Snarls released its debut album, Burst, on March 6, 2020, intending to spend the next several months on tour. But a little more than a week later, these plans evaporated with the arrival of the coronavirus, which obliterated the live music industry across the globe and briefly left the band members wondering if snarls even had a future.
“I remember thinking to myself a few times, ‘Is this it?’” singer Chlo White . “And it was really sad, like, 'Did I just do all of that for nothing?’ … These are my best friends, so not only did I not want this specific band to end, but, personally, I grew up with this and I don’t have a plan B.”
But the musicians persevered, playing a series of internet live streams at the height of social distancing and then decamping to Seattle in the spring of 2021, where they recorded the What About Flowers? EP alongside producer Chris Walla. Both Burst and the Walla-produced EP arrived packed with glittering, hook-laden songs that tended to walk far darker ground, the musicians delivering lines about reconciling past traumas, navigating anxiety and confronting fears that their lives had somehow veered off the expected course. “I’m not who I thought I was gonna be,” White sings on “Twenty.”
The emotions on Flowers were at times so heavy that in the studio Walla latched onto the phrase “maximum heartbreak” as a means of describing snarls’ aims for the record – a description guitarist Mick Martinez now has tattooed in the producer’s handwriting on her right arm.
But with the four musicians setting out for Norway today (Monday, April 10), where they will spend the next three weeks recording a new snarls full-length alongside Walla, a more hopeful direction has firmly taken root.
“Now it’s like maximum heartmend,” said White, who joined Martinez and singer/bassist Riley Hall for an early April interview at a Clintonville coffee shop (the band’s lineup is rounded out by Martinez’s drummer brother, Max). “What I’ve been telling people is that this album lives at the intersection of platonic friendships and romantic relationships. … It’s about loving your friends, and relationships, and being a little gay for your friends, and wanting to cuddle them. And then also there’s a song about manifestation. It’s all just very happy and uplifting.”
“The last EP was pretty bleak,” Hall said. “And we were like, ‘Yeah, we don’t want to be sad anymore.’”
Martinez said this shift is rooted at least in part in the chaos of the early COVID era – a period of turmoil that led the band members to take greater stock of those things they held dear. “With everything that’s happened in this country and the world the last few years, my priorities have totally shifted to the handful of people I really care about,” the guitarist said.
It’s also part of a growing understanding within the musicians, who have transitioned into adulthood as members of this band, that the potential for making snarls a full-time proposition is as close now as it has been since those crackling pre-COVID weeks, even if the mindset is different.
“I still feel like a kid sometimes … but now I want to start treating this as my career,” Riley said.
“I’ve always been really confident in our band, but now more than ever I’ve been like, ‘Why not put all your eggs in the fucking basket and run with it,’” White said. “I’m not holding back anything at all – even emotions. I’ve talked with a lot of other lyricists, and they like to use more filtered versions of their feelings. But this new album is really direct.”
While the four are approaching the band with a different intention, other aspects of the music haven’t changed. “The motivation is still very dream-like, very child-like,” White said. “I do it because it makes me happy, and I just want to travel and see stuff and experience things.”
This is part of what has propelled the musicians to make the 17-hour, 3,891-mile trek from Columbus to Trondheim, Norway – a city Walla has long called home. Once settled in, the plans are to record in a trio of locales: DreamFarm Studios (a rural retreat located two hours west of Trondheim), an old church near the city center, and Walla’s bunker-like home studio.
“I think we’ll focus on different instrumentation in different areas,” Martinez said. “I think this first spot with the huge room (DreamFarm) will be really good for drums. And then [Walla] said one of the other spots has a ton of keyboards and guitars and pedals, so we’ll focus on Guitar World there.”
“I’m excited to do choir vocals in the church room,” White said. “That’s my shit right there.”
The recording process should be further aided by the comfort level previously established between Walla and the band, which involved developing an in-studio lingo that blends his technical acumen with the more metaphorical language the snarls mates have always employed in describing the sounds they’re hoping to achieve.
“It’s like, ‘How do we get this part to sound like glitter?’” Martinez said, and laughed.
“I want violent catharsis by the end of the riff,” Hall added.
The songs for the new record started to take loose shape when the band was on tour in September, with writing sessions accelerating toward the tail end of 2022 as the players homed in on a sound and more intentional approach. “We have a really concrete concept for this record, which I love, because I love concept albums,” White said. “With this album we were really conscious, like, ‘No, we can’t use that word because it’s going to give this direction to the song.’ We wanted it to be more positive, and we were always conscious of that.”