The genre-defying ensemble does it again.

Written by

Tamara Jiji

Photographed by

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Photographed by Francois Bisi

Dallas-bred, New York-based, Grammy Award-winning collective Snarky Puppy has released the latest chapter to their decade-long discography. Recorded over the course of performance sessions at Dallas’ Deep Ellum Art Company, Empire Central serves as the group’s love letter to the city that raised them.

Photographed by Brian Friedman

Like the many bands that came before them, the eclectic ensemble formed during college, while studying Jazz at the University of North Texas. Fusing jazz, funk, blues, soul and rock, the niche band is known for its genre-bending records—Empire Central being the most recent addition.

Having been a collaborative effort, the record sets itself apart from its predecessors. Eleven of the bandmates, as well as band founder Michael League contributed towards the writing and development of the record, giving it a new, refreshing sound, while still remaining true to the roots the band grounded itself in. Read below as League delves into making of the record, the inspiration behind it, and what he hopes listeners take away from it.

How was Snarky Puppy formed? Do you think you have changed a lot as a group over the years?

It was really just a simple project that I put together with my friends while studying at the University of North Texas. The band has changed dramatically over the years. It's really like watching a human grow, passing through phases and (hopefully!) maturing. Every experience you have, both as individuals and as a collective group, adds new material to your identity. It's fascinating to look back at the journey, and also ahead to what may come.

Tell us about the inspiration for your upcoming record Empire Central. Was there a specific memory or moment that led you to create this new project?

The role that Dallas (and Texas at large) has played in forming our identity as a band is impossible to overstate. Many of the members grew up in Texas, and almost all of the ones who didn't had their most formative musical experiences there. Snarky Puppy has always tried to do our best to shout out our heroes, make our roots visible, and give credit to those who shaped who we are today. This record is an amplified version of that effort.

What was the process of creating the new record? Tell us about the performance sessions at Dallas’ Deep Ellum Art Company?
I asked everyone in the band to write material for Empire Central, and in the end, we have 16 songs penned by 12 unique composers. For me, this is a huge step in opening up the sound and identity of the band (in the early days, I was the only composer for the group). We rehearsed these songs over about a week in Dallas, then set up the gear and moved into the art space. After a dress rehearsal for friends and family, we had 7 nights of shows- each night with two sets- for an audience that came from all over the world. It's wonderful having so many sets (16 in all) because it allows you to explore each night without having the pressure of needing to deliver the perfect take on the first or second try. You can have fun and stretch, then listen back and see what's working and what isn't.

The record is a love letter to Dallas. What about the city continues to keep drawing you back to it?
It's an amazing place in terms of musical culture and community. I always feel like I'm home when I'm there. And furthermore, the music scene there isn't transient by any measure- musicians stay there for life. It gives the community a very strong family feeling. Also, the food is incredible (if not the healthiest).

This record also marks the final recorded performance by Bernard Wright. What was it like to work alongside this legend?
Bernard was a member of the band for years (roughly 2007-2010) and playing with him again felt no different in 2022. Every time I've ever been on stage with Bernard, he's made me feel the same way. It's something I can't really explain, so I'll just use the phrase "pure inspiration" to try. Everything I ever heard him play was this beautiful combination of soul and elegance. It stretched your brain intellectually while demanding that your body move. He was my mentor for years, and will always be my foremost musical hero.

What do you want listeners to take home with them when they hear the new record?

I want them to feel however the music makes them feel. We tried our hardest to move forward creatively with the objective of creating strong songs- and especially melodies- that pay respect to our roots. I hope that comes through.


Snarky Puppy Album Release Music Jazz

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