Red Snapper is to be considered by many as one of the most forward thinking and intuitive live / electronic fusion bands of the past 2 decades. Their effortless ability to explore different head space, from Jazz and Hip-Hop through to Folk and Jungle, is unparalleled. Consisting of Ali Friend (double bass), Richard Thair (drums), David Ayers (guitar) and since 2007, Tom Challenger (saxophone), the band dominates a sound that none can emulate.
It is safe to say that ‘Red Snapper’ has always been experimental, in the truest sense of the word, drawing on current musical trends and re-interpreting them with originality. Earlier outings include the ‘Making Bones’ album, a well recommended listen, that drew on the thriving Drum & Bass scene while featuring the whispering aria of Allison David and deep bellows of MC Det.
As we move midway into 2011, the ‘Snapper’ are ready to expose their current modes of thinking in the form of ‘Key’, released April 15th. Citing influence from the likes of Kode 9 and Hyetal, there is an air of playful melancholy and reflection in the music. We caught up with the band to discuss the integrity they retain as artists and what makes them tick, before heading off on a sell-out tour of the UK.
Could you tell us how you came together all those years ago, and what made you decide to form ‘Red Snapper’?
Rich and I had met through our girlfriends and were thinking about doing a breaks album – just drums and bass – and David was a friend of Rich’s and decided to be involved too. I think it was a realization of a love for surf music and hip hop that first drove us on to write and record. We also had the incredible inspirational Allan Riding on sax and flute too.
There has always seemed an open-minded source of influences in your music, what / who has inspired you to create your sound?
Like you say, we are very open minded about who influences the sound we make. Because what we listen to is ever changing, so is the music we make. Personally I am really into dark hip hop and jazz. Charlie Mingus has made a huge impression on me – as a player and as a man. Also typically the Wu Tang lot, and now the dark dubstep like Kode 9 and beautiful stuff like Hyetal. We all bring our own sense of sound to the melting pot.
Do you mind explaining why you split from Warp Records and dissolved the band in 2003?
We had come to a point with Warp where they needed to up the stakes; as a live band we were quite expensive to look after and I think we could go no further with them. We stopped playing because we had reached the point where more time is spent discussing what music to make than actually playing it. I think we all wanted something quite specific , but different from each other. Before we had all enjoyed the discovery of what we might create.
What changed in 2007 that made you bring back the ‘Snapper’?
We all separately had a lot of people urging us to re-form. A lot of friends and fans felt there was still more to come from us… Unfinished business if you like. I think the fact that Snapper have always been experimental meant we had a blank canvas to start from again. This was quite enticing in the end. I was quite reluctant, but after tentatively doing a few shows, we now have a new album out, decent label support and have been performing all over Europe again.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process?
It varies. This album has followed a unique pattern because of the physical distance between us all. Rather than writing together in a room we have been forced to send ideas to each other online. This can be frustrating but does allow for an interesting creative process; so I might send a bass line idea to Rich, who might come up with a beat for it. We send that to David who has some chordal or guitar ideas, he sends it back to me to work on structure and other sounds….and so on. Each time one us received an idea, it had changed from how we initially perceived it. A bit like a game of consequences when you draw part of a human figure on a piece of paper, fold it over then pass to the next person. The end picture is a weird mixture of peoples ideas.
How would you say your music has evolved over recent years?
Perhaps it has become a little more complicated but whatever new elements are embraced, there is always a Snapper sound. Tom Challengers input on the sax has been immense. Plus the introduction of a few vocal ideas from me – still used like another instrument.
Your music has often fused live and electronic elements, is this true of your latest body of work?
I guess so. We don’t calibrate the two elements but both can be very expressive and allow for experimentation. All the way through the writing and recording and mixing process we juggle the input of live instrumentation and electronic work. We made good friends with the space echo again this album.
Who’s responsible for production?
We all produce.
Where did you lay down the most recent album ’Key’?
It was recorded primarily in Rich’s house. His family were sent away and we upended the whole place to make live spaces and a control room. Upended sofas were made into bass booths, guitar amp in the coat cupboard, drum kit in the lounge dampened by curtains, sax in the bathroom….all the usual really. it was an incredibly intense and hilarious week of bugger all sleep and sausages.
Some of the album was done in my attic studio too. The album was mixed at Foel Studios in the middle of nowhere in Wales. Amazing place owned by Dave, the bass player with Hawkwind. Brilliant old valve gear.
Did you employ any interesting production and studio techniques?
I stopped the boys eating for 12 hours until they had done good enough takes. It works. A washing machine makes a great sound box.
What I’ve heard sounds more melancholic and disparate to your earlier albums, was this a conscious move into new territory?
Interesting you say that. Not conscious, but the vocals of Gavin Clarke, and myself I guess, do lean quite heavily towards the melancholic. I think it is less angry than some of our previous albums. It’s not sad though, more questioning.
The bands career spans 3 decades now. Could you recall your most memorable performances for us?
Russia – 2001. Mental gig in Moscow where the place was so hot the condensation rained down on us. Lunatic crowd.
Last year we played a festival on a Dutch island – Vlieland. You get there on a speed boat – an hour journey with a double bass in a small but amazingly powerful speedboat. We closed the festival and the place was full of happiness and love. Total communication with music.
What’s the craziest thing to happen while on stage?
Getting bottled and coined supporting the Prodigy in Manchester. It was fine everywhere else.
So your touring your new material this summer, how did the first gig at the Jazz Café go?
Great show at the Jazz Café thanks. Lots of people digging the new tunes and dancing like chickens by the end. Doing these shows makes us realize that people come from all over Europe to see our shows. We are really lucky to have that support and it always encourages to keep Snapper going – keep creating and keep performing. We are always grateful for the opportunity.