After a sold-out spring tour and awesome new album from Baltimore super-group, The Snails, we talk with drummer Snailbraham (aka Abram Sanders) about the band’s beginnings, those awesome headdresses, and what makes one a mollusk. And catch them live tomorrow, May 21, at Ottobar.
Hey Snailbraham, sorry I’m a few minutes behind. Is now an okay time?
Yeah, for sure. Snails are always late.
How are you connected to all of the other Snails?
Well, I’m Snailbraham, the drummer of The Snails. I moved to Baltimore in 2008 to play with Jana Hunter, which led to Lower Dens, and then eventually moved onto other things, like Wing Dam. I just recently moved to San Diego.
And the rest of Wing Dam is following suit and moving to California soon, too?
Yeah, eventually. They’re coming out later this year, after our big tour.
We’ll miss you guys in Baltimore.
We’ll be through as much as possible.
So did The Snails get to know each other just from being a part of the local music scene?
I went to school with two members of The Snails, Sammy Snail [Sam Herring, also of Future Islands], and Snailliam [William Cashion, also of Future Islands and Peals], at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. They needed a drummer so I just picked up and starting playing with them. We don’t play that often, but we typically get together, write a few songs, and then go do a show, over the course of like, three days. Contrary to popular belief, that sort of turnover is relatively fast.
That’s quick for a snail.
Well, this record came from a weeklong tour we did a few years back. We were playing all of these songs and they got really familiar. Immediately afterwards, we took them into the studio at The Annex in Baltimore, and the foundation recording probably took place over two or three days, but then we let it sit. Once the time was right and we could all work on other projects, we finished the album and put it out earlier this year.
How did The Snails get their start?
The band really just came together from playing funky songs. In the beginning, in 2008, they were just covering Art Lord & the Self-Portraits songs, which was William and Sam’s thing from awhile back in North Carolina, and opened up for Spank Rock on his birthday in Baltimore. But the band would just get together, play some tunes, wear some snail heads, be snails. You know, slimy and grimy.
What makes someone a snail?
Slime, grime, attitude. Willingness to take things slow. The ability to see over every blade of grass, no matter how down you might be. Willingness to take off your shell when necessary. Thinking outside of the shell is a very important part of being a snail. Remembering where you came from . . .
Who makes the headdresses? Or, um, snail heads? I don’t know what the right terminology is.
They started as stockings, or panty hose, that were stuffed with some sort of foam, with drawn-on eyes by Sammy Snail. The more sophisticated ones that we wear today were actually handcrafted by Snailpril [April Camlin, of Wume, and former, still-sometimes drummer of The Snails]. We all went out and picked out fabric.
Are they hot?
Oh yeah, they get pretty grimy. They get pretty gross. Especially Sammy Snail’s. And mine. And if you wash them, they disintegrate, so they have to be repaired after each show.
What’s the songwriting process for the band?
It’s totally collaborative. We kind of just jam a little bit. We take notes on what sounds good and then just go with it. And we try to have as much fun as possible. We try not to take it too seriously, because it’s just not that kind of project. We value our craft, but we’re not going to come to fisticuffs artistically or push our shows too hard. We’ll embrace whatever we sound like. The band is an outlet for any kind of music we want to play. We can try out things we don’t necessarily showcase in our other projects.
Seems like you don’t need to push your shows too hard. Your tour was a big success.
It was a lot of fun. We don’t perform very often, so I think people wanted to come out and see a snail do their thing. The Baltimore show at Ottobar was probably the highlight—we're playing there again on May 21. The venue is great, they have always been super nice to its performers, the show sold out, and all of our friends were there. It’s great to be in a place where people really love what you’re doing.
Baltimore loves its Baltimore bands. How is it coming home and performing here?
The city loves its music scenes. It loves rarities. It loves—I don’t want to call it art music but . . . I think the spectacle of [The Snails] is refreshing and nostalgic, and I think Baltimore is completely open to it. Everyone on stage just loves seeing people have a good time.
When you step off and unplug and the lights go down, do you remain snails, or do you go back to being Abram, Samuel, William, Andy [Abelow], and Drew [Swinburne]?
I’d say it's 100-percent snail attitude, all of the time. If we’re together, we’re snailing it out.