Having spent much of the last few years touring their rather fantastic debut album Long Live, Toronto’s Snowblink are poised to release the follow up, a record entitled Inner Classics and one which finds them continuing to hone their atmospheric mixture of folk pop, electronic burbles and ambient drones.
Those who have seen the recently released video for ‘Black and White Mountains’, or had the good fortune to have seen the band live will know that vocalist Daniela Gesundheit plays a remarkable looking guitar, a Gibson SG with antlers protruding from the body. It presents an interesting juxtaposition between nature, myth and the man made electric guitar and seems to be a perfect fit for the band who fuse organic folk sounds and more electronic influences, a fact Gesundheit acknowledges. “The natural and even combative element of the antlers on an electric instrument does serve as an apt emblem to the sound and character of the band,” she comments. “The SG is a hand-me-down from my brother. He was a Jerry Garcia fan. I had a dream my guitar had moose antlers on it, and upon waking found that moose would be rather impractical, so I affixed caribou (or perhaps they are deer? We’re not certain) antlers that my brother found in Alaska to it instead. It was a good dream. They are removable, which aids transport, and thankfully we have not been busted by customs yet for carrying hunting bounty.”
Inner Classics is full of references to nature, and it is clearly an important part of Gesundheit’s life. The record is the first the band have written since relocating to Canada from California, and while it was written at numerous locations across North America (Lake Eerie, Toronto and Malibu among them), certain elements came through and shaped the direction of the record. “Lyrically, I have added longing for natural landscapes and settings that I miss to my repertoire,” she remarks, “as opposed to just focusing my longing-lens on the people and relationships that have changed.”
“Where’re my hills at? I want my hill-legs back!” she continues, “I love Toronto and the people I have met here, but I do miss the excess of sunshine and glut of natural beauty that California offers so effortlessly, so that missing has made its way into the songs. Musically, Toronto has enlivened something that was previously shy and sleepy in me – now my music is much more of a nude dip in a glacial lake – crisp, exposed, and clear. I had to steal moments to write between extensive touring, which was a new model for me. I tend to sit with songs for long stretches and let the ingredients really simmer for a while, but with this record, I was much more active about hammering the songs into place.”
It seems likely that the natural world will continue to influence Gesundheit’s work. Last year, after most of Inner Classics had been written, she took part in The National Parks Project alongside Old Man Luedeke and Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers, heading out to Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia to write, arrange and record songs while being filmed for an accompanying documentary. “That pressure cooker sort of environment was beautifully tempered by being in stunning natural settings, and it enabled some inspired new friendships and music. I camped through a hurricane and narrowly avoided being trampled by a distressed moose in the process. It was certainly one of the more exciting projects I have been a part of.”
That Gesundheit would thrive in such a collaborative environment should come as no surprise. Over the years since Snowblink’s first release, she has performed and toured with numerous artists, many of whom have their own part to play in Inner Classics. “Each band that we have opened for has left its mark on us – it’s like taking a master class night after night. They each raised the bar a bit higher and higher, so we certainly had them in mind while making the record – like, “how would Owen ‘s fans react if we played this song live?”… Most of the guests on the record are friends of ours or people with whom we have played and enjoyed their playing immensely. In some cases I had the person specifically in mind for a part as I wrote the part, as in Misha Bower for ‘Safety Stories’. I knew her gravelly bayou voice would set the right tone for those lyrics.”
As for future collaborations, there are plenty of artists the band would like to work with, “Dolly Parton, Brian Eno, Leonard Cohen – but in a more immediate future sort of way I am looking for more collaboration with Feist and Montreal’s AroarA. We backed up Feist for her Polaris Prize performance, and we have all talked about collaborating further.” Then of course there is the collaborations with the two other DG’s in the band, Dan Goldman (Luxury Pond) and recent addition Dan Gaucher (Fond of Tigers/ Sandro Perri). Gesundheit insists that being called Dan G is not a pre-requisite for the band, but admits it is an obvious asset. “I do very much enjoy the Dan, Dan, and Daniela format, but Snowblink will always be an open marriage – it has to be! Dan Goldman gives me that last bit of editing advice that brings it all together. He then has a huge part in arranging the songs for the live show (most recently he wrote string arrangements for a string section that included Mika Posen from Timber Timbre for our Toronto release show), and in producing the songs for the records. Most people that come to play in Snowblink, including Dan Gaucher, are there because we love their musical expression and we want them to be that in our band, so we let them determine their own parts – with some input from us, of course.”
The idea of expression and experiencing music is one that Snowblink try to extend to their live performances, often encouraging audience participation. “I have always felt that every experience of music should be participatory. Often the participation comes in the form of listening carefully, or dancing along if there is a drummer, but I craved more than that from an audience. I even love when people yell out when I am bantering, or when people are particularly vocal with their cheering – anything to take the temperature of what is going on out there.” It’s something that European audiences should get to experience first hand during late winter and earlier spring when the band plan to visit these shores.
Inner Classics is available now through Arts & Crafts.