• Feature

Interview: Snarls

Photo Cred: Brian Kaiser

I first saw Columbus band Snarls at the North by Northside music fest in Cincinnati last year. It’s rare that an unknown (to me) band on a long festival list will grab my attention, but I was knocked out by their catchy blend of swirling guitars, reflective lyrics, and infectious energy. They have cited Wolf Alice, Snail Mail and Courtney Barnett as influences on both their sound and lyrical directness and fans of those bands will a lot to love here.

Snarls is Chlo White (Vocals, Guitar), Riley Hall (Bass, Vocals), and siblings Mick Martinez (Guitar), and Max Martinez (Drums). While the band is young (18 to 22), don’t mistake youth for inexperience. Regardless of age, not many bands can knock out an escalating mini pop masterpiece like “Walk in the Woods.” It’s a sweet gem in the vein of classics like Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind” or Big Star’s “September Gurls.” But maybe it takes youthful sincerity to carry off a lyric like “You’ve got me in a knot/but it’s my fault it’s tied”

Burst was released in March and the band earned praise from MTV, Stereogum and Rolling Stone as a band to watch. After a triumphant hometown record release show, they were set to embark on a long tour; a week later, Ohio (and much of the country) went into lockdown.

Cincymusic caught up with Riley and Mick via Zoom to see how they are holding up during COVID-19 and what the future holds for the band.

Cincymusic:
So, how does it feel to have this amazing album come out and then have the whole world kind of clamp down on you?

Riley:
I’m a very “go with the flow”- type of person. So, it didn’t hit me too hard, but I’m still really salty about it. We had so many tours planned and real “big boy” tours and [it was like] “We’re doing it, we’re actually a band now, we’re legit” but then it all just got cancelled!

Mick:
I’m unfortunately not as “go with the flow” as Riley is blessed to be. I wish I could be more like her sometimes. We were all so upset about it. That was soul crushing. We had spent so much time, forget the touring and everything, we had spent so much time just on that album. It was a full two-year process and we were so ready to put it out in exactly the way we wanted to, do the exact tours we wanted to and for everything to fall apart definitely felt like a punch in the gut to everyone. I’m so grateful to still have the audience that we do. I’m happy that we are still keeping some momentum. It still definitely sucks. We had the entire year fleshed out, and touring with some of our favorite bands and for that to just go away was just crazy. That being our first taste of that, it was especially hard to deal with. Because it wasn’t like, “Oh, we have these amazing tours in our back pocket”. This was the first taste that we were going to get of the dream that we’ve chased for so long. I hate to be so woe is me, but…

CM:
It’s hard not to take it personally. Selfishly, at the start of the year I was looking forward to covering a lot of big bands like maybe The Who and Roger Waters for Cincymusic then it was like, “Ahh, none of that is going to happen”.

Mick:
Yeah, obviously this has affected people all over the globe. But specifically, for live entertainment there are so many people that you don’t think about. It’s not only the performers that aren’t getting to do their jobs, but like you’re saying, writers, photographers, crew members of all kinds. Everybody’s world has changed completely. Unfortunately, it’s like the lost or forgotten industry in this whole thing. Sorry, I’ll just pop off about COVID-19…I’m so upset about it…

CM:
You’re absolutely right. Once I got past that selfish, “Oh, this is bad for me”, I thought of all my friends who are musicians, and many of them their second job is as waitstaff or in bartending and those people are really hurting. Those are people I love and admire. If you have a normal job, it’s like, “Man, it’s an inconvenience”, but that’s their livelihood and their art. There’s something to be said for – you had this amazing momentum, there’s no telling how your art progresses as you play it live over the year and how that will inform the next album. But it’s gonna be over someday. Maybe not soon, but someday. And hopefully we come out stronger. So, what are you doing in the meantime? A lot of musicians are doing livestreams and trying to do things virtually…

Riley:
We’ve had people call and do interviews, but during tours when it was locked down, we did try to do a couple of livestreams. But, um, I don’t know…

Mick:
We were very grateful to receive the Audiotree opportunity.

That definitely lifted our spirits during this time. For them to even come back to us was really exciting. To be invited to play was just awesome. We were so excited to do that on our tour in March. That was the thing we were looking forward to. And so, it was really sad when that got canceled. I’m super happy they had us come back. Other than those couple of livestreams, we are starting to take this time to write new music which feels really good. I feel like personally I was a little nervous to start writing new music because I felt like we didn’t really get to celebrate the first release and I wasn’t ready to move onto new stuff. Now with the future being so cloudy, I’m definitely excited to write some new music and hopefully get something out next year for people to enjoy.

