Mike Sniper is the man behind Blank Dogs. I met up with Mike before a home turf performance at “weird night”(May 12,2010) in New York City and he told me all about what is going on in the scene today and why and how he is able to produce so much music. Sniper is a true musician with a vision in a world of copycats and kids that just want to be in bands.
Jane: So, you are playing NY Eye and Ear Fest. Are you excited with the New York scene right now? It’s pretty cool that there can be a two-day festival that showcases only New York bands.
Mike Sniper: Yeah, it’s weird; I don’t think I have played with most of the bands that we are playing with. We played with Led er Est before and I think other than that we haven’t played with anyone else that I can think of. A lot of those bands I like, I have their records.
Jane: Who are you most excited to see?
Mike Sniper: Well, I always love seeing Xeno and Oaklander and Led er Est. It seems like a cop out but it is the honest truth
Jane: Same! There is a lot of talk about the Brooklyn scene. People keep talking about a Brooklyn Sound-, which I would actually argue against- but there are a lot of bands releasing like-minded stuff and playing music with each other. You are playing with members of Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts… If there big community for music in Brooklyn right now?
Mike Sniper: Yea! We are all friends for sure, ‘ya know, but I kind of have my feet in two kinds different things. The poppy bands like Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls and Woods and all those guys… We hang out together, we play music together, we play shows together, we play in each others bands and release each others records, which us completely isolated from the whole weird scene and pendu scene. There is a little bit of cross over as far as audience, like people going to both shows but not so much as far as the artists. You can’t know everybody. New York is huge.
Jane: How do you feel about playing Weird Night? You use a lot of elements of minimal electronics to get your sound, but this does seem like a strange billing.
Mike Sniper: Yeah, I mean, I love Weird Night, I got to it at least twice a month. Most of the live bands that play I want to see. Pieter is a good friend of mine, and plus, we canceled like three times so we owe it to him! But the Djs are great; I always have a great time. And all the taxidermy! I love the taxidermy!
Jane: What are some of your other favorite spots in New York to drink, eat, record shop…?
Mike Sniper: You want me to blow up all my spots? Well the Academy in Brooklyn and the Academy in Manhattan, they are both great for records as well as record grouch which just opened up on Metropolitan Avenue. I haven’t been to Sean’s store [from Cult of Youth] but I have really been meaning to go. And I have never been to Hospital, which is weird, I don’t know why [noise record store run by Dominick Fernow known to the noise world as prurient but known to the rest of the world as the newest member of Cold Cave]
Jane: I can’t believe that!
Mike Sniper: Well it just so happens that there is a lot to do. I have a couple museum cards, so I like to go to the museum a lot. Drinking? I have a bar in my apartment so I drink at home a lot. But I also go to Daddies a lot. I mean, everyone goes there. I’ve been going to the place next to Daddies, the Richardson, when I am feeling classy.
Jane: Do you feel like New York still has a soul?
Mike Sniper: Yeah, you have to look for it though. When you first arrive it can be intimidating and it seems like everything is so expensive and everyone is snobbish but I mean it’s there. I kind of resent the fact that Patti Smith said in an article recently that if you are an artist you shouldn’t move to New York because you can’t afford it. Well, she does have a point in a finical standpoint if you are not actually doing anything. If you live in Williamsburg and you just hang out in Williamsburg then basically you are spending money on the biggest college campus imaginable. New York has so much to offer if you actually try to go out and do stuff. Unfortunately, most people move here and they don’t. Sometimes that is a finical constraint but after a year of grueling it you find something. A cheap apartment, a good job.
Jane: Do you have a day job or do you just play music?
Mike Sniper: No, I run a record label [Captured Tracks] and do the band. That is all I do.
Jane: What is the worst job you have ever had then?
Mike Sniper: I went to school in New York. In college I got a job for one day at the Angelica [theatre] and it was terrible. I thought it would be a cool job. But they gave me this uniform, and they gave me this thing to pick up popcorn and shit. The guy actually pushed me into the theater and was like “You’ve got to get in there and pick up the pop-corn!” and I just dropped all my shit and walked out. It was like 45 minutes that I had that job, but it was so bad, it was such a bad experience. Well, I saw Sling Blade for free. It was when it just came out. I am dating myself. Sling blade, Jesus.
Jane: Is Sling blade your favorite movie [sarcasm]?
Mike Sniper: Yes! [Pause] No. If I were to name a favorite movie it would be such a long list that I can’t. I can’t just name one.
Jane: What is the stupidest thing you have ever heard about yourself? Any Internet rumors?
