Red Snapper is a British band founded in 1993, consisting of Rich Thair, David Ayers, Ali Friend and Tom Challenger. For over 20 years Red Snapper have managed to release forward-thinking records that have enabled them to establish the band as pioneers of their own, unique sound usually associated as a point of reference of 90s music until now. 2013 was a great year for the band as they went on tour for a year with a classic Senegalese film. Themes from the score of the 1973 film Touki Bouki, which has been restored by Martin Scorcese’s World Cinema Foundation, have been developed to form their 8th studio album Hyena.
We spoke to David Ayers about his thoughts on the new album, virtuosity versus communication with your audience and music for film.
How did the three of you get together, and how has it been working together for so long, even after your small break?
The break in 2001 was, in retrospect, a good move for all concerned. During that time we had families, did our own creative things and recharged our batteries. All the while we stayed in touch and remained friends and so in 2006 it just felt right to get out on the road and record as Red Snapper again. This is when we first started playing with Tom Challenger (Sax, Clarinet and Keys) and he’s been with us ever since. He is a gifted musician and an all round good egg. Even though he is younger than us, I feel like we are all on the same wavelength musically and personally.
Formed in the early 90s things were much different. How do you see the music scene today? Is there something that you miss?
D.A: I think up and coming bands and artists have a harder time breaking through now. It was never easy, but I just think its even tougher today. We are inundated with music and the pie is sliced ever thinner. The internet and affordable home studios were supposed to be great equalisers, but the problem, as always, is how to get your music heard and noticed. In 1993, I like to think that something good and original would find an audience. But now, I think lots of talented people are slipping under the radar for lack of exposure.
How does it feel to be back after two years with a new studio album?
D.A: It feels really good! Obviously, we are proud of all our releases, but this one feels kind of special. Hyena has had excellent reviews from critics and fans alike and we are getting more airplay than normal. Perhaps this record has piqued everyone’s interest because it’s not your run of the mill approach and the result sounds fresh.
“Hyena is a reflection of Red Snapper’s work over the last two decades.” can you elaborate a bit more on that? Hyena sounds like a creative renaissance of the band. Have you taken any new directions while working on it?
D.A: Yes, there were loads of new directions taken. Because most of our music is instrumental, it often takes on a wide-screen, cinematic quality but this is the first time we have let one film inspire our whole album. A groundbreaking 1973 Senegalese road film at that ! Without overthinking it or labouring over anything, we were able to draw on two decades worth of collective music-making to create something new. A lot of things came about spontaneously.
I know that you have also been touring for a year and playing the soundtrack live. You also performed at the Southbank Centre. How was this live and touring experience?
D.A: It was very enjoyable for all of us and there were some great performances in very cool settings. I suppose one of the things we were conscious of and strove to get right was striking the right balance between the film and a Red Snapper concert. It would have been a real disservice to a respected and celebrated film to ride roughshod over it but we also wanted to send people home smiling and dancing and feeling like they had seen an exciting live gig. The solution for us was to play a 45-minute set of our most upbeat stuff after the film to really get the endorphins buzzing.
How did you end up writing the score for a film restored by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation? Who was the person who proposed it?
D.A: We have always appreciated how music can enhance film and vice versa. We’ve had experience with this and I’m sure we will do more. We had already decided as a band that this record would be inspired by film. It was completely up in the air whether it was gonna be sci-fi, world cinema, animation, old or new, unknown or celebrated etc. In the end, it was Rich who found Touki Bouki, but Tom, Ali and myself were into it straight away.
Would you compose music for another film if you had the chance?
D.A: Definitely. We would relish the opportunity to work with an established director as well as build something from the ground floor with someone up-and-coming who has talent and a vision.
“Touki Bouki” means “The Journey of the Hyena”. How has the journey of Red Snapper been over the years? Do you share any similarities to the characters of the film?
D.A: I was a little nervous about calling the album Hyena at first. I was imagining the mileage a sarcastic reviewer could get out of the title if they didn’t like it. “Red Snapper have made complete Asses’ of themselves with Hyena”, “Hyena is one dull Donkey” etc. I dare not speak for the others, but I reckon I’m like the crazy voodoo lady with the knife, if I don’t get my morning coffee…
In order to compose music for this classic Senegalese road-film you took 70s as an inspiration. Taking inspiration from an era can be tricky in the wrong hands, however, you kept it current and forward-thinking. Did you face any challenges?
D.A: Not so many challenges, but just things that we were aware of. First of all, it would have been pointless to attempt an exact recreation of African music from 1973. As much as we love those Fela Kuti records from that era, no one is going to better them and it would be stupid to try. Red Snapper have always sounded like Red Snapper and I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve created a unique sound. It’s far better to let the film and the music of that era inspire you to create an alternate 1973 with Red Snapper in a parallel universe.
Seeing you back in 2008, I remember I felt hypnotized! Your virtuosity on playing live and building a unique connection with your audience is truly admirable. Does this skill come over years of live experience or is it a natural talent?
D.A: I think it’s one of those paradoxes that the longer you play and the more fluent you become, the more you realise that it’s not what it’s all about. Virtuosity in and of itself don’t mean shit if you’re not communicating with an audience or locking in with your band mates.
Which soundtrack for a film would you say has been the most WEEKID? Something that you wish you had written?
D.A: One of my favourite soundtracks of all time is Taxi Driver. Bernard Hermann created a fantastic score out of just two themes that to my mind is indelible and intrinsic to Martin Scorsese’s film. Unbelievably, Hermann had fallen out of favour in Hollywood and had to be coaxed out of retirement by Scorsese. He died a couple of days after the soundstage recording and Scorsese dedicated the film to him. It’s a crowning achievement to a brilliant career and while I would have loved to have written the Taxi Driver score, I’m awfully glad he did!
Live Dates in London:
30th January 2015 @ Rich Mix