With a new record and a second Bluesfest appearance scheduled for 2019, things are certainly busy at the Snarky Puppy camp—and what a big camp it is, boasting up to 25 members at a time, each bringing with them a broad array of musical styles and experiences.
With such a diverse lineup, it’s not surprising that Snarky Puppy’s songs are a collage of different musical genres and ideas. Pulling from the worlds of jazz, prog-rock, and pop, Snarky Puppy’s discography is a compilation of sound unlike anything else.
TEO spoke to the group’s bassist and “band leader” Michael League about what it’s like to manage such a huge collective, and what Australian audiences can expect from their upcoming Bluesfest sideshows.
TEO: Snarky Puppy has so many members, each with their own gamut of accomplishments and musical flairs, but as a collective what is your mission statement?
Michael: The mission statement tends to change as time goes on, but in general, I would say that we’re trying to explore our collective musical passions as an ensemble, with composition as the centrepiece. The individual abilities of the musicians will always be there, but great songs are so hard to come by—so that’s our focus. It’s the thing we’re constantly chasing, and I think we’ll always be chasing it.
How do you manage to coordinate such a huge and explosive live band? Are there ever points where it starts to derail, and if so, how do you pull it back together?
Well, the simple answer is that there aren’t really any egos, or if there are, the people who have them are professional enough to leave them at home. It just wouldn’t work any other way. We also try to foster a positive, encouraging, loving attitude from throughout the entire organisation—from the manager down. If you act badly, you stick out. You feel like an outsider. I think it makes people want to be kind and do good work. We’re here to make music and have fun, after all. That’s the driving force.
Australia is a long way from the origins of the sounds you guys play with like jazz, prog, funk (and more). Do you find that audiences in countries like ours respond differently to the live show?
I think every culture has its own relationship with different kinds of music. The nice thing about instrumental music is that it’s egalitarian—each country has the ability to enjoy it equally, since lyrics [and] language aren’t part of the equation. That said, I think that Australia has had American music on its radar for so long that most of what we’re doing on stage is familiar.
You and other members of the band have performed with and alongside some of the biggest and most revered names in the industry—David Crosby, Erykah Badu, Kirk Franklin. What has it been like to rub shoulders with veteran musicians?
The biggest thing it has done is influence the sound of the band. If you think about artists like Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor, Erykah Badu, Kirk Franklin, and Fred Hammond, the connection is clear that our band has a very strong Texas stamp on it. Mostly, it’s because the members of these bands are in Snarky Puppy, but more importantly, there really is a Dallas sound. We pull influence from all kinds of music, but there’s a foot firmly placed in Texas. The sound has definitely evolved over the years from a kind of world-jazz thing into something else, which I like a lot. At this point, we’re just doing what is natural.
Finally, what can audiences expect from your Bluesfest sideshows?
It will be a combination of songs from pretty much all of our instrumental albums, but mostly from our new record coming out this March. We never really play the same set twice, and we have a lot of tunes, so there are so many possibilities for the setlist. As far as expectations go, I try not to go into situations with preconceptions about how things will be. We want to create a unique experience for everyone in the room based on the atmosphere, the vibe, the sound, and everything else that is shaping the moment.
Snarky Puppy will be appearing for headline shows in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne in April 2019.
Sunday, 21 April 2019 – SYDNEY, Enmore Theatre (ALL ages show)
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 – ADELAIDE, HQ
Friday, 26 April 2019 – MELBOURNE, The Forum
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Photo: Vincent Le Gallic
*This content is sponsored by Bluesfest Touring