Despite song titles including “Stretching,” “Fitness” and “Running,” Nashville band Snõõper’s debut LP is not a concept record preaching the gospel of exercise. (I had to ask.) But the group does punch above their weight.
Having formed just three years ago, the first songs and videos born out of COVID infections and forced off-work time for singer Blair Tramel and guitarist Connor Cummins, they’ve landed incredible opening slots and generated loads of hype for a new band, here and abroad. Their songs are so fast and compact, you might double-check your playback settings when streaming Super Snõõper, which is shorter than the average Nashville commute, 14 songs totaling just 23 minutes.
Snõõper certainly excels in the audio-visual theatrics, too, employing styrofoam stage props, puppets, coordinated vintage tracksuits and choreographed moves that amplify the crazy aerobic quality of their hyper-pop punk-rock. It’s a workout just consuming Snõõper’s music, and much more so catching them live.
But this project was just for fun, initially, and bandmates never imagined they’d be touring in Australia in 2023 around the release of their first full-length on celebrated Nashville-based indie label Third Man Records. (“They just feel like our friends,” said Tramel.) Cummins, Tramel and bass guitarist Happy Haugen joined me in-studio one evening to chat about the record, their approach to live performance, the band’s namesake and more.
On The Record: A Q&A With Snõõper
Celia Gregory: I am so stoked to be sitting across the way after hours, as it were, with Snõõper, some local faves. Thank you guys for braving the rain to come hang. Can you introduce yourselves?
Happy Haugen: I’m Happy Haugen, I play bass.
Connor Cummins: I’m Connor Cummins and I play guitar.
Blair Tramel: I’m Blair Tramel, and I sing.
CG: Yes, you do. You all do those things, and you do them really well. And it is so much fun. Happy release of Super Snõõper, your first full-length. You’ve been making music for a little bit, but I don’t know that our listeners know the whole origin story. So give us the CliffsNotes version of how this new project got started.
BT: Connor and I were spending a lot of time together over COVID. He started recording some songs. I really wanted to make music videos, not necessarily to be a part of the songs, but we ended up making some music and then I did vocals over it. We made a music video and it kind of went from there.
CG: So, Blair, your whole goal was the visual?
CG: Like, you never had thought about singing in a band?
BT: “Bed Bugs” was our first song, and it was really short.
CC: You played drums.
BT: I played drums on that one, the first one. And we sped up the drums on the demo version. Connor played his regular speed guitar, and then I did vocals and then we made music videos. And then I was like, “Well, every song going forward has to have a music video or some visual element,” and it kind of went well because it was COVID and shows weren’t happening.
CG: You had some time.
BT: We had lots of time and people were on their phones and looking at the videos we were making.
CG: You were able to build the buzz before you could play, but people had the sound and the visuals. So did you feel pressured then to deliver a full audio-visual experience once you could gig? Because that was my impression when I first saw you, I was like, “Whoa, there is no passive bystander at a Snõõper show.” And I wondered how you designed that, how important that is for you, that it is so fully immersive with props and costumes and puppets. I imagine the total production that goes into it is more than just the average rock band, right?
CC: Yeah, well, we never planned to play live.
BT: I really didn’t want to. I was like, “I think I might fall down.”
CG: Like, pass out? You were scared?
BT: Yeah, I was like, “I don’t know. I’ve never done this, so I don’t know how I’m going to react.” I was like, “What if I suddenly get really nervous and I can’t do it?” But the visuals were huge, and I feel like that was the thing. When we first started, I thought I might not be able to actually sing well like I did on the recording, but I have this papier maché weight that I lifted a couple of times and people seemed to really like that, so it just kind of got crazier and crazier from there with the props.
HH: Yeah, and at the first show we did the crate challenge while on stage.
CG: How would describe this?
HH: It’s like you stack milk crates in a triangle shape, you’re supposed to climb up and not eat shit.
HH: It was viral on TikTok for a while. You can still find the videos.
BT: Oh, they’re crazy.
HH: We did it at your house and we all ate it.