CM:
Awesome, let me ask you about creative process and also new music. I saw on one of the livestreams, it may have been the Audiotree one, a performance of a song called “Sparkling” that hasn’t been recorded yet. And I thought it was just stunning. I loved the slow burn of the opening and how it opens up, Max’s drums underneath providing this great shimmering bed for it. The current album is great, but I thought if that is a hint of how you are moving, it’s even more exciting. Not to dismiss the current stuff, but did you feel a change in how you wanted to take the sound as a group or in how you are meshing now that you have a couple years of being a band under your belt and this really solid album?

Riley:
We haven’t really talked about it as a band yet, but I can say personally that I do want to maybe explore a different sound. Nothing too drastic, but maybe experiment some different distortion pedals? We still need to figure that stuff out as a band.

Mick:
Personally, what I’m listening to a lot right now is heavier emo rock stuff. That feels very genuine to me right now. Super emotional stuff /semi-angry type things because I feel that way every day (laughing). I think Sparkling though is a good indicator of where it will go. Because that song is sort of in the middle. There are some bright, poppy shimmery parts of it, super pop chorus, some heavier stuff. I think it’s a blend of everything we’re interested in. I think that could be a pretty good indicator of the kind of vibe we’re going for.

CM:
It’s incredible. It reminds me-I’m older than you obviously- I grew up with a lot of those bands in the mid-90s like Velocity Girl or Fuzzy, or even Lush. Bands I kind of cut my teeth on in the ‘90s. If you go on YouTube, I think you’ll find you have some similar DNA. It reminds me a lot of that music in a good way. It has a lot of the elements I love, but you’re putting your own stamp on it in a fresh, creative way. It’s refreshing to hear and really hopeful. There’s beauty in it, there’s sadness, anger, regret, there’s poppiness. It’s a really beautiful blend with something for everybody.

Mick:
Thank you! A lot of us grew up being influenced by that early/ mid -90s stuff that our parents listened to than more our kind of new wave/emo. We’ve definitely taken influences from those bands and mixed it with new bands. I like that stuff too [laughs].

CM:
Process-wise, and it may be a little tough to talk because Chlo’s not here, when you’re putting songs together...I really like how your guitar meshes with hers and Riley how your voice meshes with hers. Sometimes you trade off and there’s a really organic shifting of where the point of view is within the music. When you’re putting something together, how do you decide how to trade off guitar parts or harmonies, or who leads and follows? The other thing, this is going to be a long question, sorry [laughs], there is a really beautiful cinematic, widescreen, lush expansive sound. It’s not just bare bones guitar, bass, drums. I’m wondering how much of that is in the back of your mind when you put the songs together. Do you see that whole soundscape or does it become layered after you build the bare bones up?

Mick:
Talking about our songwriting process is hard because it is different every single song. Generally, we like to say that we’re really collaborative, everybody definitely has full control over what their own part is. However, we’re definitely not afraid to speak our minds about what we’re hearing if we’re not feeling something. Sometimes a song will start with Chlo has run this guitar chord progression and like one verse. Sometimes I’ll just bring a guitar progression, sometimes Riley will bring something. It definitely sparks in a different way pretty much every song. Sometimes we’re just at practice and it’s like, “You guys want to start jamming?” and somebody plays one thing and it’s like, “That’s cool, let’s just take it from there”. With the other textures that are in there, I think we have to give a lot of credit to the man that produced our album, or co-produced it with us, Jon Fintel at Relay Recording. Chlo had talked a little bit about adding in some synths here and there, but Jon really took initiative with adding in those extra textures in the backgrounds. He added in a lot of e-bow, synthesizers and stuff, some of which Riley actually played, some of which he played. I really liked all of his ideas for those background textures, it really filled out a lot of the songs and it didn’t take away from who we are at the root at all. He was so good at emphasizing the attitude that we already had there. It was so awesome working with him.

Riley:
And I think because of seeing what he did and hearing what he did with our sound, it has opened our minds to visualizing that type of soundscape for what we are currently writing. So, maybe we might have bigger synths or heavier synths. It’s just something that we’re now actively accounting for in our writing process.

Mick:
Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I can hear it now in our practice. So, thanks Jon [Fintel] for that.

Riley:
Yeah, thank you, Jon [Fintel]!

CM:
It reminds me a bit of, again, older reference-when Van Halen moved from primal rock stuff to add in synths and it was like, “That’s an interesting texture to come in there” then maybe arguably they took it too far to the other end of the spectrum. But it’s always fascinating to see bands experiment and see what lands and what sounds organic to their sound. It seems like a very natural, logical progression [from this album].

Mick:
I’m definitely looking forward to experimenting with more of that stuff. Like maybe incorporating those aspects into our live set through backing tracks. I’m definitely looking forward to those extra little sparkly bits that add to our songs.

CM:
I think it works beautifully. For lack of a better word, it adds a more mature sound than you would associate with a young band. I love a lot of bands that are three or four pieces, very raw - like loud, fast, drums guitar, but it’s another level of sophistication. Another thing I’m struck by is the lyrics. I actually won the lyrics for [the song] “Burst” (from an internet contest the band held) [holds up lyrics to camera] …

Riley: [Laughing] I love that!

