Caribou's plush, outré grooves push and pull with freak magnetism. Creator/conductor Dan Snaith is a drummer, and his songs are governed by that drummer mind, no matter how off-the-wall the compositions and sounds get. Tracks ringing with digital elements like "Mars" and "All I Ever Need" gravitate back to Snaith's hand-played touch. Our Love is Caribou's first album in four years. Snaith's cozy falsetto vocals report on emotional heartache and obsession. It's an unorthodox funk mode that dials up the pomp of a late-'70s cruise-ship dance floor. You're out there, flush with the captain's Dom Perignon, feeling the red candy lights glowing up from below. "Back Home" comes on as the boat slowly rolls down the back side of a wave. Damn, did the captain slip you a 'lude? Snaith spoke from Adelaide, Australia. Neither one of us was on a ship.
I've been informed by several people that there's not much to do in Adelaide, which seems unfair.
Have you ever played a show in a nunnery? Or a morgue?
No, but I once played in an active brothel in Bogotá. There was a 16-year-old who snuck backstage to try to get me to sign her breast, which I did not do. She also thought our sound engineer was my mom and insisted we all take a picture together. The honest truth is that the day-to-day reality of a Caribou tour is enjoyable, the shows are great, and we all get along really well for the vast majority of the time. We're not very wild. Wildness wears thin after a few years because it's usually a chronic substance-abuse problem in disguise, in my experience observing such things in the music industry.
Have you ever partied with any of the guys from Def Leppard? If not, how do you think it would go? Please involve the sport of jai alai in your story.
I've got a better sport for you—the Indian sport of Kabaddi . Players hold their breath, run onto the other teams' side of the court, and try to tag opposing players. If you make it back to your own half without exhaling, you get a point.
In the video for "Our Love," does the woman walk into the water at the end? Is that her dead husband in the bed upstairs in the house? I know you might want to leave it up to the viewer to interpret, but forget that.
These are largely questions for the director, Ryan Staake. I'm almost certain, however, that it is her deceased husband upstairs. The same person you see in his youth in the flashback. I think it's intentionally ambiguous, but I think the idea is that, yes, she drowns herself in the lake at the end of the film. See what you did there? You've taken all the ambiguity and magic out of it [laughs]. Yes, sometimes it's better not to say these things out loud.
Did you have input on the video with the director?
We got loads of pitches from people for this video, and also ones for "Can't Do Without You," and by and large they felt like they had nothing at all to do with the themes on the record. At the last minute, though, we got this treatment from Ryan, and it was as if he'd been reading my mind. One of the themes, for me, is about how our love relationships change as we age, particularly as we become old. Fine, I'm having a midlife crisis [laughs]. Ryan somehow intuited that. I didn't give him input except to say, "That's amazing, please make the video!"
Please talk about your synth bass sound on that song. The older woman is so stoic and expressionless, yet the bass sounds have a club slap to them. Was that on purpose?
I definitely didn't want the video to be your standard club-music type party on a beach, bikinis, casual implied misogyny, et cetera. We got enough of those proposals. The bass sound is straight out of a Juno-106, which is very easy to program. There are only a few controls, so you just mess around with them until it sounds good. Jessy Lanza had stayed at our place in London when she was on tour, and I was looking for another poly-synth, as I was in a bit of a rut. She sold me that one—and within a week or two, I'd made three new tracks.
You've said Our Love is an album "for everyone." How does that translate to sound? More accessible dance beats?
It's not really for everyone, but it was intended for everyone who was into my album Swim. The way that album was received really took me aback. People connected with it in a way that was much more palpable—a broader spectrum of people, not just music nerds like me, were into it, and it embedded itself in their lives. I liked the idea that my music would travel like that, but I'd never made music with that purpose, so that was definitely the intent with Our Love. It took me a while to figure out how to realize that, but in the end, it ended up happening for three reasons, I think. One: a directness of sound. Swim is miasmic—sounds swirling around your head, reverbs coming and going. Our Love sounds much more simple and direct in a way that I thought would reach out to people. A big part of what I was thinking about was shortening the metaphorical distance between me and the person listening to it. Next: The lyrics and the way my vocals are present are more direct. And last: an attempt to not overcomplicate or make the music overly fussy, to allow it to be simple. It wasn't the case that I was looking for a bigger audience, really, but more that I wanted to speak more directly to the people who were already listening. A wider audience is wonderful too, of course, but I've never felt that I've made concessions to what I was doing to try to achieve that.
On the lyric side of things, how do your words fall into place? On "Back Home" you sing: "How can we fix our love? Now that we know it's broken/I can only take so much/Your kiss and your touch are both like a poison."
That song is about friends of mine who divorced recently.
What's a love song you love? What's a love song you hate?
The Zombies' "This Will Be Our Year" is a killer. It's so optimistic and uplifting. I also love "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake because it's the opposite. I don't really hate any music, I don't think.
You have a one-word song, "Sun." What goes into the art of a song where the lyrics consist of one word?
Make it short, easy to pronounce, and universal—also open to various interpretations.
How did the word "sun" come to you? Do you ever change it up and say "Moon"? If you want to really push the envelope.
I just turned on a mic not knowing what I was going to sing, and that pseudo-mantra came out [laughs]. "Rain" would be more appropriate for a bunch of our festival appearances, but no, neither of those would scan so well.
You have a doctorate in mathematics, I believe. Please define overconvergent Siegel modular forms in layman's terms.
I'd love to define it, but I don't remember what they are, honestly. And it's impossible. Very loosely, algebraic number theory is unfortunately applied when the NSA reads all your e-mails. Truth.
In what ways does your study of mathematics manifest in your music? Drumming and percussion are pretty much math, right? Divisible numbers and division.
This is what most people think. You're talking about counting and maybe rudimentary arithmetic. I think it's pretty funny that people imagine that mathematicians sit in universities, counting. That's what we did in grade one. However, I can empathize, because mathematics is so opaque—as evidenced by it being impossible to define overconvergent Siegel modular forms in layman's terms [laughs]. It's hard for people to get a sense of what mathematics is about, and most people don't reach a point of mathematical education where they can glimpse it. Also, general mathematics education is poor, focusing on the rote and tedious rather than the revelatory and inspiring.
What are the joys of math, if you had to say? Is solving a really hard equation similar to sex at all? Are endorphins released?
Endorphins are released, yes. But I would caution you about being too reductive. I know journalism is a narrowing chasm of click-bait trash, but knowing nothing about you, I think you are above that [laughs].