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August 20, 2007

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One of the strongest under-the-radar indie rock releases of 2006 was Anti Anti by the Atlanta-based Snowden. Frontman Jordan Jeffares and company created an dark, icy release that garnered praises from Pitchfork, CMJ, Spin, Stereogum and others. It seemed as if the sky was the limit.

But time has passed and, as we recently learned, Jeffares says things aren't all rosy. In fact, he was "very tired" at the time of this interview: from the constant work of trying to keep his band afloat, from touring, and maybe even from the incessant partying on the band's recent tour with Kings of Leon.

Either way, Jeffares has a lot to say about the future of Snowden, the hopes for the next album and what it means to be innovative.

SSv: I read a quote of yours from a year ago that said, "I constantly feel that good music is innovative, and since I wanna make good music, I feel like it should always be innovative." What does that mean for the music you're creating right now?
Jeffares: What I was saying there was that good music was always something that pushed boundaries and tried different things. Sometimes that failed like in the case of the soft ballads of the 70s. I feel that when you look into music history, there are always people that were trying to do something weird, whether that was tonally or instrumentally and that's something I was trying to carve out for myself. I'm always trying to keep that in the front of my mind that each song needed to have something in it that I thought was different. I did that while I was writing.

So whether it was little things like leaving out bass guitar for abnormally parts of songs or not having the guitars as prominent or using choral vocals, which are not really big in mainstream music. Or thinking in terms of layers instead of riff rock. I hate writing riff rock. It bores the hell out of me. So I try to make my songs rich in textures and ambience. So that's what I'm thinking.

SSv: So where do you go to continue to innovate?
Jeffares: Yeah, by trying to top that record what I plan on doing is that the slow and melodic will get even more slow and melodic. The pulsy, odd rhythms will become even more odd. I'm trying experiment a lot more with those. I'm working a lot with latin rhythms because I haven't heard a lot of that in the rock setting in awhile. So that's the stuff I'm thinking right now.

“I don't know how we've stayed together without completely snapping, breaking up wise. Things might change in the near future, you never know. But Snowden, as long as I'm working, exists?°¦”

SSv: Do you feel innovation is the primary factor to making good music?
Jeffares: Absolutely not. That's something that I, maybe to my own fault, hold onto. But there are bands making great 60s pop right now. I really respect those bands and I totally dig on that, too. Sometimes I think that trying to be innovative and cut new ground all the time just doesn't work. Sometimes you need to relax and write a pop song.

SSv: But not so much for yourself?°¦
Jeffares: I'm trying to stay open minded to the fact that sometimes that may just be what I feel like writing. You may just hear something like that on the next record. I try to not shut off my mind to ideas that I think are too indulgent and old-fashioned because someone might say that I'm copying anyone else.

SSv: So for Snowden are there other factors for good music, even if you give credibility or permission to others to not be innovative?
Jeffares: Rock music and pop music as we hear it today is nothing but little twists on things that have already been done. And that's how it has always been – little twists on things that have already been done. So for me to say that I'm trying to be innovative is nothing more – and this might be taken the wrong way by some people of me having the audacity to say that Snowden is mindblowingly innovative – than just saying that I'm trying to take something that's been done and twist it, do something weird and different. I'm always trying to be clever with my writing, especially with my guitar parts and sometimes lyrically. All that means is I'm trying to put my quirky spin on things.

SSv: I assume you're always writing to some extent?°¦
Jeffares: Exactly. I'm always writing. There are going to be tracks on the next record that have been finished and done for three or four years but I didn't feel that I had the position, as a young, budding band, to be as aggressive with my track selection on the first record. There are songs that have been done that some of my friends think are some of the stronger Snowden songs that I just didn't feel I could bust out and do on the first record.

SSv: What keeps you from pulling the trigger on those?
Jeffares: To give you a sound byte, I felt I needed to make The Bends before I made OK Computer.

SSv: Do you feel like Radiohead is an apt comparison?
Jeffares: They are a pillar of my creative insight. I love how despite the fact that not everyone loves their newest stuff, they continue to cut new ground. Always.

SSv: What's the tangible timeline you're on for a new album?
Jeffares: Well, I'm working on them now. I've gotta get home from tour. We've been on the road for so long that I have to rebuild my studio. It's crude and very simple, but I'm trying to set up shop in a friend's loft and trying to get everything situated. I'm having to look for work so I can afford new equipment. But there should be new songs being performed live within the next two months. And I'm looking to cut an EP in the next two months and then a record will be done in the winter. It should be done by the end of the year and pressed by spring.

SSv: Even though you're signed to Jade Tree, you're definitely known for being a DIY band. Why is that?
Jeffares: Well, if you want to actually try and break past being a DIY band, you can't just wait for a label like Jade Tree. That just won't happen. You can't sit back and wait for your 9.8 from Pitchfork. Most of the time that isn't going to come through. Jade Tree is a small label. They have a minimal budget and, with that alone, if you're not hustling and getting out and doing shit on your own, nine times out of ten it's not going to happen. It takes an intense amount of work.

