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Mathematics and music make polished production for Caribou

T.K. Dallman | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 8th, 2007

Still a little jetlagged from the flight over from England, I had the opportunity to talk to Dan Snaith: producer, writer and performer in the group Caribou, who recently played to a packed crowd at Call the Office last Monday.

T.D.: I was wondering, actually, how old were you when you handed out the tape that got your first record deal?
D.S.: I guess my first record came out when I was 23, so I was 21 when I first gave my music out to Kieran [Hebden a.k.a. Four Tet] who passed it on to his record label.

T.D.: So you did four years of university, and then went to pursue that, and then went back for your PhD? Is that how it worked?
D.S.: No, I guess I started university when I was 19 or whatever, so that was my third year of university that I was making the tracks that ended up being on the first album, and up until finishing my PhD [in Mathematics] two years ago I was just doing both things at the same time, making music and studying.

T.D.: Speaking of which, you have a PhD, you write lyrics and music, and I hear that you've even taken up trampolining, so clearly you're a pretty multi-faceted person. Were you the kid in school who could do everything?
D.S.: I probably tried to do everything. Yeah, I'm definitely the kind of person who doesn't sit still for very long... I'm always willing to give anything a go.

T.D: I'm actually in the Music Industry Arts course at Fanshawe College, and basically that deals with the business side of music and with production. So I'm interested: you really have developed your own sense of production...what tips could you give?
D.S.: That's funny, two out of the four of us playing live with Caribou at the moment actually took that same course... but as far as starting to record a song, or how I go about recording music, it was actually quite different this time around from previous albums. With previous records I'd just start with a loop, like a drum loop or a sample and then add things layer by layer by layer ... but this time around I pretty much wrote all the songs before I started recording them which was very different for me.

T.D.: Cool. So, about the BBC documentary thing, anyone can now view it on Youtube and it's really interesting. How did that come about?
D.S: I did an interview with them for Up in Flames, and they reviewed The Milk of Human Kindness album and yeah, they've always been nice guys and interested in the music and stuff, so they just suggested it... This is the first time they wanted to branch out and do something more in depth, following me a bit through the recording and a bit through the rehearsing and then a bit of the performance as well.

T.D.: I know other interviewers have talked to you about math and music, and the kind of relationship between them. You've made more of a distinction between them, saying that your reason you're interested in both is that they're kind of obsessions, but they're not necessarily related. Is that true?
D.S.: Yeah, I think that's definitely fair. I mean, people imagine mathematics being this very kind of sterile, repetitive, very much laboratory scientific thing, where as I think at the point where you do mathematical research at a PhD or past that point, it becomes much more of a creative thing, just kind of playing around with ideas, putting ideas together. I think people are always are looking for me to say that I write [mathematically], putting sequences of numbers in and that thing, but there's definitely none of that going on. There's no grand plan to my music like that, it's more kind of trial and error, trying out things that sound interesting.

Those trial and errors have accumulated into Caribou's latest album Andorra, currently out on Merge Records.
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