BT: So for the show, we like Velcroed them all together, and then we put some TVs on there. But it was huge. I mean, like we were making music videos at the time, so every song had a visual element like we were talking about. And so we were trying to figure out like, how can we bring this visual element in? And also how can we involve the whole audience? Because I’d seen so many shows at that point where it was like guitarist, drummer, like just the classic band. And I was like, “We’ve been trapped for two years now during COVID. It has to be crazy…every show. Every show must be just the most exciting experience,” which it was.
CG: And now the live show is such a vital part of the brand, when you thought it was never going to happen. I guess the first show I saw was [you] opening for Guerilla Toss at The Blue Room, where you’ll be playing a hometown show soon [September 27]. You’ve been on bills with Amyl and the Sniffers, and those crazy Diarrhea Planet shows at the end of the one era of EXIT/IN. I feel like you keep upping the ante. Does it still feel fun or is it high-pressure to recreate and reinvent?
CC: It almost feels easier now, in some ways.
HH: I think every show is the best show of my whole life.
CC: And honestly, the props kind of take off the pressure.
BT: The set might not be perfect. We play super fast, things happen, stuff gets broken, whatever. But if we can put the energy out there and, like, have the puppet go in the crowd or whatever, it’s like, it’s fun for everyone.
HH: When I go out of tune, I can just hide behind the giant phone and nobody will know I sound bad!
CG: Haha, look over here! The sleight of hand. I don’t want to emphasize too much the visual or even the performance, because these songs you’ve crafted are really great. It’s a really fun sonic experience if people only hear the record. And that’s what we’re here to talk about as Record of the Week. So tell me about the song creation phase. Do you have rules and a normal flow of it now? Tell us about this batch of songs and how they came to be.
CC: They all started as demos. The first two thirds of the record were written over two different times that we had COVID. So we just had a week off work and after like day two, I think, we pretty much felt fine. And so we just set up the eight track and started demoing. And then the more I was recording, it just got easier and easier and the songs just flowed out. We got the skeleton demos down and then we just took it all to the studio. And that’s what you’re hearing on this record.
CG: So you’re writing guitar parts first, mostly?
CC: No, usually I’ll write the drums and then the bass, and then the guitar. I will take it to the band and then they’ll add their like elements, like Happy’s rewritten parts and Cam our drummer has rewritten parts. It’s mostly us four. Whatever we have written we just practice until we hone it in and then take it to the studio
CG: Until your fingers bleed? I mean, that’s what it sounds like. It makes me wonder, with the speed guitar sound, are we going to get some, like, rarity/B-sides record of Snõõper ballads one day? What are you keeping from us?
CC: I mean, really “Bed Bugs” started super, super slow. We used to play the same song three times in the set. Just the first one was regular, like regular or fast speed and then super, super slow –
BT: And then backwards!
BT: I’m kidding.
CC: But it’s funny in hindsight, too, because the original demos people would be like, “Wow, these are really fast.” And we weren’t sure if we would be able to play them live. And then now that we have this record out, we’re like, “Wow, those demos were so slow.”
BT: We did get so much faster and we thought we were fast to begin with, and then we were playing all these shows and were like, “We sound totally different now, we’re faster.” Happy’s added in his little parts. The whole band’s added their contributions to it and we really wanted to capture that. So Super Snõõper was exactly that.
CG: The only song on this record over two minutes is about five, right? It’s “Running,” the final track. I love that the path it takes. How is that one different and why is that the only different one that you composed for this reocrd, or was there something on the cutting room floor?
CC: Yeah, that one definitely is the most built by the band. The stuff at the end of “Running” was all written by everyone in the band, the extended guitar parts. Every practice we would take it a little bit further.
HH: I was playing guitar, too.
HH: Yeah, Happy was playing guitar for about six months and he added bunch of stuff. Matt, one of our old guitarists, wrote some of the parts. Jacob Corenflos added some stuff and then we just, like, built it out.
