It was March of 2020, and Dan Snaith was ready to tour. The beloved producer had released the fifth studio album under his Caribou moniker, Suddenly, in late February, and in a London warehouse Snaith and the three musicians he plays live with were dialing in the live show that they were about to hit the road with. We all know what happened next.
“Every day was getting a little bit weirder,” the supremely friendly Snaith says via Zoom from his home in London. “The news was getting a bit more troubling.”
The tour was scheduled to begin on March 16, 2020 in Hamilton, Ontario. It was only a few days prior that the reality of the pandemic set in for Snaith, his band and most every other person on the planet. “The day we were supposed to pack everything up and go to the airport the next morning to get on a flight, I remember us all sitting there and just looking at each other like, “None of this is happening, is it?’” Snaith recalls.
So instead of flying to Canada to launch the 30-date Suddenly tour, instead, Snaith says, “Everybody just went home. I’ll always remember that moment in this big, empty hangar, with the four band members and two crew just sitting there, looking at each other.”
In London, Snaith settled into a bubble with his wife and their two young daughters, with most of the family’s time dedicated to homeschooling. (“Definitely I have come to appreciate children being in education, because man, that was like a full-time thing,” he says.) Caribou finally emerged for its first live show since lockdown this past August at the Green Man festival in Wales, where Snaith’s youngest daughter – who’s now 5 and has spent a big chunk of her life in lockdown — finally realized that her dad wasn’t just a guy who taught school lessons and tinkered on music in the basement.
“She came to our first show,” Snaith says, “and she was just like, ‘What? This is what you do?’”
Now, 20 months after the Suddenly tour was originally intended to begin, Caribou is finally on the road. The rescheduled tour kicked off Monday night (November 15) at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Here, on a crisp fall evening that required jackets, hats and dancing to keep warm, thousands of fans gathered for Caribou’s exultant live show, an experience made even more resonant by having been deprived of live music for so long.
The band, dressed in all white and featuring Snaith, a drummer and two guitarists, performed a smart, focused, career-spanning set featuring his like “Odessa,” “Can’t Do Without You,” “Your Love Will Set You Free” and “Sun” — the latter of which expanded into a spatial, heady and ultimately joyous extended jam of drums, keyboards and guitar that had people dancing in the aisles and hands lifted in triumph in both the audience and on the stage. The show also featured music from the new album, with the warmly analog single “Home” arriving in the encore, along with the August sonic vitamin C injection of a single “You Can Do It.”
The tour continues tonight in Boulder, CO and extends for the next 16 evenings, as Caribou finally migrates across the United States and Canada. Below, Snaith talks about his experiences getting back on stage and heading out on the road again.
Were you devastated by having to cancel the 2020 tour, or did you just have to shift gears so quickly that you didn’t have time to be upset about what might have been?
Exactly, yeah. I moved on super-fast, because there were obviously more pressing and important things going on. It was just like, “Okay, it’s obvious now that’s not the world we’re living in. We’re living in this new world.”
There were reminders throughout the year. People would be in touch and be like, “Oh man, today would have been Coachella,” or “today would have been Glastonbury,” or “today would have been the day that I saw you at the show” in wherever this person lives. I was just like, “Man, I’m not tuned into that at all.”
I found it interesting that people were still remembering those dates. Like, somebody put it in their calendar, and it came up and they were like, “I wonder how Dan is?” I was just like, “This is irrelevant next to what’s happening in the world,” obviously. But it was nice that people checked in — because some people’s work wasn’t as affected by the pandemic as live musicians, obviously. But that wasn’t where my headspace was at all.
This tour schedule seems a bit aggressive. In total, you’re playing 18 nights in a row. Do you feel physically ready, after this period of not being on the road, to really go full throttle into playing live?
I mean, I love it. I love touring and playing shows every night. The other option is like, driving from somewhere to somewhere else, you know? Some of our bandmates are like, “Dan, we don’t have to add a show every night,” but I just always want to be playing. This is how the original tour was scheduled also — never a day off, and playing as many shows as we can. I just live for it. I really, really love it. And I do feel physically ready for it.
Is touring something you actually have to physically train for, particularly after so much time off the road, or does adrenaline just kick in and carry you forward?
There’s so much adrenaline. Touring is a combination of a lot of sitting around and waiting for things to happen and then doing lots of things really fast: playing the show, packing everything up, talking to everybody. There are a few hours every night that are just a total high.
