By Laura Latzko
Many music groups have been on pause with the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the virus and its effects have slowed down Snailmate, the duo has still been putting out and performing music.
Just before the pandemic, the pair—drummer Bentley Monet and vocalist/synthesizer player Kalen Lander—released the single/video “The Laziest Man in the World,” which was inspired by Lander’s propensity for being an introvert who stays at home.
“I think that night, Bentley went out with some of our coworkers,” says Lander, of South Phoenix. “They invited me, and I was just feeling very lazy. They were making fun of me for being lazy. So, I ran with that. … I have a really hard time prioritizing things and getting out of bed. So, I just figured I might as well embrace it. I think people can relate to feeling lazy.”
Since 2015, the synth-punk hip-hop group has released one studio album and a number of EPs and singles. It has also done a Christmas song and a store jingle.
Lander has been working on a new song and video during the quarantine. It’ll focus on being alone in a house and building personal walls. Lander says it’s a strange coincidence that the music fits with these troubled times.
“That’s been a theme of a couple of songs that I’ve written lately that are about being stuck in your own routine and not leaving the house. Now, it’s very relevant, but that’s the theme I’ve been on for the last year or two,” Lander says.
“I figured I’d write about what I know best, which is being at home in my room, stuck in my own head. Now, it’s how everyone is these days.”
Snailmate’s music explores depression and social anxiety, which affect Monet, a North Phoenix resident, and Lander. Over time, Lander has become more comfortable talking about the subjects.
“It’s not always easy to talk about. It wasn’t always something I addressed, whether it was in my writing or how I was feeling in general. I’ve really tried to be aware of the way that I feel, the shortcomings that I have and the anxieties that I have,” Lander says.
“Once I got comfortable admitting those things, I realized that everyone is experiencing the same things, and it helps other people admit it, too. Everyone gets sad and everyone gets nervous, and there’s no shame in that.”
Monet hopes that by sharing their experiences they can speak to others like them.
“We just want people to realize it’s OK. There are people to talk to, and you’re definitely not alone,” Monet says.
One of Monet’s favorite recent songs is “3D Glasses,” which is from Snailmate’s EP “Existential Anxiety.”
“It is short and fast, and it switches time signatures. I think it’s a really fun song. It’s over before you know it. It’s a metaphor for life,” Monet says.
Lander found the group’s older songs, such as “The Waiter,” are still relevant. However, he’s been trying to rework them to fit with the group’s current sound.
Many of Snailmate’s songs incorporate tongue-in-cheek humor.
“I don’t want my music to ever be sad. It can be about sad things, but it is important to me to be able to laugh at things, so I put a lot of humor into my lyrics,” Lander says. “Even though I’m talking about how crappy I feel and how messed up I feel in my head, I try to make light of it because I feel like if you laugh at things that scare you or trouble you, it makes them easier pills to swallow.”
The duo’s sound is distinctive because it incorporates screaming—higher-pitched screaming, a growl or a shriek. The vocal techniques match Lander’s musical sensibilities.
“I listen to a lot of metal music, so I just really enjoy screaming. It’s fun to do. I like how it sounds,” Lander says.
In the group, Lander is the lyricist, with Monet adding choruses and lines occasionally. Monet, who has a musical theory background, writes all of the drum parts and helps to construct and add transitions in the music.
During performances, Monet often tries to entertain crowds by getting up from his drum set and performing during breaks in the music.
The global pandemic has impacted the duo in a number of different ways. Recently, Snailmate had to cut its national tour short and cancel a trip to Brazil in May. A two-month summer tour may also impact Snailmate, which was in Texas when its tour was cut short.
These are lonely times for Lander and Monet. Their employer, the Rhythm Room, is closed. Monet found other work as a food delivery driver to make ends meet.
This is the longest period of time that the two musicians have been home and away from each other. Usually, they practice together every day, even when on the road.
Usually, the two musicians don’t have much down time, as they tour for weeks at a time in places like Japan, Germany, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Montana. It’s been that way since the beginning. Their third show together was part of a tour.
“We are very fortunate and lucky to have seen as much as we have, and hopefully we can continue to do so. We want to do a new country every year,” Monet says.
They’ve met quite a few friends during their jaunts.
“We love playing with other bands. We have really good friends in other towns who are in bands, so we always play with them when we come through. We are not only excited about the show but excited to see our friends,” Monet says.
Being on the road isn’t easy, but it suits Monet and Lander. As a matter of fact, Monet misses it.
“I hate having a normal structure for long periods of time. Being on tour, seeing a new town every day, trying different food, living off of very little money, playing shows, meeting people and talking to different people every night, it’s just a really exciting time,” Monet says.
To save money, Money and Lander stay at hostels or with friends. Some European venues will feed them meals and let them stay in the spaces. In Japan, audience members have brought them gifts, such as engraved chopsticks.
Monet never knows what to expect, especially when playing in new cities, but he has found that audiences all over the country and world are receptive to Snailmate’s music.
“We have had such a great experience on tour, and people have been so kind, giving and friendly,” Monet says.
The two musicians met when Monet was performing with the band called Sister Lip at Tempe’s Long Wong’s, where Lander worked as a bartender. He says the music helped to liven up Monday nights.
“They really made it into something special. It’s usually a night that doesn’t have a whole lot of potential, or it’s a dead night. We were able to build it into something that people wanted to go to,” Lander says.
Monet already knew of Lander from the band TKLB, which featured Lander and a DJ.
“My drum teacher in high school played in a band. He invited me to one of his shows. Kalen’s band just happened to be playing the same bill. I became an instant fan,” Monet says.
For Snailmate, Lander learned to play the synthesizer, which is challenging to rap over—even five years later. Lander says the chance to do something different musically and to tour the world drew him to Snailmate.
“Not only was it a chance to expand my own abilities with music by playing the synthesizer and taking on a different role, but it was an opportunity to tour and hit the road without me having to make it happen. The problem with my old band was if we wanted to go and do shows, I had to do it myself,” Lander says.
“It goes back to me being very lazy, so it didn’t happen a lot. With Bentley, he’s a workhorse. It was a ticket to tour, to play new music and to reach audiences that I never would have had the chance to on my own. Plus, I really just enjoy making music with Bentley. It’s a unique experience.”
While Lander is a self-taught musician, Monet has years of musical training. Monet has been playing the drums for the last 10 years, since he was 16. With Snailmate, he experiments with drum pads to produce new sounds. Over the years, the two have become more in tune with each other, especially musically.
“We definitely play off from each other and know how to read each other,” Monet says.
Lander is 7 years older than Monet, but the age difference doesn’t matter to them.
From the start, they had a natural chemistry onstage. Offstage, they can be like siblings, getting along one minute and fighting the next.
“We bicker and we get into it, but when we are playing music onstage, we gel instantly. We both have a lot of fun doing it, even if we don’t always get along,” Lander says.
The two also have skill sets that complement each other. Monet books the tours and manages the group’s website and social media. Lander works on Snailmate’s music videos and does graphics. They work together on their merchandise. Lander creates the designs, and Monet does the screen printing.
The biggest difference between the two is in their musical tastes.
Although they both enjoy the music they create, Monet likes pop, new-school rap and indie music, while Lander is a fan of heavy metal, underground hip-hop and ’90s alternative rock.
“It’s funny because we love the music that we write together and I can relate to everything he writes about, but we can’t agree on music outside of our band,” Monet says.
Lander says even though they are very different, they inspire and learn from each other.
“He teaches me a lot, and I suggest things that he wouldn’t have thought of because they don’t make sense necessarily, but they still work,” Lander says.
Find out more about Snailmate by going to snailmate.com.