Calling instrumental lovers everywhere, the legendary Snarky Puppy is returning down under in April. The powerhouse of jazz, rock, and funk fusion is playing Byron Bay Bluesfest and a string of sideshows in a few short months. Joining the likes of Iggy Pop and Ben Harper, it won’t be the Brooklyn-based band’s first time to blow away the Bluesfest tents. They killed it in 2017 and in almost every live review, ‘unique’ and ‘enchanting’ are two of the sentiments referenced most often.
Snarky Puppy has welcomed collaborations from more than 40 international artists over the years, but you can expect up to 10 musicians on stage during a live show. A regular set is powered largely by instrumentals, ranging from shiny synth and heavy bass lines to lyric-less yet soulful vocals. But then again, there is no such thing as a typical Snarky Puppy gig. Similar to their rotating bevvy of contributors and members, the set lists are known to be as unpredictable and eclectic as their sonic sensibilities. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that they’ve been earmarked as a must-see at the 30th annual Byron Bay festival.
Ahead of their trip to Australia, we had a chat with Snarky Puppy about their new record Immigrance, touring as a massive band and which artists are on their must-see list at Bluesfest.
Music Feeds: You’ve described Snarky Puppy as a musical family made up of over 40 members before, how many musicians can we expect on the stage at Bluesfest?
Snarky Puppy: The band never plays with 40 at once… it has about 25 in rotation, normally 9 or 10 at a time. We try to give everyone pretty equal touring time, with the core members playing almost every show. The constant changing of players keeps the music and the attitudes fresh. It’s like a surprise every night.
MF: I’m sure you’re well and truly used to it by now, but what’s it like travelling and performing festivals with a band as big as Snarky Puppy?
SP: We’re a family, and we love each other on an individual level. And in addition to that, we’re in this band because of the music. It’s not for money or fame or anything like that. We respect each other on a personal and musical level. These are the things that hold us together.
MF: Music festivals usually draw a pretty motley crowd, so how would you describe a Snarky Puppy set to someone who has never seen you live before?
SP: We play a combination of songs from pretty much all of our instrumental albums. We never really play the same set twice, and we have a lot of tunes… so there are so many possibilities for the set list. As far as expectations go, I try not to go into situations with preconceptions about how things will be. We want to create a unique experience for everyone in the room based on the atmosphere, the vibe, the sound, and everything else which is shaping the moment.
MF: Snarky Puppy collaborates with vocalists and musicians from all around the world on the record, will you be bringing any special guests along for the festival?
SP: You never know.
MF: A lot of Snarky Puppy songs are recorded live, right? Can we expect a similar sounding rendition for the live shows? Or do you make alterations to mix it up?
SP: We change the way we play each song every night, without conversation or planning. The band is full of wonderful improvisers, and my favourite part of improvising with Snarky Puppy is that we do it compositionally. The guys keep their ears open and try to create a new identity for our tunes each time we play them.
MF: The Bluesfest lineup is boasting some pretty big names this year. Are there any acts that you’re particularly excited to see or hang out with?
SP: I’m a huge fan of Meshell Ndegeocello and have never seen her live, so that’s my number one. I’m also really excited to see I’m With Her, about whom I’ve heard beautiful things from friends in the folk world.
MF: As well as Bluesfest, you’ll also be doing a trio of sideshows while you’re in Oz. Do you approach the sets differently when playing festivals versus theatres or smaller venues?
SP: Absolutely. We approach every single show differently, depending on the size and sound of the room, who else is playing on the bill, how we’re feeling that day… the variables are almost infinite. We don’t use set lists generally (I normally call out the songs on stage), so this allows us to engage with the moment in a different kind of way.
MF: It’s been a few years since the release of Culcha Vulcha, when will we hear the new record and what can we expect?
SP: Our new album, Immigrance, comes out March 15. You can expect 8 new songs from 5 different composers, and a record that I feel is raw, honest, and diverse.
MF: Can you give us a sneak peek of any of the artists you’ve collaborated with on the new record?
SP: This record is just us – no outside collaborators. But “just us” still means 14 musicians…
Snarky Puppy will return to Australia this April for Bluesfest 2019 as well as their own sideshows in Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney. Snarky Puppy’s new album ‘Immigrance’ is out March 15th.
Snarky Puppy Bluesfest 2019 Sideshows
Sunday, 21st April 2019
Enmore Theatre, Sydney (All Ages)
Wednesday, 24th April 2019
Friday, 26th April 2019
The Forum, Melbourne