Why Snailmate Won't Stay Still

Snailmate doesn't just tear it up in the Valley. The world is their oyster.
Snailmate doesn't just tear it up in the Valley. The world is their oyster. Courtesy of Snailmate

[Editor's Note, July 2021: Since the publication of this article, Ariel Monet has come out as transgender. He now goes by Bentley Monet.]

Phoenix is bustling with LGBTQ+ musicians. QueerSounds explores how queerness affects the underground Phoenix music scene and the musicians who are part of it.

Though they spent nine months on the road in 2017, Kalen Lander and drummer Ariel Monet have no plans to slow down. On February 20, the musicians behind the synth-pop meets hip-hop sounds of Snailmate will embark on a six-month, 156-date tour throughout the United States and Canada.

“In 2016, we toured eight months total,” Monet says. “In 2017, we did nine months, and now we’re here about to leave for a six-month tour.”

Because of these extensive tours, Snailmate are just as much a band made by the road as they are by Phoenix. Vocalist/keyboardist Lander and drummer Monet are always thinking of the next step, the next trip. For 2019, their eyes are on Europe and Japan.

“We’ve been developing our contacts throughout the country and it’s big for us to return,” Lander says. “There are a lot of bands that will show up to a place, people will love them, and then they won’t come back for four or five years.”

Lander and Monet began making music as Snailmate in January 2015. The duo's friendship budded as both of their bands were dissolving. From there, the two discovered they had the same interests and goals, so Lander learned how to play the keyboard, and they haven't stayed still since.
“I was in a band called Sister Lip and he was in a band called TKLB?,” Monet says. “He worked at Long Wongs on Apache and McClintock — it’s closed now — and my old band played there every Monday for two years. Then, my band went on tour for three months and they were like, ‘We don’t want to do that anymore,’ and that was all I wanted to do.”

Early on, Lander and Monet knew they wanted their band to facilitate safe spaces for people. The name Snailmate is a reference to the animal's dual set of genitalia, as most snails have both male and female reproductive organs.

“Snails are hermaphrodites, so they accept everyone and they do everything and they are everyone,” Monet says. “It’s a lot about every category of love and acceptance.”

Snailmate wasted little time getting on their feet, debuting at Tempe Tavern on April 4, 2015.

“After that, we played two or three more shows in town, then we just went on tour,” Monet says. “I had a tour booked for my old band, and I didn’t want to lose the contacts, and they didn’t want to do it. So, we had like six songs and we spray-painted some T-shirts and went on tour.”

At that point, Snailmate were still working out their sound. The early recordings and shows weren’t as fully produced as they are now. Lander had just picked up the keyboard and Monet wasn’t doing any back-up vocals. In 2015 and 2016, the band recorded three EPs. Tracks from these EPs were cut up, re-recorded, and re-released for the band's first full-length project Love in the Microwave, which was released on June 14, 2017.

Snailmate’s sounds come from many different influences, none of which help crystallize exactly what the duo's blend of hip-hop, punk, electronic, and pop sounds like.

Lander’s influences include Beck, The Beastie Boys, Tom Waits, and heavier groups like Clutch. Monet’s role models are a bit more contemporary: Amy Winehouse, Tegan and Sara, The Weeknd, and Drake. However, each half of Snailmate agrees that Cake has played a formative part in their musicianship.

While Monet does the scheduling for the band’s intensive tours, Lander writes most of Snailmate’s lyrics. Generally, their music deals with anxieties and worries that young adults face, but the writing often has a tongue-in-cheek, abstract playfulness that kept Lander slightly at distance.

“Lately, [Ariel’s] tried to inspire me to be more open to my feelings and write about more grounded topics,” Lander says. “People have responded really well to the music, but I think it’s hard to relate to.”

Snailmate are officially debuting their newest EP, Existential Anxiety, on February 17, at 4404 South La Corta Drive in Tempe, also known as the house show venue Cigarette Row. They recorded the four-track, eight-and-a-half-minute EP in December.

“It’s about existential anxiety — we wanted that to be a theme, but we didn’t want a whole full-length about it,” Monet says.

“It would get exhausting,” Lander interjects.

When it came time to record Love in the Microwave, Snailmate recorded one take so that the album sounded just like what they’d played on tour. With Existential Anxiety, the band recorded more tracks to create a more dense, nervous sound that can be associated with life’s unease.

“The drums and keys were all recorded together,” Monet says. “We added a couple of little extra things. One of the songs, [Kalen] did two different keyboard parts that he couldn’t play both live. We recorded in Colorado and some of our friends up there did backing vocals and we added some extra zest and effects.”

Queerness isn't a huge theme in Snailmate's music, but it does inspire the way Lander and Monet think and perform. Lander identifies as straight, so Snailmate's queer perspective comes from Monet, who finds ways to express herself when the band performs live.

"For me, a lot of times we'll get shows that are all-ages, and I can see the little kids that might not be out," Monet says. "I feel like I can influence them that it's okay to be themselves."

Monet wrote the chorus of "Radio DJ," Snailmate's quick ode to rough sex that carefully avoids pronouns, making the song inclusive and queer. "I want you / up against the wall / up against the wall," Lander sings with an almost Serj Tankian quality to his voice.

"When we played it and saw people's respond to it, we took out all the pronouns out of it," Lander says. "We tell people before we play it that there are only a few rules with sex: Always ask permission, but other than that do it however you want. And wash your hands."

Monet tries not to overcomplicate the way she speaks about her sexual identity and perception of herself. She doesn't have sprawling definitions of who she is, but rather goes by feeling.

"I go by her pronouns, but I feel like I'm more gender-fluid and depending on the setting I feel like how I feel inside changes," Monet says. "But, I've never really thought about its just kind of who I am."

Snailmate are performing a couple more shows before hitting the road through August. Dates for their tour can be found on  their Facebook page. The Existential Anxiety EP release party is on February 17 at 4404 South La Corta Drive Tempe at 7 p.m. More information on the local acts playing their party can be found the Facebook event page. Tickets are $6 at the door and come with a copy of the EP.
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