Snowden Animates Texture Between On and Off
Central Tokyo, 3:35 a.m, 43rd floor: An anime animator for the movie Ghost in the Shell 4: Cells for Shirasagi sees his wife's face in a frame he's been rendering for 16 hours. Snowden's "Keep Quiet" plays through his headphones on repeat. The movie's mob-lord antagonist has a Jackson Pollock painting hanging in his glass-walled office. The face of the animator's wife floats inside the frenetic lines of the impossible-to-digitize Pollock. She's been dead for seven years. When the animator takes his headphones off, her face vanishes. But she's keeping him company, so he puts them back on and starts the song again. Solemn tom drums begin. Voice and bass follow, falling in together.
Snowden singer/songwriter/guitarist Jordan Jeffares has a forlorn Stone Roses crux to his vocals. He breathes long, placid notes repeating, "Is it so much for me to ask?" Something seems pained, yet masked—anesthetized. Around the beat, Jeffares enters, centers, and cuts out his phrasing over and under the one. It's an impetus/impulsion that bobs and weaves. Guitars fade in as angled sentinels. Jeffares continues, "I love how you ride, with your bed empty at night, even god can't get inside." The song is off Snowden's second album, No One in Control, due out May 14 on Kings of Leon's label, Serpents & Snakes. Not long ago, Snowden's music would have been called alternative, but for now we'll say rhythm and drone driven by staccato piston guitars and distorted luster-bass. Touches of '90s Brit-rock thrive. Jeffares spoke from his home in Austin, Texas. Anime films were not discussed.
The word "texture" gets tossed around to describe music. I hear and sense textures with your music. What is texture to you?
The music that I love tends to be able to stand alone, without vocals. Instrumentally, it would still be rich and interesting to listen to. Whereas on the other side of the spectrum, there's not really any texture on a Strokes record, but it's still brilliant in its own way. Then there's the kind of music I'm aspiring to make. Technically, I'm trying to be a little bit innovative. British rock in the 1990s was a great time for new studio techniques. Bands like the Stone Roses, the Fall, Blur. I find it really hard to just take a guitar and an amp and make something interesting—I always end up piling things on top of each other, because we've been listening to a guitar in a traditionally recorded format for 60 years. So trying to make something sound more interesting ends up meaning more toys and more screwing around with things.
Walk me through your song "Between the Rent and Me." What are you saying lyrically there?
What's more primal than trying to get by? It's a grind at times. And there's a love story in there about wanting someone, but they don't give a shit—in that story, there was nothing else in my life except for my obsession with someone. Musically, that song started when I looped the harmonics of the guitars. I was playing with some slap delay, which makes a sound that was inspired by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That sound of playing tight notes with the slap back makes this arpeggiated sound, then there's a syncopated kick drum. I like a bit of a shimmy, almost like hiphop beats. I like playing with breakbeats. And distorted bass on everything. When you write a track, if you can get it to stand on its own with drums and bass, you're already more than halfway there. That's the way the Cure wrote all their stuff. For me, a lazy way of getting inspired is to do a track of really gnarly bass guitar.
I like that the vocals on that song aren't exactly on. But I like that they're slightly off, or not exact. You found a way to put your vocals somewhere in between on and off in an interesting way.
It might come from the fact that I have no musical training whatsoever [laughs]. When I'm writing stuff, I'm trying to figure out why people should listen to it, and how is it different than anything else that's out there. I'm always thinking, "The harmony would normally be this, but would it be weird in a good way if it were this?" I usually want it to be weirder, but that also lends itself to problems.
Speaking of weird, what's the weirdest thing you've ever seen anyone do to a sofa?
[Pauses] We rolled up to a venue we'd never played before in Jackson, Mississippi. The main drag in Jackson looks like WWII Europe. We pulled up, and the other band was already packing up to load out because they decided not to play. But we were there, so why not play? The place was an abandoned hotel, and as you walked down the hall to the lobby, all the doors were open, and there's just shit scattered everywhere. There was this old couch with a crackhead on it, humping it furiously. Back at the bar area, they were playing Broken Social Scene and Interpol and Four Tet, so it was the one cool spot in town.
The spot to hump disgusting old sofas.
Yeah [laughs]. He was humping it, and he'd snap his head and look at us, and then keep humping. And then look at us, and hump. It ended up being a good show for us. There were about 20 people there. I'm glad we stayed and played.
You've moved around a little bit, but Austin is home now?
Yeah. I went to Atlanta after college and started the band, and then bounced around to New York and Chicago. It felt hard to break out in Atlanta. I felt like I had to get to Brooklyn—I lived there for a year and now I'm in Austin. I'm going back to Brooklyn in a little bit to practice with the band members who still live there, to get ready for tour.
You recorded No One in Control in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Working with Bill Skibbe (the Kills and Jacuzzi Boys). What's the name of the studio?
I went up there to a studio called Key Club based on those Kills records, which were all done there. I'd been working on some of my tracks for years, and after working on the songs so long by myself, it was nice to have another voice of reason lend its ears. So I relaxed and let him put his take on things—drums, sounds, and transitions. It can be dangerous to work totally alone.
Or you'd end up with a nuanced heavy-metal folk-disco album.
Talk about your re-amping, and what re-amping is.
I recorded completely dry guitar, no effects—that goes out of your board or your soundcard. I bought four Radial Re-Amp boxes. That dry signal goes out from the board into the amp room, there you can have five, six, seven different guitar amps playing back the part. What's good about it is that the part is already recorded. You can go into the amp room while your part is playing and mess with the amps and the effects pedals—you can blend the amps and get a completely different sound.
And you're not sitting there in the studio stressing over nailing the take. The part's already recorded.
Absolutely. It's all about maximizing your time in a studio. When you're on a budget, you don't want to sit there and spend all your time trying to get your part.
You recorded a Love and Rockets cover. How did you choose to do that song? Is there a special meaning there?
A friend of mine in LA is one of Daniel Ash's managers—he has multiple managers—and he reached out to me asking if I wanted to do a song for a tribute record. The song ended up being really different than the Love and Rockets version. I took it in a completely other direction, with a different melody. Actually, I tried to change the lyrics to make it my own song [laughs]. A lot of people don't know it, it wasn't a big Love and Rockets song.
Your album is coming out on Kings of Leon's label. How did that come about?
They asked us to come out and do some dates with them in 2007 for the last record, and I stayed friends with bass player Jared Followill. He's a super nice guy and we like a lot of the same music. Then they started a label and asked if they could put my album out. It's been great, I put total trust in that machine. They're really good with social media—when they tweet about a song, like half a million people see it. They're in the studio right now.
Who are some bands from Atlanta you liked when you were there?
Wait, so back to the sofa-humping guy. Did the guy ever finish on the couch? Like climax/orgasm finish?
I don't know. Good question.
Sometimes a couch can look good. Especially when you're hitting the crack pipe.
And when the couch looks at you with that look? You want to give it sex.
That's why they call them love seats.
If I had a cymbal crash button, I'd hit it for you.