BT: The fun thing about “Running” is that we wrote it after we wrote a bunch of the other songs during COVID, and we were getting to the point where we though we were literally never going to be able to play live or even practice with other people. So we started experimenting with a drum machine and adding in sounds because, you know, when you start recording music, I guess you write it to play it live. But we just were like, “Well, music’s not a thing anymore.” So “Running” was really long and different for us. Originally the demo version was on a drum machine and I remember when we listened back we were like “This is so cool because it doesn’t sound like any of our other songs.” We really took it from there.
CG: And did you know then when you were trying to arrange tracks for the record, “Oh, this has to close it”?
CC: Yes. For some reason it just naturally felt like the closer. I think we also did it because we just needed more time in the set. We would have sets where we would, like, walk off stage, Blair and then the guitarists, and then Happy and Cam would just play drum and bass for like an additional two minutes.
HH: Well, also, we couldn’t put out the first quote-unquote full-length LP on a 7″.
BT: We were really playing shows at the beginning and trying to extend it so we could say “Actually our set’s 30 minutes”… or 15. [Laughs]
HH: Now I’m playing bass again and it’s funny because me and Cam, whenever we end the set, because it’s me and him [on stage] last, we are always staring at each other seeing who can hold out the longest. Like he’ll want to stop playing first and we signal to each other, but now it’s just a challenge to see who can last the longest.
CG: Like a game of chicken? A staring contest? So bromantic. Blair, since this is so new to you and you were initially resistant, but now you’ve just really embraced this front person role…Were there bands that you’ve seen as a fan where you’re like, “Oh, if I ever did it, I would want it to be like that” or are you doing your own thing and just embodying Snõõper? Was there a template for you in terms of who you admire and what you like stylistically?
BT: That’s a really funny question. Connor works at Duke’s at night, and so I’m home alone at night all the time. And so I thought maybe I’ll practice my dancing, but I didn’t do that. I thought about it and I was like, “Well, I guess that will make me more nervous. So we’ll see what happens.” And then the first show, I was just jumping up and down the whole time and it’s so fast that I kind of have to keep a rhythm with my arms or my body. So that’s just to keep time. Our new song, we have this new song called “Waste,” and it’s so fast.
HH: Don’t like that one.
BT: It’s like the whole song is messed up. So I have to do like specific things with my arms or my legs to keep time. And it’s just kind of evolved naturally. But of course, like Amy Taylor from Amyl and the Sniffers, she’s awesome. Getting to play with them was unreal, but also Guerilla Toss, I love them as well.
HH: You all are very technical with your instruments, but vocally, you have to stay aligned. So that’s a lot of human exertion here. Do you guys sleep really well after shows?
HH: Oh, yeah.
CC: We also all wear tracksuits live. They’re they’re soaked after every show. It doesn’t matter where, we’ve played like shows in Chicago outside in February.
HH: Freezing cold.
CC: And it was still covered in sweat.
BT: But they now do, like, kicks. We all have our things that we do that are very synchronized now, the little movements and stuff. They’re crucial, I think.
CC: It’s extremely aerobic. When I was looking at the track listing again, I was like, “Oh, we got stretching and fitness and running. Is this a concept record?” Did you think about that when you stitched those together?
BT: Over COVID Connor was watching “The Sopranos” a lot, and then it was his birthday and I was like, “He would look awesome in a tracksuit.” So I got it for him and he was not into wearing it, really.
CC: Well, my birthday’s in May. [Laughs]
BT: Also, the first tracksuit I got you wasn’t the best one. Tracksuits are a personal thing.
CC: I’ve been through like four now in the history of the band.
BT: We started doing the song “Fitness” where I held the weight, and then we had the whistle, and then it was like, “Wait, we have that tracksuit in the closet! You should put that on. Wouldn’t that be funny?” And then everyone got tracksuits.
CC: Yeah. And it stuck.
BT: They’re so sweaty after every show.
HH: It’s vile.
CG: We need a GoFundMe for Snõõper laundry. Tell me about touring — you’ve recently been abroad, right? In Australia?
CC: It was amazing.
HH: We saw our favorite bands every single night. It was really cool. Everyone was so supportive over there. The shows were great. They loved the puppets and stuff.
