The Road To AURA: Chris Bullock of Snarky Puppy February 26, 2016 09:42

Interview by Taylor Pack: Live & Listen

The 7th Annual AURA Music & Arts Festival is right around the corner, taking place at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida from Thursday, March 3rd to Saturday, March 5th.  As a part of our coverage of the festival, we are sitting down with a handful of this year's performers for a series of interviews called "The Road To AURA."  Next up is Chris Bullock (tenor sax/flute/clarinet/bass clarinet) of Snarky Puppy.  Snarky Puppy is scheduled to play the Amphitheater Stage at AURA on Saturday night from 8:00 PM - 9:30 PM.

Snarky Puppy’s latest album, Sylva just earned Snarky Puppy its second Grammy in as many years, this time for best contemporary instrumental album. But the recent success is a result of over 10 years of hard work and dedication to the music.  How does the album reflect the experiences and influences that have shaped Snarky Puppy along the way?

Chris: The album, Sylva, was the largest production of an album we have made to date. It was definitely one of those moments that everything we had done before, the numerous albums and multitude of gigs, had shaped us and prepared us to make that record with the Metropole Orchestra. It’s a diverse collection of music and genre mash-ups which I feel is an honest representation of the sound we have developed over the years. It’s also of note to mention how amazing of an organization and ensemble the Metropole Orchestra is!

How did the experience of winning your second Grammy different from the first one?

Chris: As per the first time we were awarded the Grammy, we were pleasantly surprised. This recent Grammy win had us in a category with some of our musical heroes, Marcus Miller and Bill Frisell. It was an extreme honor for us to be in a category with these two individuals who have had a collective musical impact on so many members of the band. The first time we won was a bit of a blur due to some rigorous travel/touring. This time around everyone had actually slept the night before.

Watch Snarky Puppy perform "Binky" from the live DVD groundUP:

Many years of rigorous touring led to the bands eventual breakthrough. It is rumored that at one point you guys were doing over 200 shows a year. Even your recent albums are recorded with live audiences. Are you guys just being really generous with your music or does performing in front of an audience have an effect on what happens on stage?

Chris: I would say that a “breakthrough” came because a combination of touring coupled with the power of the internet and friends sharing music with their friends and then repeating that cycle. Performing live in front of all varieties of audiences and different venues/spaces most definitely has an impact on the music we make. As a band, we improvise collectively within the compositions a lot during our performances. The energy that the audience gives is very easily felt on stage. We have a book’s worth of stories about bizarre, funny, and amazing moments of this interaction.

Snarky Puppy has almost 40 band members constantly fluctuating on and off its’ roster and your recent release Family Dinner Vol.2 has at least one featured artist on every track. Why is artist collaboration so important to what you guys are doing?

Chris: Everyone in the band writes their own music and participates in a plethora of different musical projects. Because of that, the band can often feel like a room of producers during the musical creative process. Working with a variety of artists from different genres and parts of the world challenges us to make authentic, honest music through the filter of Snarky Puppy. It’s a very rewarding experience for the band and helps up grow and push collectively and individually.

This year's lineup will feature a notably diverse lineup of some of the festival scene’s most exciting groups. What do you think the lineup says about the depth of the music scene in 2016?  

Chris: It’s an honest reflection of the the type of audience and listeners that are excited to support a variety of music that excites them.

With just one set, it has to count. How does the band go about deciding the set list for a major festival set and any teasers as to what the fans can expect on Saturday?

Chris: Regardless of the gig, whether it’s a festival or any other location, we always approach the music making process the same. A majority of the time the set is determined close to the performance time. We have a large catalog of original Snarky Puppy compositions that we draw upon depending on the vibe and setting. In December, we recorded a new Snarky Puppy studio album which will be released later this year. The title of that album is Culcha Vulcha. We will be playing a few of the 13 new compositions from that album.

Catch Snarky Puppy on the Amphitheater Stage at AURA on Saturday night from 8:00 PM - 9:30 PM.