SSv: So what do they provide and what do you need to do yourself?
Jeffares: They supply the bare basics. They coordinate radio promotions. They coordinate a publicist. They press the CDs and get them distributed. Past that, what makes or breaks a band with a small budget, because there's not a wave of advertising and CDs sitting on bar tables everywhere that you can get from Vice or Atlantic or other major labels, it's about non-stop touring. It's about staying in touch with everyone from to AOL specials to Turner broadcast things. There's all sorts of behind the scenes things. Usually that's a managerial job but I don't have a manager. It's all stuff the band has to do. It's really a pain in the ass how much networking it is.

I thought that once we had a record label, it was going to be smooth sailing. I thought that I would never type another email to anyone and would never have to check another thing. But it's doubled since then, because the band's exposure has increased. But that also means that there's a lot more to manage and that's all still being done by me.

When you realize we're at a time in music – and this is a good and bad thing - where there are more people who have a shot at getting their music out and you are constantly having to remind people that you are still in the running, that even though the record's been out that we're still on the road and coming through your town. People forget. I try and stay on top of music all the time, but everything ends up falling through the cracks because there are hundreds of bands that are terrific out there.

SSv: How tired are you right now?
Jeffares: I'm really tired. I'm really tired. I'm gonna crank out this next record but hopefully things will start to pick up. It's frustrating to work like I've been working and still have to come home and bartend. So hopefully we're paying our dues right now and we won't have to wait for forever.

SSv: Is there a breaking point coming or did I catch you in a phase?
Jeffares: You caught me a in a tired phase. We just got home. For the most part, we've done six weeks on and four weeks off for the last nine months and it's not the easiest touring. But I can't complain really because we're not living in the van. But I like to write music and it's difficult to do on the road. So I think I'm just tired.

And there are band tensions and everything. I don't know how we've stayed together without completely snapping, breaking up wise. Things might change in the near future, you never know. But Snowden, as long as I'm working, exists. Things may change, but the band will still go on.

SSv: Let's switch gears a bit because you just went overseas with Kings of Leon. I'd love to just get the best moment from that tour.
Jeffares: How about the next morning when I was told all the things I did the night before? Apparently I was dancing between Liv Tyler and Natalie Imbruglia with my sunglasses on in this basement club, none of which I remember. And I never blackout. It was good ole' rock ?n' roll touring. It was free booze from 5:00 until the time you passed out every day. The Kings are such nice guys. They have after parties after every show. It was normal stuff. I never thought I'd see boobs so much. It was just that classic rock touring, which a lot of bands don't get to do. Maybe they don't want to. But at least I can say I've seen it myself.

SSv: Is that for you?
Jeffares: I love to party but as far as the women goes, I don't think I'll ever be into groupies. But it is fun. I'm still in my twenties. I don't know if it will ever get really old. Maybe when I have a kid. I don't know. I'm not a real hardcore womanizer, but it was definitely fun. It was like spring break all the time.

SSv: How was the music?
Jeffares: I really fell in love with Kings of Leon. I'd never really given them a chance because they were a major label, highly stylized band. But after I'd sat down with their records and after the second show we played with them in the U.S., I really got into their stuff. They write great pop songs. The lead singer's voice is really cool, really different. The bass work is really cool. I'm a big bass and rhythm fan. Hopefully that will be the last time I ever write a band off.

SSv: It's been a year since Anti Anti came out. How has your perspective on that album changed?
Jeffares: I was hoping for the fairy tale of an indie band like it would just pop like Wolf Parade or The Walkmen or something. But Snowden?°¦ we have some hardcore fans out there, but for the most part the next record will be the first time they hear us.

SSv: Is that surprising to you?
Jeffares: No, it's not surprising. When you realize how much money goes into the bands that make it onto most people's radar, we're talking $100,000 or even $250,000 or maybe more. That's what it takes to get the name recognition. What kills me is that there are people that would love Snowden, but why should they know Snowden? They don't read about us every day in the glossy magazines because we don't have a top dollar publicist. We didn't have the killer Pitchfork review. We had some good press but it wasn't enough to get us over this threshold.

That's why I look at the first album like I do. I thought we were going to pop big and we were going to have the fairy tale story being on a really small label. But hopefully on the next record we'll have enough thrust from the last record that this one will be like our first. Jade Tree said and made it clear that they're a platform label. They will be the label we start from but we won't blow any minds from day one.

SSv: At least they were up front with you.
Jeffares: Yeah, they said to be realistic. I was realistic, but I was also hopeful. So that's where things are.

SSv: Do you have that inner feeling that if you just keep making the music you feel you're supposed to, that you'll eventually break through?
Jeffares: I do. I think the next record will be the real introduction to the band now that we have enough interest out there. By the time the record breaks, it will not be the first time people have heard of Snowden. We're already on enough people's radar that people are waiting to hear and see what the next move is, unlike the first record which nobody was waiting for. This time around, people are waiting to see, so I think this will really push the band forward.

Stereo Subversion

Matt Conner