CG: I didn’t think about how you had to travel with all that gear.
BT: We had to ship over the puppet in this huge, huge box. And we couldn’t ditch the box because we had to fly within Australia a couple of times. So the box was very precious to us and Uber drivers would pull up and the box was like so big.
HH: They would say “nope” and drive away without picking us up!
BT: And then I would put it in a shopping cart to take it around places. It was ridiculous.
HH: We had to go by the PVC pipe and like do all the [measurement] conversions on it a couple of times.
BT: It was an interesting experience. It was our first time out of the country and, mentally, we were like, “The shows have to be perfect. Everything has to go amazing.” But you know, we’re dealing with different power adapters, everything was new. And also we were borrowing a lot of gear from the other bands, so things were just not going exactly as we planned. And I was like, “I have an idea. We’ll make this giant phone.” We were kind of down a little bit at the beginning and then we made a giant phone that got crowd surfed and it was like a regular Snõõper party when that happened.
HH: That is like a super educator moment. You’re like, “How can I turn this frown upside-down? Let’s have a project!”
BT: The guys stressed out about the guitars, and I’m like, “I’m making this phone now.”
HH: Are you defacto Tour Mom, like you have to care for the flock?
BT: I feel like that’s you, Happy.
CC: Well, if the puppet’s the baby then you’re the mom.
BT: I’m just good at getting out of the way. I’m like, “You guys have your moment and I’m going to make this giant…whatever.” And Happy is always good about keeping morale high.
CG: Is there a story you have about either the composition of a song or one that when you play it live, it’s just like, “Holy shit” — anything specific to a song that you’d want to share insight about?
HH: I have one right on the top of my head, about “Pod.” Before I joined the band, I was listening to the demos and l remember being so excited when that song came out because I wanted to see it live so bad. I like “raise my fists” songs, and I was always so stoked to see that one live. And then all of a sudden I’m playing in the band. And now it’s cool to see people singing along to it in the exact same way that I would be had I not been playing. That’s the coolest part to me.
CC: And “Pod” is the one where people have messaged us that they’ve covered it. Bands have been asking for lyrics and one band asked for tabs, they’re like, “We really want to cover this at our next show.”
CC: Have been asking for lyrics and when one band asks for tabs and they’re like, We really want to cover this on our next show.
BT: Yeah, someone on Instagram was like, “Hey, can we cover this?” So sweet.
CC: What a testament.
BT: “Defect” to me is super fun. I feel like it has evolved so much, that one was probably our most challenging song for everyone to get on the same page. The timing is super weird and everything and the choreography that has been added is so sweet to see them practice. That was like a core memory for me, you guys synchronizing.
CG: Can you describe this in case nobody can see you?
CC: With the time signatures on the verse, we all turn to the left and then we turn forward and then we turn to the right. And then sometimes we add stuff where we’ll like, spin around or do weird stuff and then break out into the chorus.
CC: This was another one of those things where we were doing that in practice to keep time, and then at one practice [Connor] you were doing it. And I was like, “I’m trying to copy him.” I just got lost in there so I copied him and then Ian or somebody started copying us, too, and from there it was history.
CC: Yeah, All the choreography just started happening naturally. Kind of like how you [Blair] were jumping up and down to keep time.
BT: Well, I think it literally was like everyone was having such a hard time on “Defect,” like just the timing of it. And then you guys started moving in that way. And I will never forget how cute that was.
CG: It’s like The Four Tops up in here! What can you say about signing on with Third Man Records? It just seems like a really great natural fit in a hometown capacity, but also it’s a very important label, an institution that’s recognized a lot further outside of Nashville. Tell me about that experience.
CC: Yeah, it just kind of made sense to go with Third Man. We have a ton of friends who work over there.
BT: We know Third Man is amazing. But they just feel like our friends, like our local, hometown record label. And that was the experience we wanted, you know, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We constantly forget how amazing it is just because everyone’s been so easy to work with.
CC: Everything they have done for this record has been amazing. They have have worked so so hard.
