On the short-bus for the long haul. Unlike the Partridge Family, Snailmate prefers to tour incognito.EXPAND
On the short-bus for the long haul. Unlike the Partridge Family, Snailmate prefers to tour incognito.
Dacotah Ashes

How Snailmate Achieved Road Warrior Status

When I call Kalen Lander of Snailmate, he and his partner, Ariel Monet, are in Wisconsin, about 50 shows into a tour to support the Tempe band’s first full-length album, Love in the Microwave. Sixty shows are ahead, including the Twin Cities Pride festival, Evel Knievel Days in Butte, Montana; and the UFO Festival in Roswell, New Mexico, on the 70th anniversary of the infamous “crash.” Speaking of crashing, Lander sleeps through our scheduled 10:30 phoner and I accuse him of “living the life.”

He and Monet are living the life — one where every day can be an adventure, where you get to meet a lot of cool people receptive to the nerdcore, drum, and synth quirk-rap that you make and who buy the merch you’re serving up. The pair now tour in a converted school short-bus and have a silkscreen press set up in a garage outside of St. Paul, Minnestota, where Monet has some family, and they make more T-shirts before resuming the tour.

In this DIY world, Lander does all the artwork and website stuff, while Monet books all the shows. Although they do everything on their own terms, Lander admits, “It would be nice if we had someone else who could drive once in a while.”

Touring is the whole reason Snailmate exists.

“Ariel had booked a couple of tours with Sister Lips when she played with them,” Lander says. “They had done a three-month tour trek and told her that they didn’t want to tour anymore because it was too much work. At the same time, my old band TKLB [The Kalen Lander Band] had just fallen apart. And Ariel and I were living together and both suddenly without bands. So we worked on some songs and have been pretty much on tour ever since.”

Lander says they play a lot of smaller towns because people there are more excited to see out-of-town acts. “People off the beaten path show up and buy stuff, as opposed to rolling into Portland or Phoenix, to a certain extent, where they’re numb to shows and music,” he says.

Those receptive cities are embracing music made solely with synth and drums, over which Lander’s flow modulates from guttural growls to high-pitch falsetto squeals and conversational modulation. These are vocal gymnastics even the most masochistic thrashcore frontman would never undertake, let alone while playing a synthesizer and locking into Monet’s popping syncopation.

Love in the Microwave’s opening track “Jumper/Cable” hardly affords Lander any breathing opportunities — even the instrumental break requires him to whisper through it. And he has the smarts to send up faux beat poets with “The Waiter”: “Call me the waiter because I’m always waiting, baby, not because I’m a waiter.”

Among the receptive audience who saw the duo perform last tour was multiplatinum-selling engineer Bill Douglass, who has worked closely with R. Kelly, Celine Dion, and Smashing Pumpkins. (And if thinking about working with those three acts gives you a headache, you can tell why Douglass left Chicago for the relative quiet of Colorado Springs.) Douglass put Snailmate up at his Colorado home studio and captured the band’s live act in a series of one-take outbursts.

When I catch up with Lander again, Snailmate have signed to Los Angeles-based label OCML Records, played the mainstage at Evel Knievel Days, and wrapped the Roswell show. “The freaks truly turn out for the UFO fest. Nothing from outer space could be weirder than some people in the Southwest,” he laughs.

Snailmate are scheduled to perform at Tempe Tavern on Friday, August 25. See snailmate.bandcamp.com.

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