Snowman - Human And/Or Alien, X-Press, Oct 2006

Snowman launch their self-titled debut album this Saturday, October 21, at Gilkison’s Dance Studio with guests Scvendes, Streetlight and DJ Steph. BOB GORDON speaks with songwriter/guitarist Joe McKee.

They were the kids who stayed up all night and went scurrying around the neighbourhood. And they still are. Snowman, Perth’s enfant terribles have for the last several years married noise, mood and song and have finally now done so on a debut self-titled album.

“It’s nice to have a record out there that we’re satisfied with,” says guitarist Joe McKee. “It’s not like we listen to it or anything, but it’s great to have it in shops so people can hear and give us some feedback. It’s a goal that we’ve been working towards ever since we were wee tackers. It’s very nice. And that someone’s putting it out for us is even nicer.”

The album’s been released on the tasty Melbourne label, Dot Dash, itself distributed by the highly regarded Inertia Recordings. The album’s been out for a month now, to desirable acclaim. McKee – who is not one to overly rave on issues such as popularity - says the fact that people have been receptive to the album “is another positive.” The thing is Snowman are used to getting a reaction, but more so from the provocative nature of their live performances. Putting out an album for folks to take home works on a more cerebral level.

“It is,” he agrees, “people come to the gigs because they like you or heard good things. It’s a different medium, playing gigs is an entirely different artform to making a record. It’s a different thing entirely. A lot of different levels of creativity go into making a record, whereas playing a gig is much more primal, I suppose. It’s more instant and instinctive; you’re feeding off the audience. Whereas a record is more voyeuristic in a sense that it’s more about the mind than the body.”

According to McKee the members of Snowman are not wont to sit around and conceive a group statement of where they’re at or what they want to convey. Even so, it appears to have happened naturally.

“The songs span a three-year period of writing, which is probably why it’s so diverse and all over the place,” he says. “And why it covers a lot of themes.

“We’re not the sort of band that got together and thought ‘well these are the records we like, I want to sound like this. Let’s get everything packaged and marketed into the niche we fit into’. It’s just not the way we’ve ever looked at it. We’re still kids in the sense that we make music because we enjoy the sounds that come out of our amps.

“It’s just a fuckin’ mish-mash is what the record is, that’s what we are. I guess that’s a statement, right? (laughs).”
One would think so…

“Well it covers all the topics and things we’ve been through in that period of our lives, that three years. It’s also a bit of a ‘fuck you!’ to people who don’t think you can do it. And you do get a lot of that backlash and shit, being a band in Australia or Perth and being a band that sticks your neck. You’re gonna get slapped in the face a few times, that happens and this is a bit of a `fuck you!’ because we know it’s a good album. I expect other people will realise that too.”

There’s several yin and yang elements in Snowman’s make-up. They seem to care yet are comfortable being careless. Some things are done by design and others seem designed-by-chaos. This is a band confident enough to leave things a bit loose.

“Of course,” McKee responds. “It’s a completely human element about the record, it is fucking loose. We’re not technical players, we just make sounds that we like. We’re not interested in being in being an ultra-tight, polished, shiny fucking band, that’s just not real to us.

“We will get better, you can’t write if you’re shit at your instruments. But then again being shit at your instrument really does lend something to the song (laughs), not that we’re shit, but we’re untrained. Having limits is something which really does lend something to it. And it sounds human, the record… if not alien, maybe (laughs).”

Limits are one thing, but there are typically limitless aspects to Snowman as well. They’re not tied down by genre or a need to follow the cause of melody at every turn. Vocalist Andy Citawarman can sing across God knows how many octaves and does so with a range of sounds.

“The first time I met Andy we were 14 or 15 and he was drinking in maths class (laughs). He would sing, in the middle of fucking class, which wasn’t really allowed at a private school. But he’s always been comfortable with his voice, which is very rare for a 14 year-old kid to have… to be singing in front of a classroom and teachers. And the teachers wouldn’t stop because they gave up trying… to… educate Andy (laughs).

“But that’s just Andy, there’s no inhibitions or anything like that because he wasn’t brought up in our culture. He understands it and stuff but there are certain things about him which are very different and I think his singing is a reflection of where he comes from.”

It’s captured ably on the album’s lead track Smoke & Mirrors, which has had a dominating presence on Triple J and locally on RTRFM in recent months. It’s haunting presence brings to mind when Arcade Fire’s Neighbourhood menaced the airwaves in its inimitable catchy yet subversive manner.

“That’s flattering to hear,” McKee says. “It’s funny, I’m working on songs for the next record and I’ve thought about that song and there’s something about it which I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe that’s it. It’s still a pop song somehow, but there is something else. It’s one of the later-written songs on the album and how we’re writing at the moment. So it’s a good sign how it’s been well received.”

Snowman set off on a national tour following this weekend’s Perth launch and will do what it takes as long as it takes to support the debut album. They’ve come a long way since a younger Joseph Denis McKee wrote a letter to X-Press Magazine from his hotmail address extolling the virtues about a new band called Snowman after their first gig in July, 2001.

“That’s hilarious!” he laughs. “That’s definitely something I would have done. And still do today. I have a certain element of pride about the work I do and would like to see it go very far.”