This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
Snakefarm - Snakes Still Alive Shock!
By the early ’90s Anna had walked away from Crepuscule and left Brussels. Michel had joined her in the USA for the final album. “I invited Michel over and we went up to my mom’s cabin in the woodlands of Quebec and we wrote Mysteries up there, and then we recorded it in New York at Suzanne Vega’s house.”
It strikes me that Anna sounded rather like Suzanne Vega before Suzanne Vega did. Does she think she had any influence on her, vocally?
“No, but she had heard of me. We got to be friends in New York, and when she first started touring she heard a lot about me, not so much in the US because I wasn’t that well known there, but in Japan where I was well-known, and in Europe.”
And the suggestions by others that her records were an important influence on what became known as trip-hop later on... people like Portishead. Does she believe this to be true?
“I don’t know. I’d love to believe it, but I’ve no idea. All I know is that I grew up on pop music, I adore pop music in all of its forms. One thing that disturbed me when I was making records was that there was this division between real music and dance music. I had always wanted to work with beats, with a rhythm – I love to dance, I adore it, but I could never fit that in with my verbose, word-heavy songs. I have these songs that are all about something, and I have to get all of that in there. But it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the rhythm section.”
“That is what led to Snakefarm, directly. We were very proud of Mysteries Of America but everything we’d ever done for Crepuscule just went down a black hole, and so it was the end of working with them. I said ‘Let’s do some of those old classic American ballads, but with a dance beat’. I didn’t think it would work because, speaking of narrative and being word-heavy, some of these songs have 67 verses! So I started out that very night with St James Infirmary and Streets Of Laredo, and by the next morning I had the sketches of them down.”
“Even when I write my own music I usually start out with a groove of some sort, a rhythm track. Way back there with the demos, I was using lighters and pots and pans, and I set up a rhythm with that first. And then the melody comes out of the rhythm and then the words come out of the melody and the mood that’s been created.”
Photo: Judith BurrowsSnakefarm
“Anyway we started it, and we pottered with it, and we messed around with it and one label was interested in it, and every year somebody had some great idea, and we’d just keep working. And nothing happened until I gave the tape to Matt Johnson, who was an old friend, from The The. He had the tape for a while and he turned it over to a friend of his who was just starting a label in LA. We’d given up on music. We weren’t getting rid of our equipment, we would continue to write always, but we had been playing shows in New York for a decade and nothing had happened. We had been sending out tapes of Anna Domino demos, and… nothing. We moved from the city, to the desert. We drove across the country in a 23-foot rental truck with everything crammed into it that we could fit. We couldn’t fit the final footstool, and somebody stole our handtruck, but we had everything else. We ended up in the Lower Mojave Desert where we had rented a nice little post-and-beam house. We spent a thousand days in the desert, it was our trial. We got there and immediately set up a studio because we had to finish this album – this guy had called and said ‘I’d like to release it’!”
“So it came out on Kneeling Elephant through RCA, BMG Classics here in the UK. And then they set up a tour for us. We went to New York to rehearse a band and then they said ‘They’re your friends, they don’t expect to get paid, do they?’ and I thought ‘Oh god, this again!’ So they said ‘Why don’t you work with a film?’ Nobody was doing that at the time, and we thought it was a bit weird, but OK.”
“We worked with a really brilliant, insane friend in San Francisco. He and I brainstormed about each song and we had great ideas, and we got really, really wonderful footage. Nobody was doing this at the time.”
At that point in 1999 they were officially the future of folk music. So as people often say ‘Whatever happened to Snakefarm?’
“We leave a trail of destruction in our wake. Shortly after, Kneeling Elephant folded. We weren’t on RCA’s radar. They didn’t know who we were. There was no point. I would show up at the offices and they wouldn’t know what to do with me. But we had so much fun making that record so we started on the next one.”
Why has it taken them 12 years?
“There’s no reason for it. Every year there’s somebody who might be interested. I follow up on everything. I send the tapes out, but no-one ever... I mean, you have to know someone... People kept saying ‘Bring it out yourself’ but that’s a full-time occupation. You have to have a web site, you have to manufacture, you have to ship… For us, there’s just the two of us, and that’s it, and it’s a full-time thing working to pay bills and we can’t administer a label and do all our own work on top of that. Everybody says the internet makes it easy for everybody to find you, but the trouble is that it’s easy for everybody to find everybody.”
From fRoots 340, October 2011
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down