Locals: Snarls at Ace of Cups

Andy Downing

During an early July interview Downtown, Snarls bandmates Chlo White (vocals/guitar) and Mick Martinez (guitar) briefly debated what emoji served as the best stand-in for the emotive indie-rock quartet's music.

“I'm definitely an emotional little thing,” White said. “I'm a happy person overall, and there are lines in my lyrics that'll twinkle a little bit, but then I'll hit you with this line, like, oh, a…”

“Sad face emoji,” Martinez interjected.

“Yeah, the one with the cowboy hat, but it's crying,” White said.

“That's what our music is,” Martinez said. “It's exactly that edit of the crying emoji with the cowboy hat.”

That settled, the musicians moved on to more pressing biographical details, including the bands who served as early forms of inspiration (Wolf Alice, Girl Pool and Kansas City, Missouri, indie-pop quartet the Greeting Committee), Snarls' roots as a trio (Martinez and White founded the group alongside bassist/singer Riley Hall nearly two years ago) and the ways its sound has opened up since adding Mick's younger brother, Max Martinez, on drums seven months ago.

“Max plays in service to the song. He won't just slap on a beat because he's a drummer. He'll say, ‘Yeah, I play to the song and not just what I want to play,'” White said. “And all of us have grown to do that same thing.”

This idea of serving the song exhibits itself throughout the band's self-titled EP, from June, the musicians consistently pulling back to leave negative space rather than splattering the entire canvas in paint. Witness the slow, steady “Emo Track #2,” which opens amid little more than White's downtrodden vocals and creeping guitar, the sparse backing heightening the loneliness in her words. “I don't move, I don't think, I don't speak, I don't bother to breathe,” she sings as the song maintains a similar stillness.

“You don't have to fill up every second with everyone on 10 all the time. That's a conversation we've had, experimenting with silence, at times,” Mick Martinez said. “‘Twenty,' that song would not be what it is if it didn't have one beat of just a drum hit before everyone comes in. There's that split second of silence, and that song would totally not be the same without it.”

Virtually every song on Snarls' five-track EP finds the musicians exploring the concept of identity in some way, White singing: “In the mirror, I realize I don't know what I see”; “I don't remember what I used to be like”; “I'm not who I thought I was gonna be.”

“We're right in that super-introspective, emo age,” Mick Martinez said, laughing. (The group is self-aware when it comes to its emotive leanings, hence the winking song title “Emo Track #2,” which is both an in-joke and entirely accurate.)

“That's where I feel most of us are right now, and it's beautiful, but it's definitely coming out in our music,” said White, 18, who joins the equally youthful Hall (19) and the Martinez siblings (Mick, 21, and Max, 17) in concert opening for Snail Mail at Ace of Cups on Tuesday, July 24. “Personally, I have gone through one thing after another in the last year. Graduating high school [at Arts and College Preparatory Academy], that was a big one. … Getting out of my comfort zone in every aspect of my life has brought out the essence in this project.”

White is still learning to stretch beyond her comfort zone onstage, however. Outside of Snarls, White describes herself as loud, outgoing and borderline obnoxious. “I'm the one making random animal noises,” she said. In concert, though, White said she can be stiff and occasionally timid, perhaps owing to the more introspective nature of her lyrics, which generally aren't designed to be shouted from the rooftops even in those moments when the music surges and the guitars pogo and froth.

“I'm not the type to open up easily, but when it's just me in my room, it comes out on paper,” White said. “I'm bad at writing about things that aren't happening to me, so it's all about me in my music. … You know how you go on Twitter and you can search yourself and it'll highlight all the words you use? ‘Myself' or ‘me' or ‘I' are in there more than 2,000 times. I feel that's part of the reason I'm OK. I can write music, and that's how I channel things and get them out. It's as good as talking to someone else for me.”

Ace of Cups

7 p.m. Tuesday, July 24

2619 N. High St., Old North


ALSO PLAYING: Snail Mail, Long Beard