Track-By-Track: Snakadaktal’s Sleep In The Water

Snakadaktal were determined not to rush the recording of their debut album. The Melbourne five-piece spent five months on and off working with Dann Hume in The Stables Studios in Gisborne, Victoria, crafting the follow-up to their 2011 self-titled EP and 2012’s “Dance Bear” single.

“We got really experimental because we had that amount of time,” says Phoebe Cockburn (vocals/synthesisers). “We were just able to be spontaneous with ideas and follow them through if we felt like they worked.”

Titled Sleep In The Water, the album debuted at number nine on the Australian charts upon its release last week. We sat down with Cockburn, Joseph Clough (guitar/synthesisers) and Barna Nemeth (drums) to get the lowdown on the inspiration and recording of every song on the album.

BN: I think it was one of the first ones [we wrote], and we wrote it all together when we were at Mt Macedon. We had a writing session up there [at Mushroom boss Michael Gudinski’s place] and it was actually the first song we recorded for the album as well.

JC: It came from a really long time ago. Sean [Heathcliff, vocals/guitar/synthesisers] actually wrote it maybe two years ago. He just had it on his laptop and it had some crazy, crazy sounds in it.

PC: It was quite wild, whistling and…

JC: Over time we learnt how to play it as a band and we kind of turned it into a guitar song.

JC: [Phoebe and I] just did that in my bedroom. It wasn’t like, “Let’s write a song for Snaka”, we were just mucking around. It was pretty funny, we just had a beat and some keys and stuff and Phoebe started singing. We were getting a bit frustrated and then we reversed the singing and it sounded all weird. We kind of liked the melody of the original singing in reverse so then we tried to write new lyrics that sounded like the words in reverse.

PC: In reverse it was suggesting lyrics that I liked so I thought we should just go with it.

JC: I kinda wanted it to be a really bassy, pulsing, subby song and we hadn’t done that before really, so I’m excited about that song.

BN: It was originally called “The 100” because it was 100bpm.

JC: We changed the bpm and we’re really disappointed that we couldn’t call it that.

BN: That’s probably the one that changed most in the studio.

JC: A lot of this record isn’t very happy, it’s kind of solemn, so I guess that’s one song that is kind of bubbly. There’s lots of synths going on and it’s quite sparkly. It’s good to have a bit of that I think.

PC: It started as piano and singing. I wrote it quite a while back. As a demo we all listened to it and thought about it and… I don’t think it ever suggested a really big, happening sound. It was kind of like something that slowly needed to be layered.

JC: When we heard it we didn’t want to change it so we kind of tried to keep it like that as much as possible, just the piano and your voice.

PC: And then Jarrah [McCarty-Smith, bass] made a sexy bassline.

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PC: [Water] seems to be this dynamic that works through the album both sonically and lyrically. That song was originally called “Ocarina”, as in the instrument that the boy plays in Zelda because, I don’t know, we were writing a disco song once…

JC: We were kind of being silly – we got bored of rehearsing our other songs, so we were just like, “Let’s make a disco song” and it probably didn’t go that well.

PC: So the chorus was “Ocarina” originally, and none of us were entirely set on it, or sure about it as a lyric and the melody wasn’t right, so pretty close to the end of recording…

JC: We just decided to try a new chorus melody and lyrics.

BN: I think doing that really saved that song because that song was almost up for eviction off the album.

JC: Yeah, we were thinking about dropping it and that new melody came through and now it’s one of my favourites. The ocean themes and all the water, we didn’t set out like, “Let’s make an album that has a theme”. It just came through – it must be something we’re all connected to the water and the ocean or something.

JC: Phoebe didn’t know how to sidechain. It’s a technical process you do – it makes sound duck out of the way of a kick.

PC: Yeah, synching sound with a rhythm to make it move. I just wanted to try it.

JC: So you did that, but you weren’t making a song.

PC: No, I was just trying to learn how to do it.

JC: You sent it to me and I got really, really excited about it and I made you write something over it.

PC: “Too Soon” is actually three songs put into one.

JC: We had two other ones and they weren’t working as well, but they had really good parts in them and we didn’t want to lose those parts but we couldn’t make the songs work. They were all at really different tempos and in really different keys so we tried to squash the good parts from the other two parts into “Too Soon” and somehow it ended up working.

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BN: I think it started with Jarrah and this piano riff. We felt we just really needed an interlude on the album because the first half is quite like… they’re kind of the more structured pop songs but then the second half is quite different, it’s way more patient. We just felt like there needed to be something, almost like a second beginning, like a fresh start on the album, like a 50-second funky jam thing that you can just relax to.

PC: It feels like you’re in an elevator.

PC: That’s from Sean, he wrote the three parts. He played it to us after a lot of convincing from our behalf, and it was just him and a guitar and it was really beautiful. We all loved it and we didn’t want to change it. Even though the whole thing in its entirety went 15 minutes we wanted it on the album.

JC: We always knew it was going to be pretty tricky to get it on the album because it was so long and people these days can’t listen to things that are very long – they can’t hack it – but it was such a great piece of work we wanted to get it on there. We needed to get the structure of the whole album right and then we needed to get the structure of the three “Sun”s right but it was so hard getting those two things together, it was like a jigsaw.

PC: “Sleep” was written by Sean as well, just the guitar part and singing part, and he introduced that to us at Macedon. We each wrote our own parts for it and worked on the structure and dynamic of it, because it really is just like one big progression. That had a lot to do with the drumming as well, I think that really brought it out.

JC: It really isn’t your typical pop song structure and I think we all really liked it for that reason. When we worked it out up there at Macedon and then we started playing it a little bit we really loved the feeling of playing that song live because it has such a varying range of dynamics, it just took off. After every time we’ve played it it’d start so slow and you have to be in that space and then it would just progress and progress and by the end it was full on and taking off and then we’d end and I’d always be shaking. The process of playing it would leave me tingling and shaking. It was a really weird experience.

PC: I wrote that as a school thing during the last part of my Year 12. It took a while because it was meant to – I was required to do it slowly so I did and that was really interesting. In the process of studying and all of that Joey and I worked on the song at his house and wrote different instrumental parts and so on and recorded it with his gear and we wrote a chorus.

JC: It was pretty interesting actually because in the chorus Phoebe had the signing down and then we tried to make a few other parts, like a bass part and another piano part and we wrote them and it sounded really nice and we were really happy with it and then when we went to re-record it in the studio the singing wasn’t there. And we were recording the bass part on top of the other piano parts and the guitars and things and the notes sounded really weird and off. It was only then that we realised that it needed the vocals and the piano and the bass and the guitars to actually sound good. The harmonies were out without the voice – all these really delicate parts that work only if every other part is there.

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