Feeling cornball, I once
called Azalia Snail "an American original" лл just couldn't find a better
way of expressing it. The self-taught, self-made, self-styled Snail makes a
mostly low-tech music unfettered by hoary old rules about harmony, melody
and structure. With the logic of dreams, these fantasias begin in one place
and wind up on the other side of the world; she plays chords she doesn't
know the names of (she made 'em up) and casts her tunes in nonconformist
(for pop) settings: Zithers, Moroccan flutes, Casio, Mellotrons, specially
tuned guitars and obscure percussion instruments rear their inquisitive
On Snail's latest album, Soft Bloom (Dark Beloved Cloud), her
ninth, she again reinvents pop craft by drawing on an enormous number of
non-pop elements, often in the smart 'n' cuddly tradition of England's
Canterbury scene of the late '60s and early '70s, in particular the
whimsical pop-avant-garde intersections of the first two
albums. Lovely, strange ballads give way to voiceovers and shadowy noises;
she'll build golden cathedral rays on tons of layered guitars; Faust
collage meets discordant chords striking other discords, spraying
shimmering tones outward. It's a hazy and sweet aura, bursting with weird
beauty, and there's no skimping on the darkness.
Snail sees herself as neither guitar player
nor songwriter nor singer, nor any of those conventional selling points:
"Really, it's more of a visual accompaniment [she makes films too]. Things
don't have to follow a pattern in order for them to be successful. I don't
think a song has to have verse-chorus-bridge, whatever, as long as there's
something intriguing about it."
A Snail live show is an unpredictable affair
as well. At Spaceland not too long ago, she and a French-horn player, for a
film accompaniment, improvised a chillingly beautiful half-hour wave of
textural washes. "I like creating a whirlwind sound. My favorite thing
onstage is to do the jams, and to just get a few people up there and make
it spacy and noisy. To do structured songs in just such a so-and-so way is
not very interesting to me."
Snail, who recently planted down in L.A.
after many years in NYC, put out her first album, the fissured-folk Snailbait, in 1990. Featuring guest
appearances by a member of Live Skull and John S. Hall of King Missile, its
release was, she says, "almost too easy." At her second-ever live show in
NYC, two record-company guys had come to see her open for the Reverb
Motherfuckers, "and then they saw me play and decided, `Forget them, let's
sign this chick,' so they agreed to release my first album within the first
year that I was playing out."
Snailbait gained her immediate
acceptance from a still-loyal cult of fans, and led to other labels
offering to release her singles and albums. "This was the time ['89-'91] of
the big resurgence of indie labels," she says, "so all of sudden there
were, like, thousands of singles coming out by every little band out there,
and it was a really great time." The ensuing oversaturation, of course,
helped foster indie music's demise, but Snail kept plugging away. Hundreds
of live shows found her crisscrossing the States, Canada and Europe (as she
continues to do), and she churned out the records.
Music comes to Snail in
bursts; she's not worried about having to create something every day in
order to keep her career going: "You have to have something to draw from. I
find it amazing how people who are so successful year after year just don't
take a break and do something else, like paint or something."
Snail makes her own impressionistic films,
has scored for New York experimental film and video artist Cecilia
Dougherty, and worked with filmmaker Sadie Benning, with whom she
collaborated on a video shown on MTV. Soon, she hopes, she'll be trying her
luck here in Hollywood.
"Most film music is so obvious. I'd like the
chance to do an Ice Storm-type soundtrack. That was beautiful, minimalist. Buffalo
66 had a
good score, too."
For now, she'll carry on making music her
own way, for the love of it. While Snail is not a willfully obscure artist,
"I'm fighting the selling-out process all the way. I only want to do it for
me. The people who like my music have discovered it on their own лл they
haven't seen my picture in a magazine with someone saying, 'This is hot.'
"I've been doing this
for 10 or 11 years now, and I'm still an underground thing. You know, when
you call yourself Azalia Snail лл maybe snails aren't supposed to get too
high above the ground. And Azalias only pop out one or two months out of