This quintet may be the hidden gem of Stopover 2013. Fronted by singer, keyboardist and composer Grayson Sanders, the Brooklyn–based Snowmine produces clear, focused, atmospheric yet highly melodic music.
The son of an opera singer and oil painter, Sanders has been a serious and studious disciple of classical music for most of his 25 years — music from the early to mid 20th Century — and had written several complete symphonic adaptations before his 22nd birthday.
An admitted academic, he is also an artist. He imbues Snowmine's addictive synth–rock with a tacit understanding of where the music needs to go to create the picture he sees in his head.
"Rock 'n' roll today, we owe to a number of sources, namely the blues and jazz, for sure," Sanders tells me. "But classical, until the mid 1900s, was the pre–eminent genre of music. In culture and academia, too. I think I was fascinated with it because I love history, and that music moved me a lot.
"There's some amazing music going on the popular idiom. And I was really drawn to the other side of art, which is how it communicates with people, how it creates discourse between people, and how you can touch more people. This band kind of grew out of the idea: We all have this knowledge, which we amassed either through our own intrigue or education."
All well and good, but the "put up or shut up" rule applies here: Listen to the Snowmine full–length, Laminate Pet Animal (2011), or the two sides to the band's 2012 Saucer Eyes single. This is great, gauze–narrative pop/rock, somewhere between shoegaze, Coldplay and early Styx (that is, when Styx was young and worth listening to).
Sanders was once a devotee of prog bands like early King Crimson. "Where prog music went kind of astray was focusing on an aspect of classical music, probably the least important aspect of it," he explains. "And that's the virtuosity attached to it. There's a way to show off what you can do, and your abilities, in a way that are just esoteric and a little exclusive. That makes people really turned off.
"I think music ebbs and flows, but we're in a current musical climate where virtuosity, I believe, has taken a back seat to songwriting. Obviously, in the '80s it wasn't that way — it was, how fast can you play the guitar? And how big can your hair be?"
The Snowmine approach is decidently different (and there's no big hair in the band, either).
"The way to do it is not to brag so much in the songs," Grayson explains. "Don't let the orchestration take a front seat, rather have it perform a support role to the song."
(Technically, this show happens early in the morning on Saturday, March 9. Snowmine is headlining the March 8 bill at Knights of Columbus, but won't take the stage until 12:30 a.m. Get it?)
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