Snarky Puppy Bio
After a decade of relentless touring and recording in all but complete obscurity, the Texas-bred/New York-based quasi-collective suddenly found itself held up by the press and public as one of the major figures in the jazz world. But as the category names for all four of the band’s Grammy® awards would indicate (Best R&B Performance in 2014, Best Contemporary Instrumental Album in 2016, 2017, and 2021), Snarky Puppy isn’t exactly a jazz band. It’s not a fusion band, and it’s definitely not a jam band. It’s probably best to take Nate Chinen of the New York Times’ advice, as stated in an online discussion about the group, to “take them for what they are, rather than judge them for what they’re not.”
Snarky Puppy is a collective of sorts with as many as 25 members in regular rotation. They each maintain busy schedules as sidemen (with such artists as Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and D’Angelo), producers (for Kirk Franklin, David Crosby, and Salif Keïta), and solo artists (many of whom are on the band’s indy label, GroundUP Music). At its core, the band represents the convergence of both black and white American music culture with various accents from around the world. Japan, Argentina, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Puerto Rico all have representation in the group’s membership. But more than the cultural diversity of the individual players, the defining characteristic of Snarky Puppy’s music is the joy of performing together in the perpetual push to grow creatively.
The band was formed by bassist and primary composer Michael League in 2004, starting inconspicuously enough as a group of college friends at the University of North Texas’ Jazz Studies program. Three years later, a serendipitous intersection with the Dallas gospel and R&B community in Dallas transformed the music into something funkier, more direct, and more visceral. It was at this time that the group absorbed musicians like Robert “Sput” Searight (drums), Shaun Martin (keyboards), and Bobby Sparks (keyboards), and were heavily influenced by legendary keyboardist Bernard Wright (Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, Marcus Miller).
September 30, 2022
Empire Central (2022)
Snarky Puppy, the genre-defying super-band, is a lot like Dallas, city of its birth. On Empire Central the eclectic 19-piece electric ensemble is big and bold, chill and laid back, rooted in its native culture while reaching outward, forward-bound. With 16 new compositions including the song “Take It!” -- regrettably, the last recorded performance of ‘80s funk star Bernard Wright, who Snarky ringleader Michael League identifies as a Godfather-like figure – the group looks fondly at where it’s come from, confident in the polished power from which its members continue to build the unique Snarky Puppy sound.
That sound now rises like a skyscraper from a 21st century orchestra comprising three guitarists, at least four keyboardists, two brass, two reeds, a violinist, multiple percussionists and drummers and the accomplished yet modest League keeping it all together with his bass. That lineup was unimaginable when ten friends enrolled in the jazz program of University of North Texas (aka North Texas State) in Denton, 30 miles from Dallas, first convened in 2004. But as Snarky Puppy’s core members moved to the city and were embraced by the region’s Black churches and stalwarts of that community’s music, they matured.
“Our soundscape has expanded dramatically over the years,” says League.
“When the band started we were jazzier, brainy and world-music oriented. Moving into the Dallas scene we became groovier, more emotional, deeper in a sense. We focused more on communicating a clear message, understandable to a listener without dumbing things down.” Having issued 13 albums in 18 years (garnering four Grammy Awards), attracting international fandom and establishing their own GroundUP Music label, Snarky Puppy has proved that listeners will follow them into ever-more confident and detailed arrangements of anthemic motifs, fetching melodies, texturally layered harmonies, exciting solos, ear-candy synth effects and propulsive beats.
Empire Central doubles down on Snarky Puppy’s distinctly Southwestern influences, like the blues, hard rock, classic soul, modern gospel, percolating funk, new tech, ever-misunderstood “fusion” and jazz, without sounding derivative. Rather, it conjures from them music that’s fresh and original. League asked his confreres to compose in homage to the town they consider their common ground, and artists from it who’ve changed music history, “especially Black music history,” he asserts (that honor roll includes Erykah Badu, Kirk Franklin, Roy Hargrove, also touching on St. Vincent, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Miles). Eleven of the bandmates, as well as Michael himself, contributed tunes which were developed and refined over two weeks of rehearsals.
“Snarky Puppy has always been a band that prioritizes the sound of the music,” he says. “On this record there was some collaboration in the writing process but when a song goes to the band and the players start making suggestions or changing things our collective feeling really comes through. The songs ended up being a lot more direct and funkier than those on our previous records. I think it reflects the many moods of the city’s scene.”
For instance, League says he penned “Keep It On Your Mind,” the opening track of Empire Central, “thinking slow, funky, laid back, grooving; and intense.” He calls “Belmont,” named for the Dallas street where he lived, mellow, as is “Cliroy,” a slow-jam ballad composed by brass specialist Jay Jennings as an homage to the late jazz trumpeters Clifford Brown and Roy Hargrove, whose hip-hop-inflected RH Factor is a touchstone. In contrast, “Pineapple” by Mike “Maz” Maher and Michael League is an upbeat dance track referring to house rhythms and new jack swing.