…and I put a picture of them on Instagram today. Within ten seconds my wife texted me, “What’s with the dramatic poem post on Instagram?” [all laugh]. I joked, “It’s just my emo poetry”. Then I told her it was [Snarls] and she thought that was really cool.

Riley:
I’m glad [muffled]…those emo Snarls posts [muffled]…just the best…[laughing]

CM:
I’ve seen that word [emo] used to describe your music and you even use it. When I first heard the album, I didn’t associate the word emo with it at all. I can see it [now], but didn’t even think about it. I just thought, “This is good music” because I typically don’t label music. I can see it, but it feels like more than that. Coming back to lyrics, maybe that’s where the “emo” comes from. I love on “Twenty” when you sing, “Twenty seems further than it ought to be” That’s a really sweet and painful lyric. A reaction could be, “Hey, enjoy it while you’re young”. But man, alive there’s a lot of pain in those times that and a lot of “where am I at in life?” This weird in between of not being a kid and not quite being an adult, trying to find your own way… I love those moments that feel very raw and honest. Does Chlo write most of the lyrics, or do other folks contribute as well?

Riley:
Chlo writes a lot of the lyrics. She’s writing all of the time. Whether it’s a whole verse, or a whole song, or just a couple of lines. She’s always jotting down something. Sometimes I’ll come to her…like, literally-this is crazy. Me and Chlo’s relationship is so weird and intertwines perfectly all the time in such weird ways. I wrote this verse for a new song; it’s supposed to be four lines. I wrote three lines and I just had this verse to myself. And then I showed Chlo and Chlo was like, “Dude, I can finish that with this one random line I wrote today that I couldn’t write anything around”. And it fit so perfectly. It’s so weird how it happens. And we both just took a moment to sit back and we were like, “How did we do that?” [laughs]. It’s very collaborative in natural, organic ways.

CM:
I imagine a lot of that [group mind] comes out of practicing together, writing together, touring together in the amount of time you’ve had to tour in your short life as a band. I imagine that will get even stronger. There’s this really organic flow through the songs that’s beautiful to listen to. I’m hoping I can see it live again someday soon.

Riley:
We want you to see it live! [laughing]

CM:
Mick, what’s it like being in a band with your brother (Max, drums). I bet you’ve never been asked that question before [laughing].

I actually don’t get asked that a lot and I love to answer that! I love being in a band with Max and it has developed our sibling relationship so much more. We’re four years apart and we never went to school together. He was the only boy in our family. I was closer to my younger sister. We weren’t super close growing up. We never really fought, but we just weren’t really homies. Now, I just adore Max so much and seeing him coming into adulthood and developing as a drummer has been so awesome. I truly am the proud big sister, as much as he probably hates that. I know he always gets called “Mick’s little brother”. He’s badass, we love him. It’s only made our relationship so much better. I love playing with him. In our live setting, he’s always my go to thing that I look at. I’m constantly turning to look at him, he brings me such comfort. I can’t say enough good things about him.

CM:
That’s really sweet. I have a sister; I don’t think I could be in a band with her. It’s sweet to hear, it makes me feel guilty [laughing].

Mick:
No, it’s okay. I definitely couldn’t be in a band with my sister. Maybe we just needed that level of separation. We weren’t too close so we became friends [laughing].

CM:
As we head into winter, and probably no prospects of things opening up soon [for touring], do you have any new tracks, videos, livestreams that people should be aware of? I don’t know if people will still do year end best albums, but I’d definitely put yours on mine. It’s been a nice bright spot for the year. Anything you want to plug while you have the forum?

Mick:
Yeah, there’s unfortunately not a ton to promote. We’re trying to direct people to our Audiotree and our music on streaming services. That’s pretty much all that we have going on right now. We can’t say too much about what we’re up to coming up soon until it’s more solidified. Just trying to get people to listen to us!

CM:
Well, as I said, the album’s great, I love the music, I love the sound. It makes me hopeful that somebody out there is listening and they hear a song like “Walk in the Woods” and think, “Man, that would be great to drop onto a soundtrack” because I could see that as a really super catchy song in a movie.

Mick:
That’s like my dream! I have been wanting to find any way to get our music onto TV or movies. But especially songs like Walk in the Woods or Marbles, one of our poppier songs. (Hopefully) Like, could the right person just hear this, please? Get it into a movie! [laughs].

Hollywood, you know where to find them-get on it.

Check out more from Snarls at these sites:
May I Burst? an extended music video by snarls on the Wexner Center for the Arts website.
Snarls Patreon
 Find curated playlists, podcasts, videos, virtual hangouts and workshops here.
Snarls band website
Snarls Bandcamp
audiotree.tv