Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Snarls are an indie rock four-piece comprised of singer/guitarist Chlo White, singer/bassist Riley Hall, guitarist Mick Martinez, and drummer Max Martinez. The band’s origins trace back to Columbus’s Arts & College Preparatory Academy, when White met Hall on their first day at their new school while both were wearing the same pair of Vans; she was soon introduced to Mick Martinez, and the pair hit it off even before she found out Martinez was actually Hall’s childhood friend. They added Martinez’s younger brother Max as their drummer, and just a few months later, in February 2018, Snarls independently put out their self-titled EP, which was followed by their debut album, Burst, released via Take This to Heart Records in the spring of last year.
Last week, Snarls returned with a new EP, What About Flowers?, which was produced and mixed by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla. One of its five excellent tracks is titled ‘Sparkling’, a word that’s often been used to describe the band’s style of indie rock – their own Bandcamp bio dubs it “glitter emo alt rock.” If their debut full-length saw the band refining their fusion of dream pop, shoegaze, and emo with sharper hooks and shimmering production, the new EP lights up that same spark while hinting at what they can accomplish with a more intentional focus on dynamics. Even more promising, though, is how they’ve managed to retain the crushing emotional sincerity of past releases through a more mature lyrical lens. “You look into me/ I think the world could stop/ So what if it does?” they ponder on ‘Sparkling’. Just like that, they go on, singing in harmony like it can sweep the fear away.
We caught up with Snarls’ Chlo White for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the making of What About Flowers?, the band’s collaborative relationship, and more.
How do you feel now that the EP is out, especially as you’ve been playing these songs live?
It’s been really great playing the songs to an audience, but it feels good to finally have it out into the world and have everyone be able to listen to that. It’s kind of like putting your journal out into the world, and it always feels a little different once it’s on a release platform. It’s still kind of controlled when you’re playing them at a show, they’re still kind of yours. [laughs] But yeah, even people coming to the shows, there’s been a few that know the words to the singles that we just put out and it felt really good.
You obviously released your debut album, Burst, last year, but I wanted to go back to your self-titled EP from 2018. How does this release date compare to then?
That’s a great question. I barely even remember what that was like, it feels like so long ago. I was super new to being in a band, it felt really special for me, and that’s still true today. This is so special, because we recorded it with Chris Walla and we had a great experience out there together in Seattle. I think that there’s differences in our bond as a band, but the feeling of putting music out there hasn’t changed – I don’t think that’ll really ever change for me, it just feels good all around. The album felt great, especially, because we had been playing those songs for almost two years at that point.
You’ve said that ‘Twenty’ was the song that sort of brought you together as a band. How do you feel about that song now?
Our first rehearsal as this band, we wrote that song. We kind of pulled it out of us randomly. So that song was really special because that was the first song we ever wrote together. And all these years later, it still hits the same.
Do you have a vivid memory of writing that song?
Yeah, it was in Max’s room at his parents’ house in the basement. He had a drum kit in the corner, and we had all planned to take some band promo photos the previous night – because we barely had an Instagram presence, we wanted to get some photos up. So I brought a disposable camera, and I just remember sitting down, setting everything up, looking at each other and being like, “Okay, what do we do?” [laughs] I don’t know everything else in between, but we did write that song. And then we were all just like, “What the heck, this is something so special.” And then we wrote the EP shortly after that.
What was your experience with writing before that?
Writing with other people, that was something that was so new to me. I know all of us have loved music since we were little ones, but I’ve been writing and writing since I could hold pen and pencil. I fell in love with writing when we would write stories in elementary school, l always loved story writing and colouring scenes – which, I am not a good artist, but I did like telling a story. And then as I got a little older, I couldn’t play any instruments yet, but I joined choir and loved singing. I’ve always loved writing for myself, so that wasn’t super hard to adjust to for me, and neither was working in a group. Snarls is such an easy group to work with, we’re all very easy to get along and compromise with, so it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d do it with them. The hardest part was getting to know new people.
