Musical jack-of-all-trades Grayson Sanders, the incontrovertible fulcrum of Brooklyn-based independent rock group Snowmine, abruptly left his job after the completion of the band’s first album, Laminate Pet Animal. For the better part of nine months, Sanders rid himself of material possessions, living off a backpack and recycled outfits while producing a large sum of the material that would be used to produce, write and arrange Snowmine’s sophomore album Dialects. “I just took a small journal with me wherever I went— bus rides, train rides, walking,” he said recently in a phone interview. “Throughout that process the majority of the lyrics of the album came from snippets that I wrote to myself in that journal or somewhere else, just little inspirations. So then the meaning of the album title sort of emerged out of that and it was the idea of all the different types of communication breakdowns that can exist within or lives, between ourselves and our environment- and how we can seemingly be speaking the same language and misunderstanding each other at every turn.”
The burgeoning young artist is used to deviating from the beaten path. The self-declared DIY rock group Snowmine self-releases all of their material, writing, producing and arranging each record on their own terms. This route acquires its own unique set of problems, like those of funding and distribution, but the artistic license and creative liberties offered up by this independent method of releasing music are unparalleled. “We were considering some deals that were really big. But when we were looking in the equation of the things we’d gain with this particular album— the things we’d gain versus the things we’d loose—it just didn’t seem worth it,” Sanders remarked when talking about the band’s choice to remain independent of an outside label for their second album.
Grayson Sanders and the other four members of Snowmine essentially have to accomplish the same task that a team of dozens, or sometimes hundreds, get paid to do—in addition to their strenuous duties as an actively performing band. “I’m realizing the inner-workings of big labels and how all those people must operate, because it’s taken all five of us working full-time on this,” said Sanders “We’ve been raising money ourselves to fund the tours, which has been really great because we’re getting so much fan response.” Snowmine’s official website is hosting a three-month long crowd funding experiment where fans can donate money directly to the band, evading the gratuitous fees of services like KickStarter and IndieGoGo. In exchange the band is offering up exclusive prizes—backstage passes, handwritten lyric books, a private lesson from a band member, a private listening party with the band—corresponding with specific amounts donated.
The band hosted their album release party at Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn this month, in lieu of the album’s official release on February 5th through the band’s imprint Mystery Buildings. It’s now circulating via SoundCloud and Spotify. “Honestly there’s a lot of work in you’re putting out an official release by yourself,” said Sanders reflecting on the album’s success as an independent production. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, until we were totally knee-deep in it.”
Indie Current: So what exactly inspired the album artwork?
Grayson Sanders: A guy named Phillip from Russia actually made that. We had been calling back and forth on different concepts. We’d come up with the idea of wanting, somehow, a man and a woman at odds in some suspension, some sort of weightless scenario. So we had been doing our own sketches and figuring out our own ideas and of course our artist Jesse Cornell who does most of our stuff. And we were browsing some of this guy’s stuff online and we just loved it. We loved it so much, it was exactly the kind of feeling and image we wanted to capture. So we phoned the guy up and it was this 20 year-old kid from Russia. Were like, “Dude, this image you made is perfect for our album. Can we please buy it from you?” Yeah, that’s how it turned out. We were actually using that cover as a demo cover, when we were sending it around to industry folks. We tried so many alternatives, so many ways to expand and nothing was as powerful as that image. So we just kept it because it’s really awesome.
IC: I’m also really interested in that most of the album, from what I know, was recorded in a church in Upper Manhattan. Could you speak a little about that?
GS: We did the majority of all the ambient sounds, the big sounds, the guitars the orchestrals, the strings, the woodwinds, the choir of female singers you hear in the background, the synths, we did all that in church. The idea was we wanted to experiment with getting natural reverbs and natural ambiance from the space and using that instead of digital reverb and the synthetic reverbs that everyone uses. We had no idea if it would work or not, but we figured it might as well be worth experimenting because we needed a big space anyway to record these people in. My friend actually owns the church.
IC: Oh, that’s convenient. I was going to ask how you managed to permission to use this church.
GS: Yeah funny story. She actually bought the church for a dollar from the owner. It was going to be demolished, so she was like yeah I’ll buy it for a dollar. So yeah obviously the property tax is pretty steep I guess, but any-who. We set up mics at different distances as we were recording to see which ones would sound the best in terms of space. Some of the stuff came out like complete crap. You couldn’t even hear anything because there was so much reverb, but some came out really awesome. You’re really able to here and sense the space if you’re listening to the songs, especially on headphones, in a really interesting way. If you close your eyes it’s almost like the drummer is actually way back there, way far away. It was a cool experiment. We did it because we’ve worked in a variety of studios already, all over New York, and of course we had to go there for some small stuff.
IC: So the first album was recorded in small studios around the city?
GS: Yeah the first record was recorded primarily in HeadGear, which is no longer open. They actually closed last year. And then, because we were on a really tight budget, it was very DIY at that time we recorded it in my apartment. We borrowed a lot of mics and messed around with the space we had. We used the stairway corridor for the guitars and we used the bathroom for a weird sound. Made my roommates hate me.
IC: It seems like a sense of place really informs the music you make. I found myself wondering on songs like “Rome” and “Columbus,” what the role of place and location had as you were writing and recording those songs?
GS: Well I’ve never been to Rome. I’ve been to Columbus, Ohio and Columbus, Georgia, but that song is actually not about Columbus. It’s actually named after Christopher Columbus because the song itself paints a picture of a beachside town, where a guy and a girl, maybe best friends or childhood neighbors. The girl wants to leave and explore the world and the guy waits at home, or vice versa. It’s sort of this fictitious space, the exploratory nature of things. As far as “Rome” goes it’s about defiance. The lyrics I wrote in one sitting, I was actually on a train and I remember I had like one dollar before I could make the fare.
IC: Where were you going?
GS: I was actually returning to New York. But I was sitting at the station, and I voluntarily left my job so it wasn’t like I got kicked out. But all of a sudden I very didn’t have an extra dollar to make this train trip. This is a seriously humbling moment that I’m going through right now. So I’m sitting there thinking, there’s no way I’m going to beg, I’m just sitting there in the meantime thinking of what to do. I wrote these thoughts down and out of that came this defiant message, which “Rome” is.
IC: The record was written, recorded and produced entirely and exclusively by the band, and so was the first album. I think it’s incredible that the band has so much artistic freedom in a space where people are often limited in the creative liberties they can exercise and filtered out by an executive chain of command. It’s great that you guys have been able to do your own thing. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with having all that freedom, is it hard to know where to go, do you doubt yourself at any point because there’s no one else to consult other than the people around you making this music?
GS: Honestly, I think that us having artistic license and freedom has never been an issue between us. We all pretty strongly regulate each other. If I come up with an idea that’s totally out there or outlandish- one of the guys, probably Jay the bassist, will be like, “No, that’s retarded.” (Laughs) I’ve thought of some crazy stuff and tried to convince them to do it. They’ll tell me I’m living in a fantasy world.