Snarky Puppy at The Rex Hotel: A Preview & Interview with Leader Michael League

The Brooklyn-based band known as Snarky Puppy will be hitting The Rex Hotel (194 Queen St. W) with the following line-up, drawn from their 25+ rotating members on June 26th and 27th at 11:00P.M.

Mike Maher – Trumpet
Chris Bullock – Saxophone
Bob Lanzetti - Guitar
Cory Henry - Organ
Justin Stanton – Keyboards
Michael League – Bass
Nate Werth - Percussion
Robert “Sput” Searight – Drums

If you’ve never experienced (heard is not a strong enough word) Snarky Puppy, I am pleased to inform you that you are in for one of the grooviest shows of your life. The band has built and maintained a loyal and enthusiastic fan base of Toronto musicians, students and listeners that keep the Rex brimming with energy. My advice? Get there early. Their sets will include music from all 5 albums. If you’re still not convinced, check out a summary of my interview with bandleader/bassist Michael League below.

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As though the unending positivity of bandleader/bassist Michael League didn’t make him likeable enough, he took time out of a 9-hour road trip to talk about Snarky’s repertoire, the role of the audience, composition, The Rex Hotel, and the future.

The band’s newest release, Ground Up (listen here: http://snarkypuppy.bandcamp.com/album/ground-up), boasts a variety of styles, all stamped with that trademark Snarky sound. “I like taking standard styles that people’s ears are used to and throwing in crazy outliers,” said League.

In the case of "Like A Light", League’s tribute to his half-Brazilian niece, one can hear the makings of a traditional samba, but “we don’t play traditional sambas. That’s not what Snarky Puppy does. We were rehearsing the tune and found this different groove for it… I’m always interested to hear what people think of this tune, since it was such a challenge [to blow it up from singing and playing guitar, how I wrote it, to the group].”

What, then, would be League’s compositional advice? “There’s no right way to do it, you just do what works. Try to not be too closed-off. Sometimes you feel the need to create this perfect composition… and like sometimes I feel like it’s better to trust your subconscious. You write stuff, and leave it… then realize that two ideas link perfectly together… your subconscious naturally will create things that go together.”

As cerebral and individual as the above compositional process may seem, one gets the feeling that every song seems to take on a collective touch. “Whoever writes, arranges. And over the course of the rehearsal everyone changes every part… for me, that’s the kind of magical part of the process. It’s not just this piece of music on [someone’s computer] anymore… the musicians add their own personal touch.”

And that special touch was not lost on Snarky’s most recent albums, Ground Up and Tell Your Friends" both of which were recorded before live audiences. It’s a step that League thinks is integral to producing the best music possible.

So, does the band actually have a favourite city to play in? I’d argue that Toronto ranks pretty highly given that The Rex Hotel was actually explicitly thanked in the liner notes to Ground Up.

“I can’t really say enough good stuff about that place. It’s kind of like a beacon of light in today’s super upside-down music industry. They develop bands. The first time we played there, it was a Sunday night for about 25 people and the club made like no money, but they gave us as much as they possibly could… and the next time they paid for some publicity. Most clubs don’t do that. If you don’t bring 100 people the first night, it’s over.” Good on them for that investment – Snarky’s shows have left patrons lined up down Queen Street ever since.

As if that vote of confidence wasn’t enough: “One time we had our school bus broken into… All our stuff was stolen and the bus broke down. The Rex put us up for 3 nights for free in the hotel above the club, and that was a big deal because the repairs were so expensive that we were worried that we weren’t going to have enough money to make Tell Your Friends. I think it’s definitely the most caring venue out there,” admitted League.

So what’s in store for the band once this tour is up? “I get like two emails a week about somebody wanting us to play their wedding or private event. And most of the time they do want us to play our stuff, though sometimes we bring a singer to do awesome covers just to be safe,” laughed League.

Although weddings are a good time, "The Good Man Delivers and The Best Is Blessed" (off Tell Your Friends) left me wondering about the possibility of an acoustic album for Snarky Puppy. “I would love to do that,” said League. “You know, I’m full of dreams. I would love to do an album with a symphony orchestra. The next record isn’t going to be a Snarky album per se, but it’s going to feature like 12 different vocalists, Musiq Soulchild for example, with the band. It’s still in the works. I mean - the band is full of these super talented and versatile guys, [so] I’m looking forward to making a record of songs with singers… it’s what we all do in our daily lives anyway.”

With that piece of new information, I can’t blame you if you can’t wait until the 26th/27th to see Snarky Puppy. Fear not - Michael League (a graduate of the University of North Texas) will be bringing what he calls the “Dallas sound” to The Rex Hotel on June 23rd and 24th with drummer Jason ‘JT’ Thomas (Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor) and organist Caleb McCampbell (Funky Knuckles, sideman to Beyonce). The sets will include original music, standards, and covers.

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