Although Snarky Puppy’s sounds are labelled jazz, truth be told, their silky smooth 300-thread-count musical fusions are successful voyages to new lands in jazz, funk, rock, and now orchestral music.
The jam band, made up of a wide-ranging group of talented musicians–“The Fam”–grew 10x in size with the addition of the Metropole Orkest for Snarky Puppy’s new live album, Sylva.
I know what you’re thinking: “Jazz fused with orchestral music? Gross.” No, not gross. So tasty. The orchestral music is a palate cleanser when the jazz gets too rich and buttery, it provides the Baked-Alaska crescendo to an incredible three course meal of funk, and it’s the perfect pairing for the unsurpassed sounds of Snarky Puppy. For just a taste of Sylva, check out the video below:
But most of all, DamnMag loves Snarky Puppy for their commitment to empowering youth through music, for being living proof that “just being yourself” is best, and of course for their ever-evolving pursuit of musical fusions.
We caught Snarky Puppy at the Ottawa Jazz Festival–who this year took a page out of Snarky Puppy’s books and employed a Boston Terrier as their logo–and what a pleasure it was to pick the brain of “The Fam’s” leader, and bass player, Michael League.
The band has shown a strong commitment to sharing a true love of music to a young generation looking for something real to be inspired by. What inspires this?
When I was growing up in the ’90s, the top ten was a “shared” place. You had the manufactured bubble-gum pop stars just as we have today, but you also had people like Busta Rhymes and Pearl Jam and Nirvana. There were real musicians playing real songs on real instruments that were at the top of the heap. These days, you don’t see it. Kids are growing up without ever really seeing music made in an organic setting. I think that’s a big part of why we attract a lot of young people to shows—it’s a place where they can see a group of people who are in love with making music creating something together.
Are there any misconceptions about musicians that you try to dispel? (Or in general any that just really grind your gears?)
Only the idea that music doesn’t deserve to be paid for. This is a very recent sentiment due to free streaming services and bit torrents, even though the practice of music piracy has been around for decades. In my generation, we burned music onto blank cassettes and then CDs, but the difference was that we knew it was wrong. We also knew it was illegal. It terrifies me to see an entire generation of human beings feeling as though music SHOULD be free (I read a terrible article about it in Business Insider several weeks ago that made my blood boil), which is reinforced when legitimate companies offer it to the public for $0. The bottom line is that people won’t pay for something that they don’t have to pay for. Imagine if coffee were free. Or sandwiches. Or cell phones. Would you volunteer your money for them just because you recognized there were people behind the product that deserved it? Most likely not. Any free-market business structure in which gains don’t exceed overhead ceases to exist. This is what I’m scared of. The next generation’s Bob Dylan could end up fixing toilets because he knows he won’t be able to survive in the music industry.
I heard one of your drummers has no physical home-base, but instead owns/rents several storage spaces around the world. Could you comment on the unique global citizenship of touring musicians and the global view of the world this provides them?
Ha! It’s actually me. I have one storage space in Brooklyn, and that’s it. My apartment building in New York sold in June 2014, so I’ve been “homeless” since then. To be honest, it isn’t so different from the last few years of my life. We’ve been living out of suitcases for about 7 years now— the only difference is that I don’t have to pay rent anymore. It’s a wonderful lifestyle (if exhausting), and one that I’m not sure I’d be able to handle in 20 or 30 years. So, now is the time. And I can’t emphasize enough the amount of perspective and empathy you gain from traveling. It’s easy to be stubborn and closed-minded when you don’t have to interact daily with people from different cultures, religions, and walks of life. But when you travel, your physical and social survival depends on your ability to adapt and adjust to a changing environment. Just seeing and experiencing how other people live makes a profound impact on a human being; it opens you up.
In this brave new world where the music industry finds itself, what do you find is working for Snarky Puppy? What do you find is generally not working and people really need to let go of?
The thing that has worked the most for us is something that I don’t think will ever change, regardless of what happens in the industry. Every artist is unique, and we’ve always tried to emphasize the things that make us different rather than catering to what we think people might want. This leads to a very slow, but organic, accumulation of fans and support. But these fans like you for who you are, not because of how you were sold to them, and that means that the only thing they’ll ever want from you is to be yourself. Every night, we go on stage in front of a group of people that just want to see us be the best “ourselves” that we can be. It’s an incredible position to be in. In a time when anybody with an internet connection can make their music available globally, you have to stand out in order to get your head above the water. I would recommend letting go of the idea that people “want” a certain thing, and embrace the idea that you’ll always be best at being yourself.
Sylva is the latest in your growing library of incredible live-recordings and DVD projects. Could you comment on how video works well for capturing and conveying Snarky Puppy’s live energy?
Our chemistry as a group was developed over years and years of live performances, so the video element provides another perspective into our process of making music. The connection between the musicians isn’t just a thing that’s heard or assumed, but is made plain to see through the beautiful film work of Andy LaViolette. It also makes people around the world feel like they know you, which connects them even more so to your music, and compels them further to come see you in concert.
9/6: High Point, NC @ The John Coltrane International Jazz & Blues Festival
9/11: Dallas, TX @ The Door Clubs
9/12: Austin, TX @ Historic Scoot Inn
9/13: New Orleans, LA @ The Howlin’ Wolf
9/14: Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
9/16: Ardmore, PA @ The Ardmore Music Hall
9/17: Boston, MA @ Berklee Performance Center
9/18: Evergreen, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheater
9/19: San Francisco, CA @ The Warfield
9/20: Monterey, CA @ Monterey Jazz Festival
9/21: Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
9/23: Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up
9/24: Los Angeles, CA @ Royce Hall (UCLA)
11/18: Missoula, MT @ The Top Hat
11/20: Cheney, WA @ Eastern Washington University Jazz Dialogue Festival
11/21: Portland, OR @ Roseland
11/22: Seattle, WA @ Neptune