Caribou has remained at the forefront of modern electronic music since his seminal debut LP The Milk of Human Kindness was released all the way back in 2005 and we were absolutely thrilled when we were given opportunity conduct an interview for I OH YOU! To add to our excitement, accomplished friend of the label Sam Gill, of the recently featured Ara Koufax fame, agreed to step in and field the call from Paris last week to conduct an in-depth discussion on Caribou’s 2014 LP Our Love, ‘jumping the shark’ and why this is his his most honest record yet.
ARA KOUFAX: How did the release of the Daphni LP change your approach to Our Love? There seems to be a clear line in the sand between the projects, but I’m curious as to whether or not it lead to a greater clarity or stylistic fluency when you were writing the new record.
It was kind of a nice counterpoint to what I was doing with Caribou particularly because I think with Swim I was more undecided about whether I should turn tracks into strictly functional dance music or keep some of the elements from the previous Caribou records that I’d made.
I kind of didn’t know what to do. After realising, okay, I’ll start putting out music under these two different names, it did clarify what I wanted to be in each of these things. It also gives me a way of indulging more of the dance-floor functional side on the Daphni records. At the same time, it’s not like I’m trying to make completely distinct things.
There’s definitely an excitement about dance music in both of them, it’s just that in the Caribou tracks there doesn’t have to be a sense that the track must work on a dance-floor at all. There can be parts where they’re more clubby, then parts that are more ambient and just wouldn’t work in a DJ set. I think about that consideration much less when making a Caribou track.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI2Et19vDCM[/youtube]
AK: I’m curious about that consideration. It definitely struck me, being a fan of both projects, the difference between what I sense is a kind of pragmatism with Daphni and then more of a slower, meticulous approach with the Caribou songwriting. How distinct are the writing processes for each project?
The intention is totally different. The Daphni stuff was never meant to be released in the first place. They were just for DJ sets that I’d been doing for the past few years. Those tracks were made in a couple of hours in the afternoon before I caught a flight to go DJ somewhere. Really quick editing, no going back and changing. No revisiting. Either they worked that night or they didn’t work and I forgot about them.
With the Caribou tracks I let them sit for months sometimes in between working on them and they kind of soak up all the atmosphere of what’s going on in my life. They soak up the context of what’s going on and become more coherent because of that because I work on the same ideas over a longer period of time.
Also, things like harmonic changes and vocal melodies and all of the things that are more songwriting ideas than dance music ideas take more focus and a more meticulous process. It’s a more planned and composed process rather than the Daphni thing, which is quick jams.
That’s what I like about it. I can hear the edits. I can hear the bits I didn’t go back and tidy up. I can hear that energy of doing it really quickly, whereas the Caribou stuff involves me smoothing a lot of the things over when the tracks are done.
AK: With a process that meticulous and long-form, I guess what I listen for as a fan of any artist are those edges and bumps your own life imprints on the work. The “soaking up”, as you said. Was there a conscious choice to lift the veil on Our Love to let your own life inform your songwriting more? Lyrically it seems much more declarative.
For sure. This is the first album I’ve made that’s completely focused on that kind of idea. Before Swim there was no personal content in, for example, the lyrics. They were just fictional sketches to match the tone of the music. With Swim I started to do songs about things going on with my life and things personal to me.
I think it was really affirming that Swim was the record that really connected with people. I’d look back at my older records and think: well, what are these lyrics doing here? It’s like having a picture of your family reunion and seeing some stranger standing there in the middle of the photograph. Why shouldn’t the lyrics be about things going on in my life? They shouldn’t be these unrelated, fictionalised ideas.
So, with this record, I think with the affirmation of Swim having gone so well and people having connected with that, I thought that I should continue to push it further. All the songs should be about things going on in my life and people close to me.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMwgcRByA8Y[/youtube]
AK: I got a real sense from reading more about the construction of Our Love that the audience were always present in your mind while writing. It made me think about how, as you listen to an artist across their career, you can often chart a major stylistic impact as the crowds get bigger and the relationship with the audience shifts. You’ve said that this record is for the audience. I’m curious to hear you expand on what that means to you.
