Caribou Talks Handsome Dick Manitoba, New Album Swim, and Living in London

Categories: Q&A
Originally, Canadian indie guy Dan Snaith called himself Manitoba. He recorded a whole batch of eclectic electro-poppy stuff, sent it out into the world, and started gaining cred with brainy music fans.

But then proto-punker Handsome Dick Manitoba (real name Richard Blum) crawled out of a black hole, claimed total ownership of the word "Manitoba," and threatened a lawsuit. Hence, the name change.

Called Caribou ever since, the 32-year-old Snaith has lived and recorded in London for nine years. And right now, he's touring his new album Swim and he'll be stopping in Miami October 19. So Crossfade asked him about Dick Blum, the new music, and living in England.

New Times: You originally went by the name Manitoba. Why did you choose that name?

Caribou: I quite literally picked it off a map of Canada. I mean, I'm not from Manitoba. In fact, I don't know if I've ever been there when I chose it. But I wanted a name that reflected in some sense Canadianness, but also the solitariness of being set away from the music hubs of the world. It's not like I grew up in New York and I was hearing the most current thing. I was just part of a group of friends figuring it out in our own weird way, listening to new music next to old music and working on music by myself. That culture of where I grew up and all the nostalgia around growing up in a small town or out in the country was important to the way that the music sounded.

What did losing your name feel like?

Well, it's the name of a province and one that I don't even come from. But losing it to this American dude [Handsome Dick Manitoba] and the fact that he was claiming exclusive rights to that name felt just totally unfair. And I was failing to stand up to him, I guess. But I just quickly realized that it was completely impossible and it was going to cost far more money than I had to go to court. So I chose Caribou, which has similar connotations of Canadianness and remoteness.

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Photo by Nitasha Kapoor

When you're recording an album like Swim, how much do you work alone?

There were a few people who contributed to Swim in a really important ways: Luke from Born Ruffians sings the last track on the record, a free jazz horn player from Toronto played on several tracks, and obviously [engineers] David [Wrench] and Jeremy [Greenspan of Junior Boys] who mixed the record. But those were done in a very limited period of time. Like 99 percent of the time, it's just me working by myself.

How much of your music is carefully composed and how much just happens?

Andorra was the first time that I tried to compose music in advance rather than just kind of letting it happen. This album's a bit of both. It's more back in the direction of starting with a loop and building something. But there are still sections that are composed in advance as well.

Do you have formal music training?

Yeah. I took, like, all the conservatory grades and then got into jazz piano and learned about improvising. As opposed to a lot of electronic musicians who just come to pieces of equipment and synthesizers totally cold, without knowing harmony or any kind of theory, I came to those instruments with a background in more traditional instrumentation, classical music, and jazz.

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