In Pound For The Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.
Snailmate's Kalen Lander is still kind of a newbie, though you'd probably never guess he's only been playing keys since the band's inception in 2015.
Lander was born and raised in the Chandler/Tempe area. He started on bass, joining some pop punk bands back in middle school. However, his bass skills were not up to par. So he delved into other ways of making music.
At 15, following his brief stint as a bassist, Lander started composing using the classic Fruity Loops software. He also realized he was more of a rapper than a singer at that time. He felt more comfortable adding more words to songs and rapping them instead of singing them.
Flash forward to 2008 and Lander began fronting his own band, TKLB. That lasted until 2014, when he met Ariel, who's the drummer in Snailmate. She pushed him to play keys instead of simply rapping over his beats. He hasn't looked back since.
Now, the band does 200-plus shows a year on the road, and they are growing. Luckily, we were able to talk with Kalen about his gear, new approaches to songwriting, and the band's show on First Friday, December 1.
New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Kalen Lander: The first synthesizer I ever bought was the Arturia Microbrute, and that little beast shaped our heaviest songs. It makes the darkest, nastiest sounds you can imagine, and it allowed me to express my inner metalhead and create heavy synth riffs. It destroyed a ton of speakers until I got an independent subwoofer to help handle its tone.
What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
My Novation MiniNova is the MVP of our live show. It has incredible bass tones and fat leads that are easily warped and modulated on the fly. It also has a vocoder that is really versatile. It’s similar to a Microkorg but way more unique and powerful in my opinion. Now if I could only stop breaking keys on it...
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
I recently got my hands on an Audiothingies Micromonsta, which is a small, handmade synthesizer from France. They are constantly sold out and on a nearly endless back order. Mine is number one of 72, so I think that is pretty neat. It sounds so good, and I control it with a keytar, which allows me a lot more room to dance on stage. Also, my mic is a Silver Sennheiser e838, which are no longer manufactured. It sounds amazing and nobody can mistake it for their own.
Just listened to “Suture Self.” Super fun and wild track. Love the vocoder vocals, synth tones, and the beats. What was your process while creating and recording this song?
Thank you! "Suture Self" is a song that was played with my old band. It was never released on an album and I thought it deserved to be resurrected with Snailmate. We completely rewrote it from the ground up. We knew it had to be fairly simple to highlight the lyrics, but also heavy and danceable. We also wanted to spotlight the vocoder on the hook. The vocoder gets such a great reaction live, and is so fun to use that we can’t stop playing the song, even though it is one of our oldest! Ariel has such an amazing ability to lock her drums in with my playing, while head-banging like a maniac and screaming, that it drives people crazy.
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Before Snailmate, you never really played an instrument, just programmed beats and rapped over the top. Now, you are playing keyboards while also doing vocals in a touring band. How does this shift affect your approach to songwriting these days?
It definitely changed things more than I anticipated. First of all, just programming my brain to do vocals and play a completely separate melody with my hands was the hardest part. Now, I’m able to switch things up on a dime and go into strange movements and time signatures that would have been impossible to program. Ariel has a knack for dynamics, which has inspired me to try different things with my voice — other than monotonous rhyming. We try and approach every song differently, and having someone with an ear for pop music, and formal musical training has been eye opening. Writing music in your bedroom, an echo chamber with nobody to bounce ideas off of, can be stifling.
Snailmate has a rare local performance scheduled for the Final First Friday of the year. Any words you wish to share with fans about the show?
This show is going to be epic. It is being put on by Dagger Pan Productions, who are masterminds behind Miami Loco Fest, Outerspace, Firehouse, and so much more. This takes place at Bedlam, which is their brand-new warehouse venue. They have one of the best sound systems in town, and they are just really great people to work with. We are playing with our awesome buddies The Psychedelephants and I Am Hologram! It’s gonna be a wild, late night downtown.
We are about to go record with the legendary Bill Douglass at Royal Recordings in Colorado Springs. Our new EP Existential Anxiety will be out in early 2018.
Snailmate is scheduled to perform on Friday, December 1, at Bedlam, 2431 East Van Buren Road. The all-ages show starts at 6 p.m.