they wait patiently all year to come here and binge. We’ve made lots of friends in OZ over the years, and it’s always nice to spend some time with them as well. As far as a highlight from last year goes, it would have to be meeting, talking with, and listening to Bonnie Raitt. I grew up with her music in my house. It’s very rare that you meet a hero and they exceed your expectations both musically and personally. I’ll always treasure that.
HAPPY: Besides playing shows what’s your favourite place to visit/thing to do when you’re down under?
MICHAEL: I’m a big animal lover, so Australia is like heaven to me. We had the opportunity to visit nature preserves near Adelaide the last two times I’ve been there. That was very special. Americans never stop marvelling at the number of unique animals your country has.
HAPPY: The last record Snarky released was Culcha Vulcha in 2016. Have you been working on a new album or any new music? If so, could you tell us about it and what we can expect to hear?
MICHAEL: We just finished recording our 12th album on a pecan farm in south Texas. I’m in the process of editing now. We’ll mix in late October and try to have it on shelves (do stores still have records on shelves?) by early March. I’m really excited about this one. Nine different members brought compositions to be recorded, and we tracked twelve songs in all. I think we’re all curious to see what the finished product looks like.
HAPPY: Now that you guys have been the recipients of a few Grammy awards, do you feel extra pressure to create something incredible when working on new music? Or has it had the opposite effect on you?
MICHAEL: No, not at all. If anything, it gave us more confidence to write the music we really want to write, knowing that now people will hear it. It opened many creative doors for us… after all, we were recognised for doing what we love. So it makes sense that the people who recognised us for that would want to hear more of what we love to do.
HAPPY: With so many members in the band, how do you go about composing songs? Do you all come up with ideas, share them with each other and go from there? Talk me through the general process.
MICHAEL: I think that many people just assume that we write together, but we actually don’t. Whoever has a song writes it completely by themselves, and when they bring it into the band it will change in terms of arrangement or production, but the composition is really only written by that one person. It’s the arranging process that makes all the songs sound like Snarky Puppy because everyone puts in their own individual flavour and personality.
HAPPY: What song are you most proud of having written?
MICHAEL: I don’t know that I’m proud of anything I’ve written. I have no idea if it’s good or not, only if I like it in that particular moment. Some tunes take ages to write, and when they’re done, I feel like l dragged a boulder up a hill only to not like the view. Other times I crank something silly out on a flight and it turns out to be one of the songs that people are more receptive to. As a composer, you’re so inside of your music that you really have no clue about it. It’s kind of annoying, and kind of liberating.
HAPPY: You guys have collaborated with some of the best artists in the biz including Jacob Collier and Lalah Hathaway, among others. Which artists do you dream of collaborating with and why?
MICHAEL: It would be nice to work with everyone you admire, but you have to have a good reason to do it. There has to be a reasonable motivation or concept, in my opinion. That’s a big part of why we started the GroundUP Music Festival in Miami – to associate and create community with the artists we love without forcing musical scenarios upon them. We just get to hang out and listen to each other on the beach for three days.
HAPPY: Having so many members touring around the world together must be intense. Do you have any crazy/funny tour stories to share with us?
MICHAEL: Wow. There are so many stories. We had a travel issue with one of our drummers the week of recording for the album We Like It Here in Holland. It looked like he wouldn’t make it, so we called a drummer from Canada named Larnell Lewis to see if he could come play at the last minute. He had done 2 or 3 gigs with us, but almost all of the material for the record was new. He agreed, got on a plane two days later, learned all of the music on the flight, and landed the day of the recording session. He knew the music better than we did. It was unbelievable. Then he joined the band as one of our three steady drummers.
HAPPY: The members of Snarky Puppy work on other projects outside of the band, and you’ve been working on/producing David Crosby’s new album. Tell me about that, and what it’s been like working with such a legend, one who has called you “startlingly talented”?
MICHAEL: David and I became friends a few years ago, just before our second Family Dinner album. He asked me to produce a solo album for him, so he and I holed up in Jackson Browne’s Santa Monica studio and made this record called Lighthouse. It’s very stripped down, acoustic, and vulnerable. He asked me to put together a touring band, so I recommended two of my favourite artists in the world, Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. He loved the vibe of the four us so much that he decided to make another stripped down record, but this time with all four of us sharing lead vocals and, more interestingly, writing the music together. That was a fascinating trip. Four songwriters sitting down together every day to write a full album of brand new, original music! The result is Here If You Listen, which comes out in late October. He’s excited about it, and that makes the three of us happy.
Catch Snarky Puppy live next April at any of the following dates:
Sun 21st April 2019, Enmore Theatre Sydney (ALL ages show)
Wed 24th April 2019, HQ Adelaide
Fri 26th April 2019, The Forum Melbourne
Bluesfest 2019 – April 18-22