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Photo of members from Snaps for Sinners

Summer Series Q&A: Snaps for Sinners

Beat the heat by dancing it out! The free concerts continue this week at the Hult Center Summer Series with the sassy swing of Snaps for Sinners.

Hult Center: For those who would be hearing your music for the first time, how would you describe your sound?

Snaps for Sinners: We are going to pull from our friends in ‘Hot Damn Scandal’ on this one and call it “That Devil’s Music.” Our sound is a synthesis of several very different traditions. While it pulls inspiration from New Orleans style traditional jazz, bluegrass, Django & European folk elements, and a blend of contemporary songwriting techniques, the fusion of those elements makes it truly distinct from the styles we pull our creative juices from. It also feels wrong to call it “jazz fusion,” as most people who fly under that banner are taking a much more Herbie Hancocky approach to their sound where we would be grooving more to the Cab Calloway vibe. What glues these influences together, though, is the multi-cultural fascination with the gritty, the underground, the raw funky underbelly of folk traditions from the present back to the dawn of western music. Those who have been othered from mainstay culture over the centuries generated culture of their own, and we try to honor the sound of those (frequently demonized) underdogs. 

HC: What inspired the name Snaps for Sinners?

Snaps for Sinners: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.” Our culture generally isolates us, it spoon feeds us media day & night from a dozen different screens, and the message stays consistent— be afraid of the bad guys. We rally under false flags & buzz words and celebrity identities pitted against each other. Our Facebook feeds are gladiator arenas for competing brands, all trying to sell us the New Normal, which is always the same old cover-up for what makes us different. But those differences are the very things we should celebrating. Fear sells, but we refuse to allow this machine to render us into bigots just for the sake of a profit. Some differences in others are harder to forgive. The same is true for ours. We have made mistakes, we will make more. We’ve hurt people, and despite our best intentions, it’ll happen again. We have sinned, and we will continue to do so. So have you. So have the people you are taught to fear. The Sinner in me sees the Sinner in you. We have to share this world. As Non-Christians, we thought it would be helpful to use some Christian terminology to help convey this point, that casting stones at sinners achieves little more than bloodied hands for those who throw them.

HC: I am intrigued by the term sassy swing ensemble. Could you elaborate a bit more on what that means?

Snaps for Sinners: Our music is one thing, our personalities another. We have, on a few rare occasions, managed to keep our mouths closed for entire 30 minute stretches of time. When the nature of the events we play demand “Classy” (read as ‘be seen but not heard’) we are constantly biting back jokes, quips, audience-inappropriate stories of our travels, and observations generally better left out of large sound systems at ritzy soirées. I think the training our core duo went through in improv comedy earlier in their lives was a singular disservice to their future in serious jazz music, but it has paved the way for them to be superiorly sassy entertainers. 

HC: Since you are both multi-instrumentalists, are there any instruments that are less known that are included in your sound? If not, do you have any ideas for more unique instruments that you can include in your music in the future?

Snaps for Sinners: Well aside from most people calling Jay’s upright bass a “cello,” most of our instrumentation is relatively recognizable. When in studio, Fierro plays drum kit, alt percussion, multiple guitars of different styles, banjo, clarinet, electric bass, and some other odd ends to fill out our sound. Jay explores bass, accordion, tenor sax, trumpet, and has been dabbling with synthy keyboard business of late. We also have the privilege of working with players of a dozen different instruments scattered across the states, such as Booi Volk who will be joining us for this performance on some hopefully very interesting hybrid mandolins. For the future, call it a goal to get some Zurna or Tar tracks recorded, because that’d really help with a funky middle-eastern flare we’ve long fantasized about.

HC: Having music that incorporates a multitude of instruments can be hard during a live performance. How do you manage the sonic variety?

Snaps for Sinners: One of the greatest musical performances/lessons I ever had was George Marsh and Randy Vincent doing a forum at Sonoma State University. They set up a kit with hi hat, snare, bass drum, nothing else. Just a six string guitar for the other fella, nothing in terms of pedals. The musicality, the sheer lyrical force coming out of the stripped-back drums were unbelievable. The room that left for the guitar had you on the edge of your seat with anticipation for each new note. By reducing their palettes, they had increased their focus, and the increase in focus gave a greater space to express. We’ve wrestled in the past with trying to switch instruments more on stage, but it is very easily overdone, most especially when we are playing without a full band. For this show, Jay will stay on Bass as Michael plays guitar & kick drum, and we will rely on our dynamics to sculpt the experience. We will also be featuring Booi Volk, who we booked for mandolin, but this world-travelled MadLad is known to make wild choices when it comes to routing different world folk instruments through effects pedals & the like. We couldn’t be more eager to be bringing him & his sound on stage with us. 

HC: What can the audience expect from your upcoming live performance?

Snaps for Sinners: Probably not lasers? Unless y’all have lasers, that would be pretty cool. You can tell your friends to expect some feisty fun born out of a reckless fusion of modern American multiculturalism. Much like a good multi course meal, it’ll be salty, sweet, sour, bitter and maybe even a little “oh mami!”