SKNAIL is the pseudonym of visionary Swiss composer-producer Blaise Caillet, known for startlingly original innovations in jazz, including electronic experimentation, found sounds, and stirring, poetic lyrics from engaging lead singer Nya. Their first album, Glitch Jazz, was released in 2013 and their second album, Snail Charmers, in 2015. Recently Caillet took the time to answer our questions about his band, his background, and his novel approach to music production.
What elements in your childhood and early years pointed you toward music?
I took piano lessons as a child because my parents wanted me to learn an instrument, but because I felt it as an obligation I didn’t take much pleasure in it. Later, at the age of 17, I fell in love with the guitar and started teaching myself to play.
The guitar allowed me to discover and explore different musical genres. I was at first drawn to rock and folk, but my attention quickly turned to jazz; the rich sonorities and harmonies came to me like a revelation. As I started to love and play jazz I started to take “serious” professional guitar courses at the Ecole de Jazz et de Musique Actuelle (EJMA) – the jazz school in my town (Lausanne, Switzerland).
What was your most beneficial educational experience?
The years I spent with my guitar teacher at EJMA, Jean-Pierre Pasquier, a great classical and jazz guitarist, and a great teacher. He had a lot of influence on me as a musician and as a human being, especially with his philosophy on how to conceive music. He even let me replace him to accompany a singer he didn’t have enough time to play with. It was a great start in the musician’s life!
Another man who had a lot of influence on me was Popol Lavanchy, a great jazz double bass player I’ve often played with.
As a composer, my most beneficial educational experience is all the artists I’ve played with and different styles of music I’ve heard over the years.
What was the most mesmerizing musical experience of your life?
The first time I realized I was able to compose music! First with my guitar, during the early years, and then with my computer, when I started to record other musicians and arrange my compositions.
What kind of artistic journey brought you to the creation of SKNAIL?
I noticed that the artists who had the most influence on me were the artists who played in a very personal way, who tried to open new doors and who weren’t afraid to play unconventional music.
I love discovering new sounds, new music or new mixes of different kinds of music, and new artistic concepts. This is what’s really exciting in art in general and in music especially: to make things move, to amaze and to shock, not to repeatedly reproduce the same format that reassures people and is designed just to make money.
The purpose of my artistic journey is not to play music that other people have done better before me. I have something new and original to say, and I’m brave enough to say it!
How was Snail Charmers recorded?
In the same way as for the first album, Glitch Jazz. I have two methods of producing: First I create the “electro” base, and then I layer the musicians’ recordings on top of this base.
My second method is the opposite: I give the musician complete freedom to improvise alone without a musical background, after which I compose the track on the improvisation! In both cases I record the musicians one by one. As I go along, I compose, change, and produce the track in response to the inspirations and improvisations of the musicians.
Nya sounds exactly like an American rapper, and these lyrics sound like they were written by Gil Scott-Heron during a mellow period. How did that emerge within a Swiss jazz band?
Nya was born in Switzerland, but he spent several years of his childhood and teenage years in the US. Music and poetry know no borders, and he grew up listening to a lot of dub poetry and spoken word artists like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mutabaruka, Benjamin Zephaniah, as well as Laurie Anderson, Frank Zappa, and Tom Waits.
However, unlike most of the poets cited above, Nya’s lyrics aren’t rooted in one particular community of time and space frame but rather tend to be as open and universal as possible.
What’s your favourite instrument to play, and why?
Guitar, because this is the instrument I learned to play. But there isn’t any guitar in the SKNAIL projects and I don’t play any instrument in them; I prefer to listen to other musicians playing for me, on my compositions. I definitely like the role of producer.
Besides, all the musicians that play for me are great jazz and classical professional and have a higher musical level than me as a guitarist.
How did the band members meet?
This is funny, but the band members met only once: the days we shot the two live studio session videos (you can check them on http://www.sknail.com or on my YouTube channel). It was the first time they met each other aside from having already met in the musical and professional arena).
It happened like that because when I started to realize this project in 2011 I always recorded one musician after another, and “built” the tracks between each recording session. I know this is a strange way to work, but very suitable for me because I have a small studio and very good but very little equipment.
Why is the new album called Snail Charmers?
For the latest album Snail Charmers, I met an American guy on Facebook named Efrain Becerra who was living in Phoenix, Arizona. When I saw his amazing futuristic and design artwork I contacted him to ask him if he could design the new SKNAIL CD cover and artwork.
The artistic concept was this: What would a 3147 AD jazz club or jazz musician be like? When he designed the snail with a digital shell listening to the music on a “spider phone” I immediately thought about Nya’s recorded song “Snail Charmers.” The “charmers” are the robot-jazz musicians playing futuristic jazz music for the snail, and the snail listens to this music from a loudspeaker in the shape of spider! This is our 3147 AD jazz club!
The video for the title track is beautiful and deeply surreal. Can you explain the ideas behind it?
I asked another guy I met on Facebook to realize a 3D video animation for the first track. His name is Uğur Engin Deniz and he comes from Izmir in Turkey. I was very impressed by his work and his “glitchy” artistic approach. It was his idea to animate the very sharp and glitchy rhythm of the music with the 3D animation, as well as adding a Buddha with a snail leaving behind it, and a sphere and a trumpet deforming in rhythm with the music.
A funny thing about the production of the artwork with Efrain and the video with Engin: I’ve never met them, nor spoken with them, nor seen them in person. Everything was discussed and created by e-mail, WhatsApp or Facebook PM.
What’s your next project?
I’m now preparing the third SKNAIL album, with the same musicians, and adding two new musicians and a brand new design and artwork. But the rest will have to remain a surprise!