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August 25, 1998

CitySearch Music

Well, we may as well get the credentials out of the way right here. Snowpony vocalist/programmer Katharine Gifford played keys in Stereolab before becoming the vocalist for Moonshake. Debbie Googe used to be the bassist for My Bloody Valentine. Brand new drummer Kevin Bass was also in Moonshake. There. It's these qualifications that have ears pricking up for their debut album, "The Slow Motion World of Snowpony" (Radioactive), which comes to a CD rack near you on August 25. Though Katharine formed Snowpony in 1996, this is their first full album, having previously only put out a series of singles (some of which are included on the album). The mood on "The Slow Motion World" veers from the pseudo-pop, amorous alphabet of "Love Letters," to an eerie, limping march and fluttering woodwinds and strings for "St. Lucy's Gate," and the sickly horns quarreling with guitar blasts over the juvenile delinquent bragging of "Bad Sister."

So, does Snowpony sound like any or all of their former employers? Yes and no. Another of those female-fronted, sample-backed neo-indie outfits? Not quite. What tugs at you first is the rhythm section, which is undoubtedly one of the superior of the species, particularly the addictive thump of Debbie's basslines, which provide a firm anchor for sound collisions both major and minor. There's also the alternately dispassionate and intense vocals of Katharine--who writes all the songs, usually about good luck, bad behavior, and alcohol. And wouldn't you think someone would be sampling Nick Cave and Sonic Youth by now?

But what of the $20,000 question faced by any band that relies on samples: can they pull it off live? And, in Snowpony's case, it's a resounding "yes." The solid beats are undoubtedly a reason. But, more importantly, Katharine isn't another of those wenches who just clings to the mike stand, closes her eyes, and waits for it all to be over. She's actually as intimidating as she is entertaining: Angela Bassett buff, covered in tattoos (Chinese good luck fish, flaming sacred hearts), sporting backless evening gowns and red satin platform sandals, and stomping and shaking like a crazed ex-showgirl. Still, the next morning, she's wearing anyone's jeans and T-shirt, curled up in a corner of the publicists' couch and picking at a bagel, so quietly it's often difficult to make out what she's saying.

CitySearch: So, let's just start with the obvious question: when writing songs, do you start with the instruments or samples, or do you come up with an idea and try to work them both around it?
Katharine Gifford: Um, I usually come up with bits of lyrics and bits of music at the same time.

CS: It sort of all hits you at once and you try to fit it together?
KG: Well, then it takes me six months working at it to make it work properly. It's not often that you're going to set out to write a song in a certain vein about certain things and then it turns out as what you expected.

CS: So it takes six months to write a song?
KG: Well, I've got to try to get it down to a few weeks....

CS: Where do you find the samples you use? Is it just something you hear or do you actually set out looking for a certain thing?
KG: A lot of them are made samples, some of them are found sounds.

CS: Do you try to change the songs when you play live, or do you try to be as accurate as possible to the recording?
KG: Well, it's fairly close, anyway, to the songs. The samples can't change so it's just things like what Kevin does. Just depends. It changes, but not in any huge way.

Kevin Bass: Well, I didn't play on the album, so I'm trying to make some of the things my own, as it were. I was kind of worried at the beginning; I thought some of the things I was doing were kind of different than how the other drummer played. So I was worried that it was going to, like, throw Katharine and Debbie out or put them off. But it seems to have worked--it hasn't really been a problem.

CS: So just coming in hasn't been a rough transition?
KB: Oh, I don't think so.

KG: No.

KB: Surprisingly simple. That's how it's always seemed to be--bands I've joined haven't been bands I've recorded with and I like join to do the tour and like that, so I'm kind of used to it. You just sort of slide in and find your space. It seems to be going well.

CS: Is there anyone you'd like to collaborate with or work with?
KG: I'd like to do some duets with, uh...I'd like to work with another vocalist.

CS: But no one in particular?
KB: Well, you were talking about working with Mary, from Stereolab.

KG: Yeah, there's another friend of ours I'd like to work with. He's got a real sweet singing voice. I'd quite like to work with a male singer. Have that kind of duality, that's quite interesting. I've written some songs--not with this band, but I've written some songs that have that kind of Nancy and Lee...

CS: I was just thinking of Nancy and Lee.
KG: Quite funny, quite sort of...I'd like to try to do something like "Some Velvet Morning" or...

CS: With all of you having history in other bands, do you find it kind of annoying because people seem to expect a certain thing or is it good because it attracts attention?
KB: I think it's understandable. When you start a new band, you have to expect it, really.

KG: Initially we got a lot of, like, "oh well, they don't sound like Stereolab, so they're rubbish." But now we seem to have got over that stage.

CS: So what do you listen to now? In your spare time. What you enjoy listening to, whether it influences you or not.
KG: Have you heard of a band called Jurassic 5? I really like that.

KB: I like the Young Gods. They're one of my favorite bands. Just the way they approach samples and things like that. And Prodigy. The Prodigy album was good. I like the Heads. I like the--you call it electronica over here? The electronica explosion, all this English dance kind of stuff.

KG: Jungle.

KB: Yeah. Drum 'n' bass.

CS: Would you ever want to do remixes of anything. Something more drum 'n' bass or electronica?
KB: Well, I think drum 'n' bass is kind of...not passe exactly in England now, but it's hit it's peak and is going down. I guess we'll just wait for the new thing to happen. I think it will be in the dance sort of area again, but it's difficult to sort of know what's around the corner.

CS: Well, if anyone knew that...
KB: They'd make a million, wouldn't they?

KG: Big beat is the big thing now.

KB: Yeah.

KG: I like big beat, actually.

KB: There's just so many genres, it's funny.

KG: Yeah, it's just really stupid, really.

KB: I don't follow the dance scene, you know, you like what you like. You don't like something 'cause it's the latest, it's the latest thing to listen to, you know, I can't really be doing with that. If you like something and it sounds good, then you know. I can't really worry whether it's the hippest thing. The hippest thing usually doesn't really do anything for me.

KG: It's like when the jungle phase was just past the point of being cutting edge and I was walking through Soho, it was Friday night, and these two secretaries were standing on the street by the sort of big clubs, [her voice jumps three octaves] "Oh, I'm really into drum 'n' bass." And that was it, that summed it. It was sort of funny, actually. It started out sort of avant-garde and weird.

CS: So where do you think you fit into the music scene now?
KG: Well we're sort of dance like, but we're not really an indie band either.

CS: So, did you get together and just decide to collaborate and see what happens, or did you deliberately set out to form this new band?
KG: Oh, there was a very definite idea of what it should be.

CS: Is there anything I should ask you that I haven't asked you yet?
KB: No.

KG: How about, "Would you like a large sum of money?"

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