How do you reflect back on yourself at the time, and do you think it aligns with what everyone else’s impression of you was? Is it something you’ve thought about?
Yes, but trying to articulate that is challenging. I think I was always really nice to everyone in high school, and I think that my art showed that too. I’ve always had my feelings out on the table. I think that people’s impression of me was pretty in line with what I thought of myself. But in the context of Snarls now, I think that people certainly think I’m a little bit more of an open book than I actually am. Like, I’m an open book, but at shows people just ask me the most wild personal questions. I’m like, “What?” [laughs] So maybe I’ll draw it back a little bit.
Has your collaborative relationship with the band changed over the years, or has it stayed pretty consistent?
Very consistent. It’s been that way since the beginning. There’s always room for change, and if someone comes with a finished song, we’ll work with that. But for the most part, I think we all like that it’s collaborative, because we all kind of get our moment and have a decision on how we’re being individually being cast or shown in the song. I think everyone really likes it this way.
How did the connection with Chris Walla come about, and what was it like recording with him for this EP?
Looking back at that, it’s actually kind of funny. We’re so grateful, of course, but it’s actually just funny, because Joe [Urban, founder of Take This to Heart Records], he was like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I emailed Chris Walla your AudioTree?” And we were like, “Yeah, do it.” And he got back with us. He was like, “I want to do the EP.” All of us were blown away. Not that we weren’t expecting a response on his end, but I can’t imagine the amount of stuff from bands that he receives, so the fact that he actually goes through them and takes the time, that just goes to show about him as a person. Chris is such a kind person. That’s when we were deciding to write the EP, and once we actually got out there with him, it was just amazing working with him. He is very good at letting the original integrity of a song sit there and exist without changing it. And he just makes everything sparkle – he has this ear for really unique qualities and detail that really works well with our same ear. He also is very easy to compromise with and is a very go-with-the-flow personality. Not to say that there weren’t challenges in the studio, but that was definitely the best experience that I have ever had working with an engineer.
What do you think appealed to him about your music and the prospect of working with you?
I forget exactly how he said it, so I don’t want to misquote him. But I do remember him saying that, how genuine we all are as people, it just comes through in the music. And I thought that was the sweetest thing ever. Other than that, we all had a very nice connection being around each other. I know that he shares the same kind of love for music that we all do, like, he’s also such an emotional person.
Do you mind sharing some personal highlights and challenges from the recording process?
I was going through a particularly difficult time in my personal life when I was out there, so it was very hard for me to focus on this amazing experience that I was having. I felt selfish a lot of the time, because I would be, like, having to take five by myself and just go outside. It was hard, but then it all was so rewarding and redeeming because when we would sit down with all of the material we had and work on it, it just sounded amazing. And I think Chris also picked up on the fact that I wasn’t having the best time, and I think he did a good job capturing that, in a way. It sort of fueled the way that I personally was performing and singing, which is very passionate. But I think the highlights from the studio are just the rest of it, honestly. We all had really long days in there and we’d all be so tired, but we’d come in the next day and just be so excited.
I was thinking of the song ‘For You’ – the vocals on that song I feel are very passionate, especially towards the end. What was it like recording that one?
I don’t remember which take of the vocals we actually kept and used for the ending of ‘For You’, but that song made me emotional every time I would try to sing the end of it. Also, because I had trouble hitting the note – I can hit it perfectly now because I’ve had practice, but that’s the highest note I’ve hit in a song, so that also gave me a little bit of anxiety singing in front of people. Because our managers would pop into the studio every now and them, so I remember having to track those vocals, and it would make me so nervous to do it with everyone there. All that to say, that specific ending of that song is super emotional, because I was feeling all the negative emotions when I was tracking that part specifically, but I think it does the song justice. Chris was super flexible too, he would tell people like, “Hey, can we give Chlo some space?” He always checked in with me, he wasn’t pushing me in any way shape or form.
What helped you get through that anxiety for the right take?
