We Don't Need No Stinkin' Labels: Brooklyn's Snowmine Go Their Own Way

Categories: Interview

snowmine-terrorbird.jpg
Courtesy of Terrorbird
Brooklyn-based Snowmine wanted more than what labels were offering. So, with a desire to release Dialects and see their hard work pay off, the band decided to forego that structure and start their own label. Surrounded by an encouraging team, a growing and devoted following, and a treasure trove of unique influences, the band created their own label--Mystery Buildings--and started a crowdfunding venture via PayPal that has funded their tour as well as several other upcoming projects. Released on February 4, Dialects, the album that made it all happen, is a swirling, echoing, and sweetly sullen trip worth the currently $12,578 they've raised in support of it.

We spoke with the lead singer of Snowmine, Grayson Sanders, about the album, his influences, and their successful journey to seeing both the album's release and an upcoming national tour come through.

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How did you all come up with your band name? It's a pretty fun one.
Actually [laughs], it comes from a story. My grandfather was a platoon leader in the Korean War. He always tells this story of a snowy night in 1952 and was asked to go on a night patrol through a minefield, and he led twelve soldiers into this minefield but then they lost communication. Apparently the mine-detectors weren't working, and the snow was too deep for the detectors to pick up on any mines. So he decided he would hitch every first step and the subsequent soldiers would take a step where he had stepped. Unfortunately as the snow got compressed a little bit more, the mines started to go off in the back of the line, so by the time they reached the other end, he actually lost almost every soldier except for himself and one other. It's a really heavy story for sure, however when he talks about it, he describes it as finding himself at age twenty-one, which is way younger than all of us now, leading all these people on the other side of the world. He recalls waking up that day in this snowy mountain in Korea going "how did I get here? This is the most beautiful thing." Then how the day ends so tragically. So he describes it as probably the most beautiful and the darkest day of his life

Not only in his honor did we name the band after that, but also the sound of the band is pretty melancholy with darker textures. But that's it! Kind of a mouthful, right?

Do you find that your grandpa's story has realized itself as a theme in your music?
Definitely! The way we formed the band was sort of like picking the name last. We've been playing together for a number of years, in and out of different bands in the New York indie scene. Then we put together a bunch of songs after messing around. After that -- we were total novices -- we were like, "alright I guess it's time to pick a name!" So, we were going through some names and I told them that story. We thought the story really fit the sound of the music, so we went with it.

How long have you all been in New York?
We've been in Brooklyn actually for eight years. I went to school here. Four of the guys went to NYU. We all met there. One of our guitars was from DC, and he migrated up here looking for new projects. He was in a touring band for years. We just found him by happenstance, and he joined the band. We've been New York natives for a long time.

What did you study at NYU?
We went to Steinhardt. I was in Classical, one of the guys was in Music Engineering, the other in Jazz...we kind of cover all the bases in there [laughs].

Those different backgrounds -- Classical and Jazz -- definitely comes across on the orchestrations from Dialects. With all those different educations, what is it like when you come together to compose the songs?
I think the biggest challenge is not overthinking it. Like I said, we've played together for a while before we formally started taking it seriously as a project. So, we had a number of songs that were complete and utter garbage that never saw the light of day and probably shouldn't. They were kind of bringing in all sorts of influences from everywhere in a way that wasn't fully formed to a single strand of a concise idea. When we started out there was so much going on, so much happening. Over time, just being together and playing together we started to cultivate what we thought was us and sort of took from my approach to orchestration and the other guys' approach to the rhythm section to them being sensitive jazz players coming up with grooves that are consistently interesting but not overcomplicating. I think the real challenge is changing but not having them be in-your-face and way too much.

I've seen a recurring assessment of the album that cites a "vintage, '60s sound." Can you speak to the influences on that facet of the overall sound?
The moment when this album was written was a really interesting period, a rather dark period of my life where I had left my job and everything behind and decided to live out of a bag for nine months and just travel around and take things in and write my thoughts and inspirations down and live without earthly possessions. I tried to do that for about a year. The overall tone of the lyrics and the music really arose out of a communication breakdown between myself and the outside world. So it kind of has a melancholy tint. When we were thinking about recording and production style for the album, in terms of the ambience we wanted to capture, there were a lot of ideas floating around. We were really inspired by old bossa recordings from the '60s. The old Stan Getz stuff in particular. Even though our music is not, you know, Brazilan bossa nova, I was really taken by that strange ambience of dark around the edges, a subtle melancholy but not a lackadaisical melancholy. It's not dark in a way that's going to bring you down, but it makes you feel both the positive and the negative.

Before this album, we had grown the sound in a way where we brought more synth into the mix, but we didn't want the album to sound like a synth-pop album. We were experiementing with ways to make the synths sound more like organic instruments and make the drums sound really organic as well. We recorded the synths in an open space rather than have them go direct into the recording. Everything just has a bit of a glow around it, and that was kind of the idea.

To go back to that writing period that you described, after going through that period of giving up your possessions, how did that change you as a musician?
That and a combination of a lot of the people I've met and the people who have had influences on me created a much more gracious perspective on music and songwriting. One that is a lot less tied to the natural that musicians develop for themselves and the idea of wanting to show everything I can do all the time, which is what musicians sort of get an idea to do, especially when you start to get positive feedback from others. But this album is a bit more toned down. It's a bit more restrained, and I think there's more focus on the messages and the lyrics. Hence the name Dialects. It's about speaking the same language but not understanding each other.

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The Glasslands Gallery

289 Kent Ave., Brooklyn, NY

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