Dave Sanders, saxophonist of Bristolian group Snazzback, took the time to chat with Ally about their latest album 'In The Place', the band's creative processes and the thriving Bristol scene.
Bristol-based seven-piece group Snazzback are difficult to define. The group merge elements of Afro-Latin and hip-hop rhythms, head-nodding grooves and jazz melodies, as well as incorporating more electronic sounds into their latest project. With all of these musical tropes combined, they certainly don't fit into any conventional music space.
Having garnered support for their 2018 debut LP Hedge from across the alternative UK music world, In The Place sees the group expanding their sound and style. "Since we first met, I think we've all grown as musicians,” Dave tells me, “as an element of this kind of journey, is continuing to work on your individual craft, as well as within the ensemble”.
One of the terms which has stuck with the group are “New wave dancefloor instrumentalists”. Like many contemporary acts, Snazzback embraces sounds and rhythms rather than being boxed into a specific style. This observation is confirmed by Dave, “I'd say I don't think we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do at all when we set out. I think it's been an emerging thing between seven people who have grown together - we all come from quite different backgrounds. I think we had seven different ideas of what this band wanted to be, kind of pulling and pushing in different directions”.
In The Place has been released through Worm Discs, the label from Bristolian collective Worm Disco Club, known for their legendary nights within the city, Glastonbury and beyond. The label put out a stunning compilation in 2020 – New Horizons: A Bristol 'Jazz' Sound – featuring some of the key players on the current Bristol circuit; Waldo’s Gift, Run Logan Run, Ishmael Ensemble, China Bowls, BaDaBooM!, Lyrebird, Alun Elliott-Williams and, of course, Snazzback.
Snazzback have been an integral part of the live Bristol scene for a number of years now, honing their craft through busking, pop-up performances and taking up spots and residencies at some of the city’s infamous venues.
In The Place marks a different direction in the group's musical outlook. From Hedge to In The Place, the ensemble have moved from making music forged out of live performances, to music which is more studio orientated. “It's been a shift. It has been a real shift”, Dave claims. “It's affected the way the music sounds, I think it's a positive thing, myself. But, that's the whole thing with this is times change. What you're trying to see changes and your process changes - that's how you develop as a group, as well as embracing those challenges and sort of moving forward. So, I feel quite hopeful about what we can come up with in this new way of doing things.”
When it comes to writing, the group’s songs emerge through bouncing, adapting and morphing seedling ideas, in a truly collective approach. Reflecting on their writing evolution, Dave says “This is the first time that we actually approached it as a recording, as opposed to, like, as a record that ebbs and flows and has more produced elements and uses some of the more electronic textures that are impossible or difficult to do live. So, we actually thought quite long and hard about how we wanted to use that and explore that kind of studio element of to it.” Taking on more electronic elements and different musical devices, Dave believes that “before it felt a bit more like a jazz band, it now feels a bit more like it's pushing in a different direction, which is exciting.”
Like the rest of the music community, Snazzback has faced their own difficulties of late, with periods of lockdowns and restrictions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, the group took a brief pause. However, this challenging moment in time led to a positive outcome. “All of us feel a renewed sense of purpose from having had something taken away”, Dave explains, “I think we’re feeling very grateful and filled with purpose. I think, you know, realising that this is what we want to do, we want to make it as good as we can”.
In The Place features four collaborators working with Snazzback – Solomon OB, Soss, STANLAEY (Bethany Stenning) and long-time collaborator China Bowls – all present forces within the Bristol scene. Asked what the collaborators bring to their instrumental setup, Dave suggests “overall, what the collaborators at large bring to, I think, the album and what we do as a group is it challenges us and brings it into a completely different space”.
Developing this idea, Dave says “When you have, sort of, verbal communication on top of the more abstract musical communication that happens as part of a jazz band, it gives both the listener and you as the musician something to grasp onto, which is both a blessing and a curse as well. So, it's a really interesting challenge, a blessing in the sense of like, there's nothing quite so engaging as someone who feels like they're speaking to you and saying something that you can understand. But, a curse in the sense of, you can begin to rely on that too much. And you want to support them and build them up and work with them without overpowering them or relying on them to communicate everything. So, it just pushes you into a different space”.
Bristol, like Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow, have been critically important centres outside of London in the thriving UK jazz and jazz-inspired scenes over the years. Considering Bristol’s role and place in inhibiting a strong musical landscape, Dave outlines “Bristol, itself has a very rich, cultural, and artistic history. It is a city with its flaws, of course, but also with a real spirit of social change. It's a city with a lot of energy to give to things".
With a sense of awe in his voice, Dave explains that “being a musician in Bristol is an amazing experience, because the audience are really interested in taking a risk, and going and seeing something different across the board, not just with what we're doing, but generally speaking. Like, you can throw a night of some absolutely bananas stuff, and people will come and people will enjoy it and embrace it.”
Naturally, Bristol’s strong musical scene has been harboured by its permissive venues, both past and present, such as Jam Jar, LeftBank, People Front Room and The Galamufry. These centres of culture have allowed groups like Snazzback to develop freely. “I think that's the big thing about Bristol that I would probably point to”, Dave affirms, “the people in Bristol, who are in the audience, who have an interest in actively going and seeing something different, which allows different things to happen”.
With two full-length projects under their belt and a return to performing live, the group are fired up looking to the future. “We've got a lot to say in Snazzback - musically speaking”. Casting his mind over the past several years, Dave posits that “as dark and difficult as times have been, which we'll need to remember and respect, but with that in mind, I think it's going to be an amazing time of artists in art and music blossoming into something beautiful, like flowers opening after a storm. Hopefully, it will be a beautiful time for being an artist or a consumer of art.”
Considering their future, Dave says the group are ready to start thinking about the next thing, “I can’t definitely tell you that when that's going to be or what shape that takes. That may be a conversation for next time, but there's definitely something cooking up”.
Dave Sanders - Saxophone
Alfie Grieve - Trumpet
Eli Jitsuto - Guitar
Hal Sutherland - Keys
Chris Langton - Drum Kit
Richard Allen - Double Bass
Myke Vince - Percussion