Mike Sniper: That I wear masks on stage. I still get interviews where people are like: “ So why do you wear masks on stage?” and I’m like “Well, I’ve actually played over a hundred something shows and I have never once worn a mask on stage. You’ll have to tell me why I wear a mask on stage, I don’t know where you got that from.”
That one is pretty stupid. There are some others but I try not to pay attention I really don’t read reviews much anymore. I did for a little while because I thought it was amusing but once you read so many incorrect statements- not opinions, opinion is … People can say they hate it. You are entitled to hate it. I don’t make music that I think everyone will like anyway. It’s more… When people get a fact incorrect. It bugs me out. Now I know just not to read that stuff. You can’t control it so I just don’t worry about it.
Jane: You’ve released a lot of records under a lot of different record labels. Do you have any plans for the future?
Mike Sniper: We have a new EP that I am tweaking. I have been working on it for a really long time. It will probably be out in September or October. We are also going to Europe for the first time because I’ve had some passport issues. I had to cancel two tours. But I think I have finally gotten it squared away. As far as Blank Dogs, that’s the plan.
Jane: Do you have any other projects that you are working on right now?
Mike Sniper: Yeah, there are a few. There is the Mayfair Set, which I do with the girl from Dum Dum Girls and we are supposed to record another LP. Lot of projects like that. Lots of records coming out on my label.
Jane: Anything with Spider? [Teeth: a project with members of spider AKA members of the spits AKA where can I find that seven-inch?]
Mike Sniper: No, I wish.
Jane: Aw, man…
Mike Sniper: We did that one seven inch, but it took forever. It took two years and I gave them the tracks so long ago they work really slowly.
Jane: So I assume after a hundred something shows you are comfortable with performing now?
Mike Sniper: Yeah, we are like a band now. I mean, we have gone through so many different line-ups at this point. We started out as a live band with a drummer and a bass player and it never gelled. I mean, there were some shows that were really great but I felt like we weren’t projecting the band the way it should be. We got good at being a standard rock band or whatever and that kind of infuriated me, actually. I would rather be a bad wimpy band than a good rock band.
I mean, you go and see rock bands all the time. It is organic for other bands to do that. I’ve learned that from playing with all these bands like the Oh Sees and The Fresh and Only’s were they practice all the time and write their own parts and the music develops that way. I didn’t feel like I was representing the records in the right way. Some people would argue the opposite, that without the live drummer… Well, you can’t please everybody.
Jane: If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it, be?
Mike Sniper: Oh no! Living or dead! I have to choose somebody dead! Just because. I would say… Mozart… No…
Jane: Those could be some crazy snyth parts!
Mike Sniper: haha, Bach, doing some arpeggiogating stuff… Geez, I don’t know. The obvious answer would be to choose someone who I am influenced by but it would kind of be cooler to operate with someone who I am not at all into. Like the Grateful Dead, not that I hate the Grateful Dead.
Jane: Well, what kind of gear do you use? Do you modify or alter your gear?
Mike Sniper: When I record I use everything at my disposal. I usually write a song first on the guitar or keyboard. If you rely too much on the sound of a song, you are not writing a song really. You are just trying to get the best sound.
Jane: I guess that is the difference between music and noise.
Mike Sniper: Yeah, I guess you’re right, but I use sound all the time to add layers. When we play live we use three snyths, a drum machine, a bass snyth and guitars.
Jane: Do you ever modify the instruments themselves? Solder stuff, fuck around with things?
Mike Sniper: Oh, no. I’m not a gear head. I know how to get sounds out of my stuff and I use pedals a lot but I don’t know how to alter instruments. I would be afraid of a soldering iron I would freak out or find a way to kill myself or inject steel into my blood stream and that would be it.
Jane: Well, I guess if you can’t choose a favorite movie of all time you cannot choose a favorite album of all time?
Mike Sniper: Well, I can choose a couple of favorite movies. Paris, Texas. Five Easy Pieces. Hud. Maybe Raising Arizona, something that has levity in it. I don’t like horror movies or science fiction movies. Everybody assumes that I really like Italian horror movies and weird science fiction movies but I am not into them. I am into dialogue driven narratives. I don’t like special effects. It is kind of an acronym to my music I guess. I don’t get anything from horror movies. I wish I did.
Favorite albums of all time? Oh my god. Trick question: on one level I want to name stuff that is a big influence but that is different than things that I am listening to a lot right now.
Jane: Break it down! What are some albums that have been really influential to you and what are some albums that you have on really heavy rotation right now.