I was having a conversation recently with this woman, Elkka, who was our tour support for the U.K. tour we just did. She was like, “How do you get to sleep? I got back to the hotel after the show and I was just like, ‘I’m supposed to go to sleep now?’” It’s just such a buzz that I don’t do anything to prepare for it; it just kind of happens. And we’ve done it so much that it’s just a really comfortable rhythm as well.
Now that you finally have the chance to play Suddenly live, how is the album translating to the live setting?
We’d worked up all the songs in February and March of last year, and we were like, “I think this will work really well and fit with the other songs we play from previous albums.”
But the thing that’s different is — there’s the normal cycle bands go through of making an album, releasing an album and touring immediately. You normally get this thing where the first night you play some of the new songs and maybe people are like, “Oh yeah, I like that song.” And then gradually over the course of the tour, people have the chance to become familiar with the music by listening to the album on their own. It takes a while for them to be like, “Oh, I really love this moment of this song.”
Now there’s this huge gap between the album coming out and playing it. I wondered if this was going to feel like old news by the time we go out and play these songs. The world of music moves pretty fast. But then what actually happened when we started playing shows was — with some of the new songs, we were just like, “Whoa, people really, really know this song.”
How has your relationship to the music changed?
That’s a good question, because normally I never listen to an album after it comes out. I only know the songs through the live versions we do — which I get to know very well, obviously. The album came out, and then there was just this silence, where I didn’t listen to them at all and didn’t look back. I didn’t hear those songs at all until, “Oh my god, we’re going to play a show and need to start rehearsing them again.”
That must be a strange experience.
The oddest thing about the album for me is that I made this album called Suddenly, because it’s about me having to adjust to sudden, unexpected changes in my personal life during the time I was making it. There was a death in the family. My father had a terminal illness. He has recently passed on as well. There was divorce and all these various mid-life things. It was this idea of like, “Okay, this has all shown me that I kind of have some kind of tool kit to respond to sudden, unexpected things happening and to make something positive out of it.” The music [on the album] is kind of a manifestation of that — taking these unexpected shocks and making something that’s comforting and nourishing out of them.
Then, that’s exactly the circumstance everybody was listening to the music in. Instead of having feedback from people when I’d go out and play it at a show, people would say, “I listened to the album.” I was getting feedback that way. I’d get these messages from people online that were like, “This album is somehow perfect for me at the place I’m in right now. It’s helping me so much.”
I get quite emotional thinking about that, because that is the ultimate thing that you want. That was the purpose of the music, and if it fulfilled that purpose in people’s lives, it’s just incredibly beautiful.
Did you make any new music during lockdown that’s being incorporated into this tour?
I made a bunch of music, and most of it is still in an unfinished demo phase where I’m working away at it. But the one piece of music that did come out this summer is the track “You Can Do It.”
That song is pure joy!
Yeah, exactly. Again, this kind of illustrates how much of a naive optimist I am. I made that song at the moment — around March of this year — when people I knew were starting to be vaccinated. I’m also just a big believer in science. I’m so inspired by the way that — obviously there’s been good and bad in the response to this — but the ability to take a new disease and make an effective vaccine for it, and something like seven and a half billion doses have already been put in people’s arms a year and a half later. That’s incredible.
In the song, that mantra is me like, willing an optimistic way out of it. Obviously, it’s been slightly bumpier than I hoped it would be. That was before the Delta variant, and at that time, cases were coming down and it looked like we might do shows again. And just the joyousness [of this song], this kind of unashamedly joyous tone — initially I thought, in a kind of cynical music industry way, that I might save the song and wait till I’ve finished an album and make it the single. But it was like, “No, this song has to come out now.” This is the moment the song is about. People have had so much fear, anxiety and negativity in the last 18 months; the thought of being able to put something out into the world that was just positive, that just allowed people to feel happy and joyous again, was something that felt so right. That’s why that song came out.
It must feel victorious in ways to get out and play this music for people.
Well, yeah, because [Suddenly] is melancholy in places, but I’m endlessly this person who is trying to see the silver lining and trying to make something positive. That is the function music fulfills in my life. It’s the thing that allows me to take something difficult and find some kind of euphoria or release or optimism out of it. That is what music has always done for me.
And so again, playing these songs live, it just feels like translating all that… I mean, I may be projecting this, maybe everybody else was like, “When are these guys going to be done?” but I had that feeling that it kind allowed people to feel a sense of community again, when they’re at the shows. It’s so, so lucky to get to do this. When it’s gone away for so long, the ability to play music together and be together, you just appreciate it so much more when it returns.