Michael League of jazz fusion band Snarky Puppy enjoyed the change of pace of recording an album in the studio, he tells Rip Nicholson.
The Brooklyn-based jazz instrumental ensemble put out their 11th album, Culcha Vulcha, in April — a break from the routine live records the band has been releasing for the last seven years. As League explains, it highlighted a maturity in the band.
“Just no pressure, if we played something and we didn’t like it then we’d play it again which we don’t get the luxury of doing when you’re making a live recording,” admitted League. “It made for a nice change of pace. I think it’s important when you’re an artist to not become complacent or rest on your laurels or fall into predictable patterns, not just in the interest of your audience but also for your creative health. So, to go back into the studio and make an old school studio record kinda made me realise how much we’ve all grown and the music has grown. It was a blast, man!”
“If we play two nights in the same place we try to not repeat anything. Even if we do repeat a song, we do it totally differently.”
For We Like It Here (2014) Snarky Puppy travelled out to Utrecht, Netherlands for a change in scenery and to bring out the best creatively in the band. “I think wherever you are has a big impact on you,” opines League. “The people you’re playing for, the culture around you, the food you’re eating, the weather… all these things make a huge difference and they come out in subtle ways in the music.”
For Culcha Vulcha they all convened at the Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas. Again, it was a change in routine and a perfect fit. “It was isolated in the middle of nowhere. Very well equipped, adequate housing for all of us and we even had little Mexican ladies who made authentic Mexican meals for us three times a day. The studio was the perfect scenario for us. And, also to get everybody together with their ideas and the time and patience to be able to like really flesh things out. It was like being at camp. It was great.”
League insists that, despite the album’s meticulous production, it’s the instinctive unity that the band has always maintained that signifies who they are — a two-time Grammy-winning band, their most recent awarded to them this year for Sylva (2015) with Dutch group Metropole Orkest for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
“The songs are very intricately and heavily arranged, especially on Culcha Vulcha — I wrote the individual parts. But, no matter how heavily arranged the songs are, the guys are always constantly having input. They are constantly adjusting and rearranging parts when people have ideas. I would say that that’s where the consistency comes into the band is the cohesion of the band and the rapport, 13 years playing together you know? We’ve shared so many experiences together and that’s huge.”
2013 saw Snarky Puppy play at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. They are set for two shows back at the festival this month. “We won’t repeat a single song,” claims League, back to routine for the band. “If we play two nights in the same place we try to not repeat anything. Even if we do repeat a song, we do it totally differently. So we try to keep our shows very different, consistently.”