Mike Sniper: When I was a kid the first record that I loved was Prince, Purple Rain… Later on the Cure, The Top was the first thing that I ever bought that wasn’t American mainstream top 40, so that left a big impression on me, but it’s not my favorite Cure album either. It’s a good album. Geez, favorite album, I’d like to pull back.
Jane: Cop out man! How about five things that you are listening to a lot right now?
Mike Sniper: Well that is funny because it is not what I would typically be listening to. I have been listening to a lot of the Eurythmics, but that is a typical of me. I don’t even have the records, I just downloaded it. The new Auto melody record that is coming out on weird is really good. It hasn’t come out yet but I am listening to it a lot. Black Flag, for some reason, mostly “the first four years”…
Jane: You mentioned some darker albums. I’ve noticed a dark tinge to your music while it is not necessarily “dark” per say or “cold” there is definitely a wave of melancholy in your music. Where do you come from emotionally when you write your stuff? What tends to inspire you?
Mike Sniper: DEEP DARK SADNESS. No, it’s just the natural way that I write. I start off with something really dark and I find it boring and obvious. I think it’s boring when people are like “I am so sad and even the trees are black and…” That is why my choruses tend to be uplifting. If I find myself in a rut it is too easy to be too aggressive, to easy to be really dark… I can’t take myself seriously and write something that is happy, like one hundred percent happy; I don’t feel comfortable with that because I never feel a hundred percent happy. But I never feel a hundred percent unhappy either.
Jane: Do you have any plans to stray away from the Blank Dogs sound or the Blank Dogs aesthetic with new material? I noticed that you strayed away from the older albums art on Under and Under.
Mike Sniper: Yes. Art wise I plan to go off into tangents. I went to school for graphic design and illustration so I thought I should utilize that more. The first fifteen to eighteen records are flat on purpose. They are two-dimensional; there is no depth to them. The new EP has foreground and background. I want to get more into that; I wasn’t to open that up more. I think the new sound is different too, and I want the art to reflect that.
Jane: So you think the music and the art are going to continue to progress together?
Mike Sniper: I hope so. I think it progressing. A lot of people would argue with me and say that it sucks now, but for the people who only like the old stuff, it is there. There are like a hundred songs. If you don’t like the new stuff, that’s fine you have the old stuff. You have it. You can probably download it for free off the Internet somewhere. You don’t have to worry about the new stuff if you don’t like it and are bothered because you can hear everything more clearly. Oh, how terrible. That was the point when I first started, to make a lot. When I was young I remember going to the record store and seeing all these albums and was like “look at all these Cure albums! Look at all these Smiths albums!” There was a lot of stuff to get into. I don’t want to compare myself with those bands but I think it’s cool that they released a lot of albums. It always frustrates me that especially modern bands are so reluctant to release material. Don’t be so precious about it. Let it go. If you don’t like it, make it better next time. If you don’t want to release a song on seven inch because you think it is too good, then I would say don’t write any more music. If you have hold things and save them because you don’t think you can do any better, then stop playing now.
Jane: I got my first Blank Dogs record digging in the used bin and the longer I look, I keep finding records that I didn’t even know about. It’s a cool way to get into things.
Mike Sniper: A lot of people argue that all the best songs are on the EP’s and the LP’s have like two good songs on them. That is possible, even. I think the albums work well as albums and maybe the quote hits are on the singles but that is cool, that is what singles are for.
Jane: What made you decide to do a double LP?
Mike Sniper: Larry Hardy, who owns In the Red Records told me to. I didn’t want to do one. I had an LP ready to go; a single LP and he asked me to do a double. At that point I was just churning out songs with relative ease and I looked at it not as a double album, but like four separate five song EP’s. So what you would do it not listen to the whole thing together, you would listen to one side because each side has it’s own feeling. But then what I discovered is that most people just download it, and they have a block of 20 songs that they listen to on their I pod if they make it past the third song. Then it sounds like a sludgy twenty track album and it was never my intention for it to be listened to like that. So I learned a lesson there.
Jane: So it’s very much a record.
Mike Sniper: Yes. And you were not even supposed to listen to all four sides in one sitting. I would never do that. I would never do that with any double LP. That was how I saw it. All together it works, there is a little bit of everything in there but that was the end of that sound. I felt like I did everything that I could do. I’ve had it. I am going to try and clean it up a bit.
Jane: So how do you think the Internet is changing music? Do you resent people just downloading?
