The 315 Interview: Elephant Back

In 218 BC Carthaginian general Hannibal and his army descended the Alps upon the backs of elephants en route to Rome during the Second Punic War. On Saturday, the Vernon, NY-based band Elephant Back will embark on their attempt to conquer Rome, although in a less imperial but slightly similar manner. (We’ll address that probably ridiculous reference later).

The husband and wife duo will be performing their first nearly-home turf show at Copper City Brewing Company in Rome on Oct. 28 in advance of the release of their sprawling double album that is due to drop in December.

315 Music recently sat down with Dave and Sarah Snediker of Elephant Back to discuss the band’s origins, its aggressive recording schedule, and their hopes to win over a herd of new fans. Their most recent single and video — a Dick Dale-influenced surf rock number titled “A Lot to Do” — was released on Friday. You can view that below.

Elephant Back was formed during the pandemic in 2020. Sarah had been taking drum lessons from Dave when they decided to get together and write some songs. The result was an entire album released in August 2022. Their ambitious approach led them to not only record the album but also record a video for each song on their debut.

As Sarah recounts, the two had been playing separately in different bands when they started hanging out. She had a secret notebook of poems and lyrics that Dave had found. He began writing music to accompany these writings, which led these two hard-working people to start bouncing ideas off of each other, eventually putting together a fully realized album.

When asked about their past performing history, both Sarah and Dave listed a plethora of branches in the CNY musical family tree they’ve been part of. Since 1988, Dave has played with Nineball, the Electric Chick Magnets, Atomic Love Puppies, Rick Masters, and Darling Vendetta.

Sarah has been playing live since 2015 and has a resume that includes Soundbarrier, New Age Static, Our Common Roots, and Carson Murphy. Dave refers to himself as “the one person who’s played with everybody but no one knows.” Both musicians mentioned that they’ve always been interested in playing original music and they’ve each only been in one cover band, though they do mix in a cover here and there to help fill out a three-hour set that most area bands typically find themselves playing.

With the new double album, which is being split into a Black and a White side, the band had originally planned to record each song in a different place. But the obvious expense and time needed to enact such a plan proved inhibiting. They did, however, manage to visit such places as Big Blue North in Utica, SubCat in Syracuse, Electric Wilburland in Ithaca, Cybersound in Boston, the Albany Recording Company, More Sound in Syracuse, and many band’s ultimate destination, Abbey Road Studios in London.

When asked how they made Abbey Road happen, Sarah simply exclaimed, “I emailed the lady and she said yes.” She continued, “There is a vetting process. I had to send her what we were doing and she checked us out, then it was like a ‘put-up or shut-up’ situation. So you pay for the studio time up front, they call it a challenge. You have 48 hours to send them cash and then they book the date.” Both agreed, “But super worth it. AWESOME. Everything you’d think it would be, it is. Everybody was professional, super humble, asking you if you needed anything every hour.”

The duo spent two days recording at Abbey Road but spent a full week in London. While there, they were able to score a gig at the legendary Troubadour, which has hosted everyone from Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix to Elton John to Ed Sheeran to Adele.

While waiting to play their gig at the Troubadour, they met Anthony Fawcett, once the personal assistant to John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1968-1970. He was eventually replaced by May Pang, who has been in the news of late for the new documentary, The Lost Weekend: A Love Story.

Fawcett was hanging out downstairs at the Troub when Dave and Sarah encountered him as he was about to leave. Dave approached him, “You’re leaving already?” Fawcett replied, “Well, I’m supposed to meet my friend but they didn’t show up. And I don’t even know who’s playing.” Dave responded, “We are.” This led to a conversation and a glass of wine with Fawcett, who eventually decided to hang out and catch their show. They hung out after the show and talked about their music, and, as Sarah puts it, “We can die and go to heaven. He said, ‘John would have loved you guys.'”

The new album will also have videos for each song. The first Abbey Road-recorded song will be released in early December with a video shot by someone Sarah reached out to on Instagram. He followed the band throughout their London visit, including live footage from their gig at the Troubadour.

Another song that will be included in the new collection is “Home,” recorded with the help of a fellow Central New York musician, Nick Piccinnini of Yonder Mountain String Band on fiddle. Check out that video below.

The ambition of this band is something to truly be admired. Sarah taught herself to create videos to accompany each song the band has recorded and each of them has taken away something from each of the studios where they have recorded so that they can further develop their own techniques in the future.

Despite the array of studios they have visited, there are some where they always feel right at home. One is SubCat in Syracuse. Dave and Sarah have recorded at SubCat a few times and studio owner Ron Keck knows exactly how to dial in the Elephant Back sound, saving the band time and giving them a comfort in knowing they can just walk in, set up their gear, and hit record.

In the middle of all of this craziness, Dave and Sarah got married. When you sit with these two, it’s obvious that they were meant to be together both professionally and personally. They are in lockstep with each other when it comes to the band’s vision, and being a couple only serves to strengthen that vision. The word “ambition” has been mentioned many times throughout this article but that’s exactly what this band exhibits. To add anything more to this mix would prove to be a disservice to what they are doing.

To look at press photos, one would think that the band is heavily influenced by The White Stripes and The Black Keys, or even The Raveonettes. And while there may be elements of those sounds in their works, to assume this would be a mistake. This band refuses to be pigeonholed as simply a guitar/drums garage band. Their influences range from Motown to classic rock to the Beastie Boys to jazz to grunge to metal. And most of these influences can be found over the course of one side of their recorded output. Elephant Back can exude an entire genre-less playlist in one set.

Why the name Elephant Back? As Dave puts it, “This was a name that’s been in my back pocket for years. Guys have won wars on the backs of elephants (Hannibal). I just saw it as a symbol of strength. Originally it was gonna be a punk band that I wanted to do but it’s morphed into this thing.” As we have seen, this band has been riding the back of the proverbial elephant in an attempt to win the war of getting their music in front of the masses.

You can join the war this Saturday at Copper City Brewing in Rome starting at 7:00 PM.

Follow Elephant Back:

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