BT: They have gone above and beyond so hard. Like way beyond that I ever thought.
I thought they would just be like, “Oh yeah, here you go. The records out.”
BT: And we get to celebrate together, like they’re here. So running into those people out on a Saturday night, it’s so nice to, like, take a shot together and be like, “I know you worked hard. We’ve been working hard and we’re all here together.” It feels really, really nice. Also, they’ve been so patient with us, too. Like we had such a specific vision —
BT: They’re laughing because it’s me. Yeah, I had this specific vision, we worked really hard to create this specific thing and they always defer to us. They give us full creative control over everything, which has just been so nice.
CC: We were very specific about literally everything, and I think it was probably definitely annoying at times, but they suffered through it all.
HH: It was also cool because we’re all from Nashville. I was born and raised here and like the first LP I ever play on and put out comes from a Nashville label with my Nashville friends and I love it.
CG: That is so special. How did you come up with the name Snõõper? And especially the way it’s stylized, which is fun.
CC: That’s so funny, I wish more people asked about that. Me and Blair were walking to a show at Basement East from Dukes, and there’s an alley…
BT: It was right after the tornado. Like literally right after. And that’s why we were walking back there, because everything was looking so crazy.
CC: Yeah. So I guess we weren’t walking to a show because it was after the tornado and that messed up The Basement East. But there’s a cherry picker that was in one of the lots, and on the side of it was Snõõper, and it was stylized the same way and everything. And we took pictures of it and we thought it was really funny and it seemed like a good band name. But every time we would go through before the band was even an idea, we would just like take pictures by that cherry picker.
BT: And then and Connor said, “If we ever have a band together” — which, in my mind, I was like, “We’ll never have a band together — he’s like, “we should call it Snõõper.”
CG: Have you seen that tag ever again? Is Snõõper out there as some graffiti artist?
BT: It’s not even a tag. It’s like the cherry picker brand. It just looks like graffiti.
HH: [Checking his phone after a quick Google search.] Oh wow, it’s not even a cherry picker. It’s called a Snõõper because it’s designed to hoist people under bridges so they can look under bridge.
BT: So the opposite of cherry picker. It’s a scooper!
CG: A scooper Snõõper! That’s record #2. Anyway, I love this record. It’s so fun. It’s frenetic. The live experience is not for the faint of heart. Did you say you’re writing new music?
CC: Yeah, we have a couple of songs that are unreleased. We’ve played two of them on this last tour, but really since we finished the record and sent it off to press, we’ve pretty much just been on the road, so we haven’t had much time. But now that we’re back, we’re definitely excited. And ready to start knocking out a bunch of new songs.
BT: And also, I never want music to feel like pressure. With this record, everything has just so unexpectedly become so huge and wonderful and it’s all been amazing. But I try to remember that this is for fun and if it’s not feeling fun, the music wouldn’t be the same. So I think it’s about respecting, like, taking a break a little bit and feeling creative again, which we already are. There are moments where we take two days away and we’re like, “Oh, actually, we’re really excited to make music again.” But I’m trying to remember that.
BT: Your local show is next month at The Blue Room.
CC: Yeah, it’s September 27th with C.O.F.F.I.N. From Sydney, Australia, Upchuck from Atlanta and Real People from Miami, Florida. C.O.F.F.I.N. has done a lot of tours with Amyl and the Sniffers, not to keep name-dropping them.
CG: I would.
HH: And they also have the coolest album cover in the whole history of album covers. It’s like them jumping off the Sydney Ferry into the Sydney Bay and they had to run from the cops or something after the picture was taken. So cool.
CG: It’s fun to be a fan of the music that you’re also getting to see. Oh, did the [prop] phone make it back from Australia? Or was that was like a donation to the cause?
BT: That got torn up immediately. In a good way. There were a bunch of people on stage and they were looking at me in there like, “Should we throw it?” And I said “Yeah, let’s throw it.” So it got destroyed and people were coming up with like little bits of cardboard and being like, “I got a piece of the phone!”