Furthering the “homage to Dallas” theme, founding percussionist Nate Werth’s party-down piece “Mean Green” is titled for the mascot of the band’s alma mater; “Fuel City” by keyboardist Bill Laurance is a brooding dedication to a local gas station where the band often congregated for the great tacos it serves; League’s “Bet” is inspired by Dallas bandleader-music director R.C. Williams; Justin Stanton’s “Broken Arrow” infuses the tones of CSNY, Al Green and Edu Lobo, and “Trinity,” by guitarist Mark Lettieri, is named for the river that snakes through tributaries and forks to connect Dallas, Fort Worth, and Denton.
Globe-trotting Snarky Puppy, which typically mounts two-month tours, of course sustains its interest in the larger world and beyond. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Bullock’s “East Bay” evokes Oakland, California. Percussionist Marcelo Woloski’s “Portal” tags elements of Uruguayan Candombe. Violinist Zach Brock’s “Honiara” nods to traditional folk arts of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and guitarist Bob Lanzetti identifies his work “Coney Bear” to be in the vein of the Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership and cosmic prophet Sun Ra.
But Empire Central is, ultimately, about Snarky Puppy’s spiritual base. “RL’s” by League is a Texas shuffle in the fashion heard at the Dallas blues shack “RL’s Blues Palace II.” Stanton’s “Free Fall” casts a glance back to Jamaica, Queens in the 1980s where Bernard Wright, who took so many of the band’s members under his wing, originated from. Having relocated and a resident of Dallas for decades, Wright essays an irresistibly slinky synth improv on “Take It!,” written by keyboardist Bobby Sparks, one of the first hometown Dallas musicians to join the band.
That Wright died in a car accident at age 58 (less than three months after sitting in throughout the eight nights of live recording and videotaping for Empire Central at Deep Ellum Art Company), is a tragedy weighing heavily on Snarky Puppy, and adding meaning to this, its latest work. “He was our collective’s mentor,” League says. Wright encouraged the band when it was deemed too rock for jazz festivals and too jazzy for rock clubs.
“Many instrumental bands now have a similar setup to Snarky Puppy, with lots of electric instruments, different textures, combining jazz and funk and rock, but it wasn’t like that in the early 2000s,” Michael League remembers. “We’ve kept at it, playing together for 18 years, so we know who we are, and also where we want to be going as we integrate new ideas into the music.
“Our rule is that it can’t sound like it sounded before,” he continues. “The music has to feel like it’s moving somewhere.” Not out of Dallas – although Michael lives in Spain now, his ties to his former home are permanent and at least four members of Snarky Puppy still call the DFW metroplex home. Since 2004, Dallas has developed dramatically, expanding its Arts District, adding some 1.2 million residents, becoming the fastest growing population center in the U.S., embracing its accomplished, ambitious, culture-bridging ensemble as favorite sons.
What will Dallas do next? Where will Snarky Puppy go next? Farther – in the direction of Empire Central.
September 25, 2020
Tell Your Friends (Remixed & Remastered) (2020)
Remixed and remastered edition of the 2010 Tell Your Friends, including two bonus tracks that were only available on the original DVD.
The original version of Tell Your Friends was released in 2010, almost ten years from the date of this, its re-release. It was Snarky Puppy's first foray into recording and filming in-studio live albums, leading to the band's first global impression and YouTube sensations. And while this recording was especially tumultuous, it was largely held together by our new engineer, Eric Hartman. He had engineered a good amount of and helped mix our previous album, Bring Us the Bright, but this was his first time in the driver's seat with us. Between borrowed equipment, a hilariously low budget (four figures), and a band that had never done anything like this before, the session was a complete mess. Over the three days we were there, no one saw him sleep until after the last performance. He was fully clothed, under the recording desk.
From his home base in Dallas, Eric went on to engineer and mix the albums GroundUP, Family Dinner - Volume One, We Like It Here, Sylva, and a good deal of Family Dinner - Volume Two. While on tour in Montreal in 2015, nearing the tail end of the mixing process for Family Dinner, we received news that Eric had suddenly and tragically passed away. We were destroyed. He worked with many individual members of the Snarky Puppy and GroundUP label families on their own respective projects, and brought a level of (badly-needed) calm and conscientiousness to every project he touched.
Michael League was living in New York at the time, working frequently with the immensely talented engineer Nic Hard. Nic was the obvious choice for the band, with an aesthetic completely opposite to that of Eric. If we were going to be forced to change sonic directions, we wanted to do it in a big way. Nic engineered and mixed Culcha Vulcha, Immigrance, Live at Royal Albert Hall, and hundreds of live concerts for Snarky Puppy. While recording these new projects alongside Nic, we decided to start releasing on vinyl, in reverse chronological order, all of our previous titles. It was relatively low-maintenance as the final mixes for each had been sitting inside of dust-covered hard drives in my studio. That was, until, we got to Tell Your Friends. It wasn't there.
Everything we had recorded was on the drive, but the mixes were gone. Not a trace of the work Eric and Michael had done in Dallas. Just the raw audio, exactly as it was the minute after we played the last note of the night at Dockside Studio in Louisiana. It goes without saying that this was a serious problem, but it also presented a unique opportunity. What if Nic remixed it? We already had Eric's mix out in the world, but we were physically incapable of using it to produce the vinyl master. So, why not use it as a chance to get a second perspective on the exact same performance? Remixes and remasters are not unusual in this day and age, but very rarely do they happen out of absolute necessity.