Mike Sniper: It’s not the downloading. People will argue that record sales are down because of the downloading but I would argue that concert attendance is up because people can give bands a listen and decide if they want to go see them. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t have the facts in front of me. My problem with downloading is that there is no commitment to music anymore. You used to buy something and be forced to at least try it out before you sold it. Where as if you download stuff… Or just go to a myspace or a streaming thing and listen to it for five seconds and decide NOPE… I could say that most of the music in my life that I’ve liked, I didn’t necessarily like it right away. I didn’t like the Velvet Underground when I first heard them. I didn’t like the Cure when I first heard it. All the stuff I ended up really likening… You know… Swans… All across the board… Some of these records were so hard to find that when I found them I was happy to have them and gave them a couple of shots. Without being too elitist, a lot of times people are wrong about music. At large. Collectively.So when you have something like pitchfork or guerrilla versus bear and all these blogs and they are kind of controlled and get more hits by saying certain things about bands… and I have nothing against Animal Collective or all those bands, because they are fine. I don’t dislike them but I don’t love them either. They are pastoral and nice and it is not challenging. Not challenging in the way that I think music should be challenging today. It seems like the more choice that people have to listen to things, the less that they try to take any shots. And that is a scary thing. Even the independent, underground press is becoming more marginalized and following the pitchfork review for something. It feels like that is happening.
Jane: On that note, what makes you cringe?
Mike Sniper: When people eat with a fork and they brush their teeth against it and it makes that sound. Cringe. The song “Solid as a Rock” by Ashford and Simpson. Unframed things on walls. That is a weird OCD thing, even calendars… How can you frame a calendar? I realize that it is not supposed to be framed, but when I am in a room, especially when it is a mix when some thing are framed and some things are unframed, it bugs the hell out of me. I like framed things. Framing makes something more real.
Those are the first three things that come to mind. The fork thing is easy because my roommate was eating an omelet and he kept on doing it… Every bite… Every bite. I thought with each bite that he wasn’t going to do it, but he did it.
Jane: Couldn’t he feel that?
Mike Sniper: I started to do this thing where I hum inside my nasal cavities so I can sort of block things out and sort of hope I can not hear that noise. Every time he would take a bite I would prep myself but… I still heard it. I feel like you have to go out of your way to do that. Why would you purposefully drag metal across your teeth? Who would want that?
Jane: Any other things that are making you cringe these days?
Mike Sniper: These days? The new New York “Lo-Fi” bands. Some of them are good, but some of those bands are just self-serving… There is a group of like fifty friends who go out and only play for shitty bands and I don’t go. They send me their demos and I don’t listen to them. I don’t want to name names.
Jane: Don’t want to get you in trouble or anything.
Mike Sniper: I mean, some of them I really like. I’m putting out a Beach Fossils record, not that they are Lo-fi, really. Actually the term Lo-fi makes me cringe. For sure. And in a lot of interviews, I do people are like “So we are going to talk about the Lo-Fi scene” and I am like: “No we are not. I hate it. I don’t even know what the term Lo-fi means.” I mean, it is a method of recording, sometimes it is for finical reasons and sometimes it is for taste but there is no Lo-fi song or Lo-fi genre. It is not like a G chord is Lo-fi. A song can’t be Lo-fi. There is nothing Lo-fi about the way that songs are picked up by a mic and a lot of things that are called Lo-fi aren’t Lo-fi. They are actually high fidelity, they are actually using more tracks than the Beatles used. Would you say the Beatles are Lo-fi? Lo-fi makes me cringe. And chill wave.
Jane: Do most of the “waves” piss you off?
Mike Sniper: It’s just lazy…
Jane: You know, some people have to write about bands on websites…
Mike Sniper: I like some bands that are described as chill wave, but I would never say… This is this new chill wave band…
Jane: I’ve heard the term bedroom punk attached you.
Mike Sniper: To me, that sounds like some snotty kid listening to the Descendants and telling his Mom to fuck off because he doesn’t want to take out the garbage. That is a bedroom punk.
Jane: Ha! I do not disagree. All right, so let’s get away from what makes you cringe and let’s get on to your happiest childhood memory.
Mike Sniper: If I had a happy childhood I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.
Jane: Then if you could be anywhere right now, doing anything, what would that be?
Mike Sniper: That’s hard because I love New York, I love running the label. I’m not a hundred percent happy but nobody is. But if I were to name a specific place to be, not forever but just for a little while, I would have to say a place I have never been. I have never been to Japan or Singapore or China or Turkey. And I want to go to all those places. Peru. A place that I have been before but would like to be at would be Venice, Rome, Italy in general. Spain. Switzerland.
Mike Sniper: Everything is so decorated and everything is so detailed. Even if you’re shopping for umbrellas all the umbrellas are so well done. Well-made things. All those places are like that. Craftsmanship. I like craftsmanship.
Jane: One final stupid question… What is your sign?
Mike Sniper: Virgo.