[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
“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
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
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.”
“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
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.”
“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
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
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
"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."