What you have in front of you is the first live album of a completely unknown band, recorded in Louisiana by Eric Hartman and mixed a decade later in New York by Nic Hard (and mastered by Dave McNair)- an unexpected collaboration with a thread woven through ten years of music and friendship.
Enjoy the new perspective.
March 13, 2020
Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2020)
March 15, 2019
Immigrance, the new Snarky Puppy studio album, is all about movement. "The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration," explains Michael League. "Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones."
Like Culcha Vulcha, Immigrance is a studio project, and it features most of the same musicians. And though it shares that project’s ace musicianship and dynamic, kinetic spirit, it is also more raw and moodier than its predecessor. Several of the compositions put a newfound emphasis on delivering simpler, streamlined impact. With Immigrance, Snarky Puppy is essentially practicing what it’s preached all along: People from different places can bring their various strengths and experiences, and that can be beautiful and cohesive. The band itself is a representation of that musical expression.
April 29, 2016
Culcha Vulcha (2016)
February 12, 2016
Family Dinner, Vol. 2 (2016)
Family Dinner, Volume Two is the second in a series which began with 2014’s Grammy Award-winning album, Family Dinner, Volume One. The chart-topping, fusion-influenced Snarky Puppy make exploratory jazz, rock, and funk, and here they act as "backing band" to some of the world’s greatest vocalists, musicians and songwriters including David Crosby, Becca Stevens, Laura Mvula, Salif Keita, Ivan Neville and Jeff Coffin. The accompanying DVD disc includes performances of 2 bonus songs not included in this double 180-gram vinyl version, plus a digital download card of the album is included inside as well.
May 26, 2015
Released on May 26 via Impulse!/Universal Music Classics, Sylva is the first time the band has joined forces with an orchestra. The 60-minute suite was recorded and filmed live with the multi-Grammy-winning Metropole Orkest orchestra from the Netherlands, for whom it was specifically written. It topped 4 separate Billboard and iTunes charts upon release.
February 25, 2014
We Like It Here (2014)
From the moment Snarky Puppy played its first overseas show to a sold-out London crowd, they felt at home in Europe. Recorded and filmed live with a studio audience over 4 nights in the Netherlands, We Like It Here captures the band at its most explorative point in its career, in both composition and improvisation. The film also contains over an hour of interviews, behind the scenes tour footage in Europe, and alternate solo takes from the recording sessions.
September 24, 2013
Family Dinner, Vol. 1 (2013)
Inspired by a music series that the band runs in New York City, Family Dinner - Volume One is a live DVD featuring 8 different vocalists with Snarky Puppy as the backing band. Genre morphs from track to track with performances by Lalah Hathaway, Lucy Woodward, N'Dambi, Magda Giannikou, Shayna Steele, Chantae Cann, Tony Scherr, and Malika Tirolien. The album was recorded and filmed in the beautiful Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA in March 2013.
July 30, 2013
A collaboration between Snarky Puppy and the young Burundian refugee Bukuru Celestin. Made by possible by a grant from Chamber Music America, Amkeni fuses traditional central African music with the band's unique take on Bukuru's songs. It was recorded in February 2013 at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA.
March 27, 2012
groundUP was filmed and recorded live over 3 nights in legendary bassist Matt Garrison's new Brooklyn performance space, Shapeshifter Lab, in front of a 40-person studio audience. Similar to the setting of their last several live albums/DVDs, the project captures the rawness and spontaneity of Snarky Puppy's live energy, but this time in a stripped-down Brooklyn warehouse.
September 28, 2010
Tell Your Friends (2010)
The first of Snarky Puppy's live, in-studio DVD/albums, Tell Your Friends was filmed and recorded in one night at the cozy swamp-set Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana, and is the band's debut release on Ropeadope Records. It marks the first recorded appearance of Grammy Award-winner Shaun Martin on organ and Moog, and a live 30-person studio audience.
October 2, 2008
Bring Us The Bright (2008)
Snarky Puppy's third studio album is the first recording of the band after it melded with the Dallas music community. Featuring keyboardists Bernard Wright and Bobby Sparks as well as drummer/keyboardist Robert "Sput" Searight, Bring Us the Bright is a noticeable departure into a brand new landscape of grooves and textures. It was recorded in Dallas, TX in April 2008 and mixed by Chris Godbey (Timbaland).
May 2, 2007
The World Is Getting Smaller (2007)
The second studio album from Snarky Puppy, The World is Getting Smaller features two live drummers (Rob Avsharian and Steve Pruitt) panned left and right (as well as a guest appearance from master percussionist Jose Aponté), and marks a compositional departure from The Only Constant. It was recorded as most of the band was leaving college at the University of North Texas in 2007.
March 6, 2006
The Only Constant (2006)
Here's where it all started! Made all the way back in 2005 and released in '06, The Only Constant is a snapshot of the band in its infancy as students at the University of North Texas. It features 5 very, very different tracks by Michael League and has a more open and acoustic sound than any other of Snarky Puppy's albums.