It’s become somewhat of a strange recent tradition for Australia’s biggest winter festival to wildly underestimate the pulling power of certain rising acts, choosing to allocate a mid-afternoon tent slot to a band that could pack out the main stage in primetime. This year the distinction went to Snakadaktal, who on the eve of their debut album’s release, managed to flood Splendour in the Grass’ GW McLennan tent with a cavalcade of eager punters on the final day of the festival.
It was an epoch-defining moment for the nascent Melbourne collective, capping off years of hard work ascending through the ranks in festivals such as last year’s Boogie and this year’s Laneway circuit. The Splendour appearance also marks the band’s final performance before the release of Sleep In The Water, their debut LP following on from the breakthrough success of their 2011 self-titled EP.
Speaking in the weeks leading up to Splendour, and ahead of the Sleep In The Water national launch tour, vocalist/synth-master Phoebe Cockburn recounts the long lead-up to the record from her home in the foot of the Dandenongs.
“We’ve been eager to write this record for as long as we have been together. So that process begun a long time ago,” Cockburn recalls. “It was only when we’d finished certain tours and other things that we were able to knuckle down and really being to write this record. That probably started about a year ago. We always intended to create a record that had its own life and we didn’t want listeners to think that they had got their head around it in the first listen. There were certain things we really focused on and tried to push when recording.”
Honing their captivating sonic craft into the LP form, Snakadaktal have achieved a formidable sense of cohesion on Sleep In The Water. That sense of fluidity was a fully motivated choice, explains Cockburn. “We wanted the record to have a strong sense of cohesiveness before we started recording. One of the themes that flows across the record is water. It works as a natural dynamic across the album, lyrically and sonically. We wanted those sounds to be able to play onto each other and flow into each song, for it to be one body of work rather than a bundle of individual songs.”
Emerging in such a prominent fashion at an early age, Cockburn exudes an erudite purposefulness when it comes to discussing music as a profession. “It’s been my main focus in my life. With age, development comes naturally as well. So it probably has a lot to do with the process of recording our EP in comparison to the LP. It was very much a home job when recording the EP, recording vocals straight after jumping in the pool. It was summer and we were singing into a cupboard. With this record, we had a lot more technical capacity with the way we recorded it, plus a producer [Dann Hume] to help us out with that,” says Cockburn. “He brought a great friendship that we all shared with him. He’s a really talented musician in his own right. He was able to listen to us in the way we always wanted, and he was able to move through the record patiently in the way we always wanted to.”
Due to in large part to their 2011 triple j Unearthed High victory, the image of school-aged wunderkinds has stuck with Snakadaktal in the subsequent years. But the Steiner School alumni have managed to rise above the tag in 2013.
“We’ve all grown up in different ways over the past couple of years, but wholly we are a bunch of friends and that’s always the priority for us … It was a huge focus when we began releasing music, especially with the Unearthed High competition. [Unearthed] became a huge part of who we are. But we always wanted to present ourselves in a way that wasn’t so much about the image or the age, just about the music. That seems to have become more possible as we’ve grown up a little bit.”
With a striking sound that is very much international in flavour, Snakadaktal possess the makings of big-time musical export. Aspirations of this scale are beginning to be realised, as exhibited by an overseas sojourn earlier in the year. “We’ve done a little tour in the UK which took place in May this year,” Cockburn says. “It was great, we were able to explore different venues and the live music scene in London and various other cities of the UK. That helped us to spread that sound internationally a little bit, even just to dip our toes into that water. I guess that’s the beginning of what we’d like to do so far. But we’re happy to focus as much as we can on Australia to begin with. We have no rush in terms of that.”
Experiencing radio success with their self-titled EP and subsequent singles, the band have steadily been easing in tracks from Sleep In The Water into their current setlist. Absent from the album’s tracklisting, however, is the relatively fresh single ‘Dance Bear’. The decision to start entirely anew for Sleep In The Water might not have been the easiest to make, but it was the one that felt most natural for Snakadaktal. “From the beginning, we were clear about making this record as fresh on its own as we could. We never intended to bring any songs in like that, we just wanted to move forward. And we’ll continue to do so.”
Belying their youth, Snakadaktal emanate a captivating aural signature. “I suppose it’s intimate, and quite dreamy,” says Cockburn. “It’s difficult to say, but we always try to find intimacy with certain parts of the tracks. But at the same time, we try to create a strong dynamic during the songs. That’s probably a big part of the sound as well. We are very influenced by dance music. We wouldn’t expect people to dance to our music, but that certainly is a big influence. Sonically, it’s certainly put a big stamp on this record and hopefully there are subtle grooves that people can relate to in some way.”
Fitting in with the album’s aquatic motif, Cockburn is content to go with the flow of the journey onto its next chapter. “In terms of aspirations for this album, it’s already taken us where we wanted it to. A national tour is really exciting for us, so anything else that comes along will be really overwhelming and great for us. It seems to be a constantly confusing state that we all get into live. It’s sort of a half-belief – we feel like we’re there and we have this huge expectation for ourselves, but at the same time it is so surreal and it is so beyond what we’d ever expected. Maybe we’re only half there sometimes,” she laughs. “But particular moments – I’d have to say in the UK playing a headline show and the room was filled and we just couldn’t believe it. That was quite a big one.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK