Jazz band Snarky Puppy may be based in Brooklyn, but Dallas-Fort Worth still claims the group as its own.
And why not? The core of the band formed while in school at the University of North Texas in Denton and many of the group's members are Dallas natives. Still, it's been a hot minute -- at least two Grammy awards and several world tours -- since Snarky Puppy uprooted from D-FW for more musical pastures, and it's paid off. In February, Snarky Puppy took home the Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
Recently, however, the band returned for a homecoming show, bringing NPR Music along to record the concert at the Door in Deep Ellum.
Bassist and bandleader Michael League also took reporters for an obligatory taco stop at Fuel City.
The aforementioned concert was broadcast nationwide on Feb. 25 when Snarky Puppy was the feature of an hour-long special on program Jazz Night in America. During the broadcast, League discussed the band's origin and pulled back the curtain on its creative process.
Whether you're a longtime fan or just now hearing of Snarky Puppy, the interview and concert are worth a listen. But if you don't have an hour, here's the SparkNotes version of what we learned.
Snarky Puppy is a large, fluid collective
The core band is about nine people, but according to NPR, Snarky Puppy can include from 15 to 60 members at given time depending on who the group is collaborating with and where it's performing. (We're guessing this also depends on whether the stage is big enough.)
Gospel revolutionized the band's sound
Jazz music thrives in a collaborative environment, so it's no surprise Snarky Puppy's sound hit new heights after bringing on some gospel musicians from Dallas. What League said began as "nine dudes crowded into a crappy van" formed into this malleable entity drawing from gospel, funk and blues.
Said percussionist Nate Werth:
"Us being a bunch of white musicians, jazz musicians in school, college kids meeting these professional musicians that were mostly black in Dallas of the gospel community and what happened when it all merged together, that’s Snarky Puppy."
The creative process begins ... on a mini keyboard?
Back in the day when he composed a tune, League would write sheet music for his band mates' parts, but he's reinvented that process. Now League records a demo for each part on a travel-size mini keyboard. This, he said, inspires more group involvement.
"I have in my brain what I want to hear, but I like giving the band a really bare bones concept of the song so that their ideas are churning," League said.
"Lingus" is actually a dubstep track
This just might be the best backstory ever. League composed "Lingus" while on a flight to Ireland on airline Aer Lingus, hence the name. It was just his luck he was seated next to an intoxicated Englishman who couldn't have been more disruptive.
"I started trying to come up with busier and busier parts on the keyboard to annoy him or to kind of fend him off," said League.
The result seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something he had long joked about -- write a dubstep track. It's not explicit, but League said the bass line is composed in time with that genre.