CARIBOU at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Friday (September 17), 8 pm. $15. HS, RT, SS, TM.
CARIBOU DJ SET with JEREMY GREENSPAN, DJ PAMMM at the Drake (1150 Queen West), Friday (September 17), midnight. $10. 416-531-5042.
Unlike the UK and its Mercury Prize, we don't have a network of bookies giving odds on who'll win this year's Polaris Music Prize on Monday (September 20). But if you ask Caribou (aka Dan Snaith), there's not much of a chance that he'll be picking up his second $20,000 prize after winning previously in 2008 for Andorra.
"I do think I'm a long shot," Snaith admits from his adopted home in London, UK. "It just seems like an unlikely thing for them to give it to someone who's already won, whether it's me or Owen [Pallett]."
If he's right, it would be a shame, since his new album, Swim (Merge), is much better than Andorra. However, it would make the Canadian music scene seem pretty small if lightning struck him twice. You're not going to catch Snaith complaining, though - this is the kind of nice-guy musician who starts off the interview by apologetically offering his home phone number instead of his cell, just in case NOW was worried about long distance charges.
"I'm just really excited to play live at the gala ceremony, because we didn't get to do that last time. We've never really been on Canadian TV either, so that'll be pretty great."
He's not kidding when he says he's thrilled to play onstage. He and his live band are about to embark on an epic world tour for the next few months, after already spending much of the year on the road in support of his mesmerizing new album. Not quite the routine you'd expect from someone who's made pretty much all his recorded music over the past decade alone in his bedroom.
Is this evidence of the new music-industry model of making your living from live shows instead of album sales?
"We're not in the Leonard Cohen boat yet," Snaith cracks, and then backtracks to explain the joke - a charmingly awkward habit he exercises throughout our conversation.
"There's no evil music-industry villain cracking the whip; we're genuinely excited to go out and do a million shows. The year of Andorra we did around 200 shows, which is pretty crazy, but I think we're doing even more shows in less time for this one.
"This is really the social part of my life. When I'm recording, it's the life of a hermit, essentially."
It's not just the social aspect of performing that thrills him. For Snaith, the recording entity of Caribou and the live configuration are completely distinct things, the latter serving as a welcome opportunity to reimagine and refine the ideas previously committed to disc.
"We've had three days off, and what have we done? We booked a studio and started rehearsing again - reworking songs and bringing in whole new songs that we haven't played before, just finding ways to make it better."
He's got no shortage of ideas of ways to reinvent the songs. Take the sharp contrast between the techno-informed quartet he's touring with now and the sprawling cosmic jazz rock orchestra he assembled when he was invited by the Flaming Lips to play the 2009 All Tomorrow's Parties festival in NYC. They only played Toronto and New York, but fans who missed those shows will be able to buy a special limited-edition vinyl and DVD recording of the ATP gig, which featured, among many other guests, Sun Ra Arkestra band leader Marshall Allen.
"Those two shows playing with Marshall Allen were for me a real dream-come-true moment: all my friends and one of my absolute musical heroes playing together onstage, invited by the Flaming Lips, whom I've loved since I was a teenager.... If you'd told me that 10 years ago, it would have blown my mind.
"As for the recording, we just wanted something special for ourselves. As a chronic record collector, this is just the ultimate memento of that show."
Those gigs may have been magical career highlights for Snaith, but that doesn't mean touring in support of Swim has been a letdown. Framing the current show around the club-inspired beats and swinging grooves of the new material has led to a first for the band.
"The shows we've done this year are the first times we've looked out into the audience and seen a bunch of people actually dancing, which has been amazing."
Previous albums have been more about head-nodding than booty-shaking, and while there's nothing wrong with that, there's something to be said for the visceral feedback of seeing an audience physically reacting to your tunes. In fact, much of Swim's club-ready feel comes directly from testing out the material on dance floors in the DJ sets he fills his down time with.
"It's a great feeling to make something one day, play it in a club the next day and get immediate feedback if it's going to work. That was really exciting for me and is a big part of why the album ended up sounding the way it did.
"This record was kind of made as two separate things. There were songs made just for me to DJ with, and it took me a long time to wrap my head around the idea that tracks like Sun or Bowls could end up on a Caribou record.
"But then that stuff ended up sitting really nicely beside the tracks that I thought of as Caribou songs, even if they were really done in two completely different mindsets."
In case you're assuming that Snaith is just another indie rock dude who discovered dance music last year, it should be pointed out that he was DJing even back when he was still known as Manitoba. And though some of his recordings lean toward psych rock, they've all been very electronic-based. Still, you can't help but worry that the thumping kick drums and buzzing synths might scare away the rock critics voting for this year's Polaris Prize.
Snaith doesn't think so. From his perspective, the barriers between electronic and "real" music have been mostly broken down. Besides, even if he does win again this time, he's pledged to use the money to set up a useful alternative to Canada's eviscerated census.
"Oh, man - that was the one time I tried that joke, and it fell so flat," he says, referring to an interview he did when the short list was announced. "I had to go back and explain it, and felt like the unfunniest guy in the world. It was like a bad uncle joke."
Joke or not, given his PhD in mathematics, you can assume that Snaith has a genuine appreciation for the necessity of good data. And leave it to a self-described geek like Snaith to think of studying abstract math as the lazy way.
"When I went to do my undergraduate degree, I had to decide between doing a science degree, which seemed easy, and I like that stuff, or spending the next six months practising piano all the time to study jazz piano at U of T.
"What I realized was that if I studied music, I was never going to do mathematics in my spare time. That just seemed like a ridiculous thing to do, and still does."