Pick A Piper is a collaborative music project led by Caribou drummer, Brad Weber along with his oldest friends Angus Fraser & Dan Roberts and a selection of guest vocalists. Sounding every bit as accomplished as you’d expect from a project put together by a Caribou affiliate, the self titled debut from Pick A Piper dropped last April on Mint Records to much acclaim. Combining dance-music structures, polyrhythmic percussion and loopy melodies with a focus on electronics, the project showcases a unique sound crafted between the organic and the simulated.
Dividing his time between touring extensively with Caribou this Summer and learning the new tracks from Dan Snaith’s forthcoming album, Brad is already working on the next Pick A Piper LP. He writes ideas for music whenever he gets a chance, whether he’s wedged into the back of a tour van, cramped up on a long distance flight or lying on the floor of an airport at 4am, he finds a certain balance amongst it all. Conor McTernan caught up with Brad after a solo live performance at Sónar in Barcelona last month to talk about touring with Caribou, attending the RBMA, zen and the art of workflow maintenance…
Sónar Is a unique festival, is it your first time here?
I’ve played at Sónar once before in 2010, drumming for Caribou. Last time we were just playing at Sónar during the daytime, but this year I was DJ’ing myself by day and playing live with Caribou at Sónar by night. It’s a totally different experience between the two venues. It’s crazy.
You played with Caribou here at Sónar this year? How did it go?
The venues here are crazy. We just don’t have these crazy air hangars & warehouses that can just become a party. They’re a lot more liberal as to what goes on here in Barcelona, there are no noise issues, and I really appreciate the openness to music that this city embodies.
How did Pick A Piper come together?
All of us in Pick A Piper are longtime friends. We’ve been in and out of bands together for years. We wanted to do something different for this project than what we had worked on previously and got things going about five years ago now. The band is a result of messing around with ideas, we knew we wanted to create something a bit more dance orientated but without having a concept or using typical structures or instruments.
What do Angus & Dan do outside of music?
Angus works in video production and Dan runs his own web applications business.
The name Pick A Piper itself – is that a reference to anything?
It’s pretty much the only name that I didn’t hate. Some people have a knack for lyrics & names, we’re definitely more music driven!
Is there a concept or theme behind the album? Or is it the result of a lot of live jamming sessions?
The album is a result of us messing around for a few years, not really knowing what we wanted to do. Even though our previous demos were all us singing, for the most part the album features a lot of collaborations with guest singers because we reached out to friends who had some awesome ideas. Some of the guest vocalists were Ryan McPhun from Ruby Suns, Raphaelle Standell from Braids, Andy Lloyd from Born Ruffians & John Schmersal who also plays with Caribou.
The track titles are quite interesting, are there any stories behind any in particular? How about ‘Zenaida’ – that’s a type of Dove from your locality?
That was one of the ones where I was just looking at random bird pictures on the internet, I thought the Zenadia looked awesome.
‘South to Polynesia’?
It’s a place in the world that I’ve never been to but I’m intrigued by. It takes up a huge portion of the world but nobody knows anything about it. It’s really curious to me. We tried to create something that the listener wouldn’t be sure where it would go, so the name leads to that.
‘Dingy In A Quiet Cove’?
Yeah it’s just a nice moment really, all of the titles releate to things that inspire us or things that we’re curious about.
There’s a sense of place to be found the album, do you feel that your music draws from your surrounding homeland?
We started out by exploring Ontario and Canada, following place names that we didn’t know anything about when we were younger, then it got more global. We’re all avid travellers so the naming of some of the track titles was a result of that for sure.
There’s definitely a zen-like Buddhist vibe to the ‘Cinders & Dust’ video.
I’m totally into meditation and that sort of thing, I’m probably in my own head too much! We gave the director complete freedom to create what he wanted and that’s what he came up with.
What’s the Icelandic connection? Is it based on your sound with glockenspiels etc. ‘Rooms’ music video part filmed there? Lucid Fjords
Iceland is an inspiring place to me, ever since I was a Sigur Rós & Björk fan as a teenager. It’s another one of those places that people just don’t know a huge amount about. I went for the first time around six years ago. I spent three weeks travelling around the entire country. It’s definitely one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. I went again with Dan, we covered ourselves in green and had this chroma key flashing characters playing drums in weird places. We drove around Iceland for a few days and played on fences and street corners.
For the live show are you always mixing it up/building your sets with different equipment?
It’s always slowly progressing, we can never stick to one thing for too long, our live set is all about using electronics in an engaging way. We all have drum set ups to some degree. I want it to be as visually stimulating on stage as possible we have a mini marimba which is great for the crowd to see and engage with.
How do you balance your workflow between Caribou & Pick A Piper?
Yeah it’s really a matter of when I have time to do one or the other. For the Pick A Piper record, a lot of it was written in the back of a tour van, in an airport or cramped up on a plane while I was on tour with Caribou. I’ll get ideas going and then I’ll bring them back to the guys and we’ll build on them.
Why was there such a gap in between Caribou releases? Simply Dan focusing on Daphni?
Yeah that’s it. He was doing Daphni and DJ’ing more whilst figuring out where to go next. I think that at a certain point in every musician’s career they will need some time off to think about how best to move forward. I’m always astonished by artists like Four Tet who can crank out a couple of records every year, that’s incredible.
Caribou’s new album ‘Our Love’ comes out in October. Could you maybe share a bit of info about it?
Well all the studio work is Dan, for the live show it’s us sitting in a rehersal space for a month and figuring out how we’re going to play everything. The idea is that it should be a seperate entity from the record. The live show is very collaborative. We’ve already spent a few weeks working on it and will be spending more later in the Summer.
How did you find RBMA in New York last year?
I attended it last year, it was amazing, the overall calibre of music you get there is as good as it gets. The varied styles are more than I expected, everything from Trap artists to pure Noise artists. There’s only a third as many studios as there are people so you had to collaborate with someone if they were in the room.
What was your favourite collaboration there?
My favourite was with the Anya Kuts from Lovecult who also played here today. It pulled us both from our comfort zones. Combining styles is the best thing about the academy, you sit down at the end and listen to all this stuff and it’s like woah this is nothing like I expected but it’s all really, really good!
What’s the plan for the foreseeable future, will you be keeping on touring, hope to get recording another record?
I’ve already started working on the next Pick A Piper record. I’ve been collaborating with some people I met at RBMA. I don’t feel a need to commit to anything at the moment, I don’t want to place too much emphasis on things. I want it to come naturally.
Interview by Conor McTernan