Profile: Snarky Puppy, live at the Hare & Hounds

The underground, 25-piece collective from the states, Snarky Puppy, tore the roof off the Hare & Hounds on Thursday, November 8. Amelia Burr went to find out more about their unusual sound and their European tour.

‘Jafunkadancion’ is the name Snarky Puppy give to their genre-smashing sound. Incorporating jazz, funk, dance and fusion, they are a sonic carnival procession with all the colour, flare and joyous energy of Mardi Gras.

With eight members of the collective on stage, their performance is musically tight yet full of a relaxed intuition. The drummer is like a steam train powering the whole thing from the back and each musician shines and blends in simultaneously. As an audience member, it is an aural roller-coaster as the pace changes gear three or four times in each track. This doesn’t jar, though. It’s not like a bad DJ who ruins your dancing flow, it’s an exhilarating jump, drop and slide though a landscape where you can’t see what lies ahead. A soporific and tender piano solo leads into a dirty, fat bass line that you wouldn’t listen to in the same room as your gran. This leads into a raucous, Latin jamboree and then back into the melt-your-heart piano solo. The crowd surrender completely, dazzled by the complex and emotive compositions, spell-bound by harmonies that plug into something hard-wired in the brain and mesmerised by the directness of their performance.

The original Snarky Puppy (SP) were put together by the band bass player, Michael League, in his second year  of a jazz degree programme at the University of North Texas. They played a handful of pizza places and coffee shops but it wasn’t until a few years later that they really became the band they wanted to be. At that point League was getting into Gospel and RnB in a big way and started meeting other musicians on the Dallas scene who he brought into the band. Two distinct sounds: the black music scene in Dallas and the white jazz/rock music scene in Denton, fused to create the new sound of Snarky Puppy.

This new creative identity shaped everything about the band. “At first there were conceptual differences, but once we found our sound, they became advantages and different strengths that each person had to offer,” says League. Although League does 80 – 90 per cent of the writing, the initial compositions are just a jumping-off point. After the first run through, it’s up to every band member to change it into what feels like a Snarky Puppy track. “There is a collective consciousness about what sounds good. Because of our shared experiences, we are very musically and personally in tuned with each other. Everything is all about how it feels,” League happily asserts. “We have an extremely low threshold for boredom. We never play the same song the same way twice,” League continues, which goes some way to explain the high-energy of their performances.

Their Birmingham début was day four of a five-week tour of the UK and Europe, promoting their fifth album, Ground Up, a live studio album and DVD. This isn’t their first live studio album so what is the attraction of this way of producing an record? “It’s a good compromise to record live in a studio. You get to capture the energy of a live performance and get a good sound quality too.” But the first time around it didn’t go that smoothly. “Tell Your Friends was when we tried this first (2009-2010) and it was a mess! We had to put out a small fire and stop half way through because there was smoke coming from our equipment.”

Snarky Puppy came to the UK for the first time earlier this year. The band has developed a strong following over here really quickly and it’s taken them totally by surprise. “It floored me,” says League, “we’ve been touring for five or six years in the states, gradually developing a following over there. This year’s the first time we’ve been here and we have the same support here already! The audiences have been great here and very attentive.” Let’s hope that means they’ll be back in Brum soon to transform a dark Thursday night in winter into a hot sunny day in New Orleans.

For more information on Snarky Puppy visit www.bandframe.com/snarkypuppy

Amelia Burr

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