Never foretelling the current wars, the grotesqueness of power, and universal, human upheavals that have surmounted at present, Sneers, made up of M.G Blaankart and Leonardo O. Stefenelli, had already composed nine stories facing internal storms on Tales For Violent Days (God Unknown Records), a collection of songs orbiting love and lovers, yearnings, and the human and inhumane.
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A follow up to the band’s 2018 album Heaven Will Rescue Us, We’re The Scum, We’re in the Sun, produced by The Underground Youth’s Craig Dyer and Kristof Hahn of Swans, which explored the two ends of heaven and hell, Tale For Violent Days twists through the peripherals of good and evil in nine songs orchestrated around layered instruments and a fleshy ambiance soothing the dread of Blaankart’s possessed vocals and prodding words.
“These tales are about the cruelty of our days and dancing angels, young lovers, women, mothers, old lovers, wolves, derelicts, defeats, desires, demons… or tales about humankind,” Blaankart and Stefenelli tell American Songwriter of the cryptic and causational stories unwrapped on the album.
Melding the visuals with the music of Tales for Violent Days, in the video for “Ode to the Past,” director Leon zooms in on the lyrics of the song, layered over imagery of a woman in a room watching the world burn outside, and continues with a kneeling man in “Black Earth Shining,” shifting in their meditative or praying state before a fairy-like angel passes through, armed with a larger wand, all braced around the unsettling There’s a storm going on / And I hide and I hide and I hide / And I kneel and I kneel and I kneel and I kneel / ‘Till I cry ’till I cry ’till I cry ’till I cry.
The different paces of Sneers’ compositions are an extension of their raw storylines, and their transient states. Formed in Berlin, Sneers later relocated to Rome, Italy, perhaps a stop along the way for the migrating pair, who recorded Tales For Violent Days in Turin, Italy, with portions mixed in Berlin and San Francisco.
Blaankart spoke to American Songwriter about the nine stories of Tales For Violent Days, songwriting, how their nomadic nature continues to impact their art.
American Songwriter: Tell me how Tales For Violent Days started piecing together for you from the time of Heaven Will Rescue Us, We’re Scum, We’re in the Sun?
M.G. Blaankart: Really naturally. By the time we had finished promoting Heaven Will Rescue Us… new songs were ready to be recorded and we were looking forward to it. We went to Turin this time, to work with Freddie Murphy (from Father Murphy) and sound engineer Paul Beauchamp. The record was recorded in Turin, mixed in Berlin, and mastered in San Francisco. It has traveled a lot.
AS: Many of the songs on Tales For Violent Days were written several years ago. Why were they still resonating now? What is it that threads these nine songs/stories together?
MGB: All songs were composed between 2018 and 2019. This record has been ready for two years but it could have been financial suicide to release it before with all gigs cancelled and no chance to promote it. It was very frustrating to have a record ready and not be able to share it with anyone. This record is composed of nine internal storms, that for a matter of immediacy we decided to call tales. These tales are about the cruelty of our days and dancing angels, young lovers, women, mothers, old lovers, wolves, derelicts, defeats, desires, demons. They’re about humankind. The element of war, even if only in a figurative sense, is very present. And I find it awfully appropriate considering the [current] situation.
“As Old As the Gulf War” is a comparison between the age of an individual and the age of a conflict. Starting from the year I was born, this song is about being “as old as the Gulf War,” about my mother’s existence as a young woman during the Cold War, about loss, and being back where I was born. As a matter of fact, every one of us was born at the very same time a conflict was bursting out.
AS: Did the craziness of the past two years or so (pandemic, etc.) impact the meaning or direction of any of the songs?
MGB: Not at all. Each of these songs was composed before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. As a matter of fact, they were recorded in August 2019, when we had no idea what would happen in a few months. We never thought that the title of our work could be so dramatically appropriate for the horror of these days. Maybe “Violent Days” never do pass, or at least this is what history seems to be proving all over the world.
AS: How do songs typically come together for you both? Is it mostly collaborative? How has this shifted since For Our Soul-Uplifting Lights to Shine as Fires (2016)?
MGB: It has shifted a lot. When we started there was still that post-teenage urgency of giving vent to our creativity without any restrictions on sound or composition, always in a rehearsal room (“a” rehearsal room because it was never the same, we didn’t have our own and changed every day). We had some ideas but that was it. Now, it’s the opposite. I usually compose the skeleton of songs with an acoustic guitar and from that point, Leonardo and I work together on the composition. Songs are much more arranged in all their simplicity and we ask ourselves what we really want from each instrument inside that song. Then we build it all together with patience. But the birth of the skeletons of songs is still impetuous. Guitar and vocals are just a means to express my emotions and narrative. It happens that I play and play and play and something I feel connected with at that moment comes out, then I kind of stick to it. I start by singing some words that materialize in my mind and then repeat them again and again like a mantra. Then that mantra takes on a deeper shape, a deeper meaning in my mind, and a narrative comes out of it.
AS: Sonically, what did you want to capture on this album?
MGB: We tried to create a sound that was not deriving from the multiplicity of sounds but from their single power and declination. We think the result was possible thanks to the combination between the minimal taste of our producer Freddie Murphy and sound engineer Paul Beauchamp and the stratified mix of Francesco Donadello and his experience with contemporary music.
AS: What is the significance of the album title?
MGB: It is ironic because it emphasizes the need to listen to these “tales” to survive violent days—as if it could really help. These songs are internal storms so the initial idea was to name the album “Tales About Violent Days,” then Leonardo met Peter Greenaway at a conference and asked his opinion about the title of the record. Greenaway said “you should name it ‘Tales For Violent Days.'” I liked the idea of creating an imaginary sense of urgency, the need to satisfy a need maybe.
AS: Now four albums in, what songs (or tales) are you gravitating toward now?
MGB: All of them—perhaps those with monolithic structures like “About Defeats Desires & Demons” and “As Old As the Gulf War.”
AS: You started in Berlin and are now in Rome. How has the change in the locale(s) affected Sneers’ music?
MGB: Berlin and Rome are just two of the places where we spent some time in continuity, But there are a lot of places we call home. Moving continuously, touring across different countries, stepping out into the world, and immersing ourselves in humankind made possible a big change in our writing, which has become increasingly anthropocentric. All the songs on the album are about humankind, and that couldn’t have been possible without permanent motion.
Photo: Öncü Hrant Gültekin