It works on a few different levels. Swim made me aware that there was an audience. It sounds like a funny thing having done shows for almost ten years by that point, but it just kind of hit me in a more direct and personal way. I couldn’t avoid that when I went back and I didn’t want to.
It was kind of the most wonderful thing, thinking about how the music was going to travel and that people were waiting for it. I think about the fact that Swim traveled to people and places that I never would have expected. I always had this idea that I was making music for me and a few other dorky music nerds.
It was so exciting for me because I didn’t make any compromises in the music. Swim wasn’t in any way dumbed-down. It was an eccentric, weird record. It made me think: what a wonderful process that is. My life has been made so wonderful because of it and we’ve had so many great experiences thanks to the fact that people liked the music. So, I wanted to make music that returned that somehow.
It affected the music in a number of different ways, from literally imagining a fan there with me listening to the music as I was making it and thinking about how they’d hear it for the first time or the hundredth time. You can lose perspective on that so quickly. You just hear it through the prism of how you experience it for the fifty zillionth time that you work on it.
Also, the idea was to make the music more from me. The lyrics are more personal. I wanted to cram as much of my life as possible in and make the sound as much my own as possible so that I’m genuinely sharing something of mine rather than something that doesn’t have my context in it. For example, Can’t Do Without You – I could immediately picture playing it at a festival as the sun is going down to a big crowd like the experiences we’d been having around the time I was making it. If I’d made it ten years prior, it wouldn’t have been informed by that at all.
I’m kind of wary, though, as this process made some of my favourite artists “jump the shark” at some point in their career and start making terrible music. I think back to bands in the ’60s and ’70s that became slowly more popular and I find myself liking their music less and less over the years. So, it’s a wonderful thing but it’s also something I’m quite conscious about because I know, historically, a lot of my favourite artists have ended up making music that I don’t like because they’ve become more aware of their environments.
With this record, though, I never felt a sense of compromise. I never felt that I was making things more populist. It just felt like the impulse to share didn’t come at the expense of cheapening the music in any way. I just felt like there wasn’t that tension for me.[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvDVyqgaAFo[/youtube]
AK: On the record itself and all that’s been written in response to it, love is the dominant theme. I suppose the idea of having the audience with you in the room is kind of a pure expression of that. Not that the previous records were impersonal, but it seems there’s a conscious unselfishness on Our Love. It gives it a particular texture. Did it feel like you were really giving yourself over to the listener?
I hope so. That’s all the sentiments that I want in the music. It’s kind of the most outward looking intent that I’ve had, making music about those collective moments while listening or even just sharing music one-to-one with someone listening on headphones.
But, it’s also the record most inward-looking. It’s about not only the wonderful things about love but also the difficulties and, as you said, the texture and contradiction and compromise in my life and those of the people around me.
It’s funny – hopefully it sounds kind of universal but it’s also a record made by somebody in their mid-30s. Love is not this fairy tail thing that you imagine as a teenager. This is about how it gets more difficult, more textured and more wonderful. It’s about how things shift and change and grow more complicated. For me, that’s very much about how old I am.
Caribou will be performing at the following dates of the 2015 St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival:
Saturday 31 January – Brisbane – Brisbane Showgrounds, Bowen Hills (16+)
Sunday 1 February – Sydney – Sydney College Of The Arts (Sca), Rozelle
Friday 6 February – Adelaide – Harts Mill, Port Adelaide (16+)
Saturday 7 February – Melbourne – Footscray Community Arts Centre (Fcac) And The River’s Edge
Sunday 8 February – Fremantle – Esplanade Reserve And West End
Tickets and information HERE.
Additionally, two sideshows have been announced:
Wednesday 4 February – Sydney Opera House, Sydney
Thursday 5 February – The Forum, Melbourne