New York City is known for a rich music scene, particularly when it comes to musicians involved in jazz, soul, funk and blues. Snack Cat is an outfit comprising of musicians that cross these genre lines; the members bring in experiences from working with artists as diverse as Roberta Flack, Greg Allman, Grace Potter and Jersey Boys.
The band’s sound — a showcase of their roots in R&B, soul, jazz and other subgenres, comes out in full-force on their self-titled debut EP, released last year, recorded in NYC’s Lower East Side.
Aleksi Glick, Snack Cat’s bandleader and lead guitarist (pictured far left above), spoke to me over Facetime, and I asked him what the band’s current experiences were with regards to their place in the music ‘scene’, with genres and having an engaged fan base, and the effect that isolation is having on musicians.
DAN: You’ve got the new single ‘Young Love’ out right now. What’s the reception been like for the song?
ALEKSI: The reception’s been very good, it’s gotten a fair amount of radio play, and it’s interesting because when you’re a band like Snack Cat, it’s quite hard to classify, you can’t say it’s pop, R&B or funk, it’s kind of a combination.
That being said we have quite a niche audience. But the audience that we have really seem to gravitate towards us and engage with the music. So with that in mind I think they’ve really liked it, and the song is a really good step in the next direction.
Right now, we’re still trying to increase our audience, because in New York in the East Coast people know who we are, but we’re trying to expand, so that we can get to do national tours, festivals, and stuff like that. That’s our goal for the next year.
DAN: The solo on ‘Young Love’ – what instrument is that?
ALEKSI: Oh, okay yeah, so that’s actually a vocoder. Sharik, our keyboard player, he’s singing into it and playing it at the same time. So he’s got the total Stevie Wonder thing going, it’s very cool.
DAN: You said that it’s hard to place yourself in any one genre. Do you feel like that’s something you need to do?
ALEKSI: I don’t really feel like there’s a need. There are certain platforms that want you to do that, so, unfortunately, to get onto any kind of Spotify playlist or anything like that, for example, I’ll need to pick one or two genres that we are. So there are certain platforms, and in terms of the general mass public I think they do want to know what you are.
That being said, I think music lovers like you and me don’t really feel that need [to choose], as much as the people who don’t have music as part of their everyday lives.
DAN: I completely agree, and I think if you do pigeonhole yourself, especially as a listener, you don’t end up hearing new music and bands that crossover those different genres.
ALEKSI: Yeah, I think the good thing about not pigeonholing yourself is that you really can experiment in these different genres. You know, we’re a mix of full-time musicians in New York that have had these various backgrounds and gigs, like I come from a jazz background, David Engelhard the sax player used to play with The Zach Brown Band and John Mayer, he has more of a sort of Americana thing, and Nathan [Ellman] plays with his band Brass Against who are pretty well know, and they’re more 90s rock meets rap, so there’s this real eclectic mix. I feel like we’re able to let our musical voices shine when we don’t pigeonhole ourselves.
DAN: What’s the influence that led you into the band, is it jazz primarily, or is there anything else that’s really driving you?
ALEKSI: Definitely soul, too. Funk and Soul – again I don’t want to pick a ‘primary’ genre, but they’re some of the biggest influences. When I first started playing in New York, it was mainly jazz gigs here and there, but I really started to fall in love with the music of people like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Stevie Wonder, and then more modern stuff like Vulfpeck and Hiatus Koyote.
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I just kind of took all those influences and was like “You know, I really wanna start a soul band. That was the initial idea for Snack Cat. Of course with all these different influences, we’re not just classic soul music or classic funk music, there’s tons of jazz, especially in the harmonic progressions where there’s a lot of improvisation, a lot of songs have an improvised solo. A huge part of the live show is that too, so I think as a live show the improvisation is one of our strongest assets.
DAN: What’s the feeling that you’re getting from the audiences, is it that they want to be involved?
ALEKSI: Yeah, it’s a very inclusive show, we like to have the audience feel like they’re a part of it. There’s a lot of audience interaction. I’d say that generally at a Snack Cat show the audience is really engaged and knows what’s going on, but more importantly they’re listening intensively, at least those that are fans. There’s a lot of musicians that come to the show, and people that love music, so I’d say that we have a pretty engaged audience, and it’s one of the more special things about the band.
DAN: Obviously it’s hard to have a conversation these days without bringing up coronavirus and the effect that isolation has had on bands. We’ve just added each other on Facebook and I can see that you’ve mentioned there how it’s going to affect bands, whatever kind of music you perform, touring is a huge aspect of it, not just in terms of revenue but connecting with the fans, too.
ALEKSI: It has been difficult, we just had a really big show that we had to cancel, and some other touring dates.
DAN: How did you feel about that?
ALEKSI: It’s tough, you know, and everybody in the band is a full-time musician, so a bunch of us do studio work and broadway gigs, but the good thing is that we have this enormously supportive commmunity, and we’re also all in this together and we have all this time to create. But it’s certainly a scary time to be a musician. It’s only been a few weeks so we haven’t seen the effect in terms of audience yet, but we’re definitely going to have to release content differently, in fact Chantal, our lead singer, is going back to Australia for a couple of months, that’s where she’s from, so even not being in the same city is going to feel different.
But I also feel like it’s an opportunity to get better at certain things, for example I’ve been recording at home more, and working on more production stuff, so we have a set up so the band can work more remotely. So I’m trying to find the silver lining, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult, and it’s going to be a time for self-reflection and taking a step back, saying “Where do we go from here?”
DAN: I suppose with you guys being in different places, a lot of your sound comes from that New York scene, and your sound could potentially change as a result of that.
ALEKSI: Yeah absolutely, for instance if we – god forbid I hope this whole thing is done in a month or two but nobody really knows unfortunately (laughs) if this led to more things being created separately, everything will probably be multi-tracked, and people will probably use more digital instruments which we generally don’t do. We record in sections to give it a live sound, so that would change how we would have to record. Now that said it could be a cool thing, our tracks have a high quality production but they don’t have a ton of production, just because we want more of a live sound, but if this were to last longer I can definitely imagine that could change the sound of upcoming releases. But yeah, we’re all hoping this is done in a couple months, but we’ll see.
DAN: What kind of music are you enjoying at the moment?
ALEKSI: I feel like what’s really been saving me at the moment is being able to practice on my guitar, and I’ve been writing a song just about every day, which has been really helpful as an outlet for Anxiety – that I think everybody has been feeling. As far as stuff that I’ve been listening to, I’ve actually been listening to some more Folk and Americana music than I usually do, just cause that kind of music is really comforting. Like I’ve been listening to some Lucius, I’m listening to a bunch of Tedeschi Trucks Band, I guess music that’s really nourishing for the soul. There’s a band called Bailen, a New York-based band who are good friends of ours, I’ve been listening to them quite a bit too because they have these gorgeous three-part harmonies and amazing singers. Some of my favourite guitar players like John Scofield and Peter Bernstein, they really put me in a good place.
DAN: Really kind of soul enriching stuff.
ALEKSI: Exactly – like Paul Simon actually, I’ve been listening to him more than I usually do. Like before this happened I was listening to a lot of Caspian and Vulfpeck, and a lot of stuff that I kind of just felt I was learning from, and it was making me happy, but it was less of the sort of comforting ‘Mom’s chicken soup’ type of music that I’m listening to now.