Friday Cheers’ incredible line-up continues tonight with one of the more unique bands of the 31st season of the Brown’s Island s
Friday Cheers’ incredible line-up continues tonight with one of the more unique bands of the 31st season of the Brown’s Island series: the Texas instrumental fusion group known as Snarky Puppy.
For over a decade, the jazz collective has released album after album of experimental jazz music, each stronger and more creative than the last. Through each composition, the group of over forty members combines the polyrhythms and improvisation of jazz with the best of other genres and styles to create something completely original each time out. That’s no easy feat for any band of any type and perhaps the only feat harder would be keeping tabs on all forty members of the band.
“We plan ahead,” band leader Michael League exclaimed. “Everyone is offered gigs months in advance so that they can block out their schedule for it, or schedule other things if they aren’t needed. We’ve developed a pretty efficient system for this over the years.”
This doesn’t mean that the band has to sit and wait around for all of their forty members to converge in one place after seeing a Snarky Puppy signal of sorts appearing in the sky. Around twenty members, give or take, work on each given record with only a few really sticking around from album to album, something League expanded on a bit more. “Everyone is so busy doing their own thing that it’s hard to get everyone in the same place.”
Despite this, the group’s been able to keep a consistent level of new music going for years, even if it’s hard to wrap your head around coming up with brand new music constantly year in and year out. Despite it being hard to comprehend, League explains it’s actually an easy fix. “I always get worried about this, but listening to new music solves the problem most of the time. If you’re feeding yourself new sounds, it’s much easier to come up with new ideas.”
In May, the band released their ninth album, Sylva, alongside The Metropole Orchestra. Like all of their work, it’s been celebrated across the board from music lovers and critics, something that had to be overly rewarding considering the risk the band took in collaborating with a full orchestra.
“I was so happy with how the band adapted to playing with an orchestra. It can be a potentially dangerous situation… blending your sound with 52 other musicians is not an easy thing to do. You have to be sensitive and supportive at the same time. But the guys did it beautifully. And in the end, it really felt like one ensemble instead of two being crammed together.”
Despite Sylva being barely two months old though and the band currently touring behind it, the next record is already underway, a sequel to 2013’s acclaimed Family Dinner which featured guest vocalists on each song. The new record will feature guests David Crosby, Laura Mvula, Becca Stevens, and plenty more and looks to be setting its sights on surpassing the first one with as much gusto as possible.
Don’t worry though, the band isn’t rushing things too much. They actually pushed the recording of the next album from this August back to December with a January release date in mind to give them a few extra months to breathe and unwind from Snarky Puppy, even though that’s still a crazy schedule for most in the music world. By the time Family Dinner, Volume Two comes out, it will be the seventh album the band has released this decade alone, but it’s really nothing out of the ordinary to League.
“It’s just a part of my life. I moved out of my Brooklyn apartment in June of 2014 and haven’t gotten a new one since – all of my things are in a U-Haul storage space in Park Slope. We’re playing less shows, but I’m spending more time working on our albums or other projects (all of which include being away from NYC). So to me, it’s really the same kind of lifestyle, just with (hopefully) a higher quality of creative output.”
While his work with Snarky Puppy seems daunting to say the least, when you get League talking about his other projects – all you can think is that most people can barely fit time in their schedules for a simple visit to the dentist. The bassist is currently working on a documentary on Texas musicians and institutionalized music education, but before I could even catch my own breath, he started rattling off every last thing he’s got planned in the next twelve months.
“I have a record label called GroundUP Music that we’ve just completely restructured. I’m super excited about the future of it and the artists who will be joining the community. Another band I play with, FORQ (featuring members of Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor and Rudder) is doing its first European tour. I’ve also been traveling with SP keyboardist Bill Laurance’s band and recording with Banda Magda. All three of these groups are on our label. In addition to that, I’m getting together with David Crosby to work on new music for his next album, giving masters classes in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Europe, and writing new music for the next album. Next year is going to be really diverse. I’m starting a new band with four vocalists, three percussionists, three guitarists, and a bassist, doing more touring with FORQ, producing records for a variety of artists, and spending several months in South America to study folkloric music.”
Like many of you reading that, I got anxiety just from skimming through all those things. To think that the band leader of Snarky Puppy keeps this consistent level of output going is insane. When you think most of the forty members are nearly just as busy, you really wonder just how in the world they ever schedule time to get into the studio.
The band’s tireless efforts show the dedication each member brings to the craft. There are no schlubs on stage within the group – everyone is a fully vetted musician that’s often going straight from Snarky Puppy to another gig equally as arduous and eclectic. These are musicians at the top of their game led by a musical mastermind who I’m convinced might go crazy if he thought about something other than music for two minutes. We all know people obsessed with music, but clearly the members of Snarky Puppy take it to a whole new level.
I don’t know about you, but that’s the type of band I want to see for an outdoor show that kick-starts the weekend.
Snarky Puppy plays Brown’s Island tonight for Friday Cheers with Butcher Brown opening. Tickets are $10 with the show starting at 6:30 PM.