I am a perfectionist, and I always challenge myself mentally. So I remember listening back to a few takes, and then I’d be like, “No, I gotta go do that again.” That always helps me get through stuff, because I don’t like to let myself sit in a negative place for too long. I’m like, “Okay, you’re done. Get up.” [laughs] I think that that’s one of my most redeeming qualities, because I am emotional all the time, but I’m very good at picking myself up.
You said that you started writing the songs after you knew you were going to be working with Chris Walla, is that right? Were any of the songs written before?
Yes, ‘Sparkling’ has been written for a long time. We actually played that at our album release show in March 2020, but just didn’t have a recording of it yet. But that’s the only one that had been previously written.
Maybe this is a silly, superficial observation, but before I even listened to the full EP, and I saw the track title ‘I’ll Follow You’ and the name of the producer, my mind immediately made the connection to a certain Death Cab song. I was wondering if you were at all self-conscious about that or if it came up at all.
That is so funny, because that has come up in conversation, absolutely. Mick and I wrote that song together like a week before we had to leave. I wasn’t writing the song thinking about that, but when it came to name it, I was like, “Oh my god.” But then I was like, “We kinda have to.” Because one, I wanted it to be the name anyway, but then it kind of became this joke for me, almost, because I love Death Cab and we’re going to go work with him. And honestly, I love corny shit. At the end of the day, I think it’s cute. It was not on purpose, but then it was kind of conscious, obviously, before we put it out.
Did he say anything about it?
Oh no, I didn’t want to talk to him about it. I think maybe in a couple of years it’ll be funny to bring it up to him.
I wanted to ask you something that relates back to your debut album. Around that time, you had said you were grappling with this intense fear of death, which I think also comes through on songs like ‘Fixed Gear’ and ‘Sparkling’ on the EP. Has your perspective or the way you experience that feeling changed in any way?
Yes, it has changed, but it kind of just comes more in waves now. I have gotten older, so I can cope with it a little better, but not to say I’m perfect at it. Also, just expressing it differently helps, because for me, when I express things a little differently, it’s coming from a different place in my heart or my body. They’re not filtered through the eyes of a teenage girl anymore. It’s the same feelings, but with a different filter over it. I’ve also moved on to writing about other stuff, so it’s not always the focal point of my work, because what I and all of us are currently going through is sort of what ends up being written about.
Do you mean as you were going into the EP or moving away from it?
Oh, moving on to the EP, yeah. But I think I’m gonna move even further from it. I don’t know which direction, but there’s something happening with the newer stuff we’re kind of starting to chip away at song-wise.
We were talking earlier about how ‘Twenty’ was the song that brought you together. If you had to boil it down to one thing, what do you think it is that has kept you together?
I think our friendship as a group. Mick and Max are siblings, and Riley – all of their parents went to high school together, so they’ve known each other since they were babies. And I’ve known everyone since high school. So we’re all very close, like a family, and I think that that has a great deal to do with it, for sure. But we also just all get along really great and have a fun time together.
Can you share one thing you’re proud of about yourself and about what the rest of the group has accomplished at this present moment?
That’s a really good question. [pauses] I haven’t had time to think about that. You’re gonna make me cry, like, I haven’t stopped and thought about that.
I’m sorry. You can take your time.
No, don’t apologize. I actually needed that, thank you. I think personally, I have been getting over my stage fright a lot on this tour, which is something that I’m very presently proud of myself for. And I still have my difficulties but with these shows, I’ve been able to just have fun on stage instead of being all worried about what I look like or sound like. Or even knowing the songs, because we’re so well practiced with the songs now because we’ve been playing them for several nights in a row. So I’m proud of that, personally. And then, to speak for the whole group, we’re all super proud that we’ve stuck it through and that we’re on tour. It’s really crazy. It’s exhausting, but this is just the start of the staircase, I feel, for us. We just want to keep hustling and growing. We’re all looking forward to what is gonna come of all this, because there’s just a lot of unknown right now. We all took off work to be on this tour, and it feels like a big risk, almost. But it’s almost not – I feel very safe with them. And I think they all do too.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.