How snarls bounced back after COVID-19 popped the ‘Burst’ bubble

A year after the coronavirus led to the cancellation of the band’s first-ever tour, the musicians are set to record in Seattle alongside acclaimed producer Chris Walla

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

Snarls released its highly anticipated debut LP Burst on March 6, 2020, celebrating the event with a sold-out show at Ace of Cups that same day. The Columbus four-piece was scheduled to kick off an extensive year on the road just two weeks later — its first-ever major tour — beginning with a string of dates opening for fellow Ohio band Citizen. Then, on March 15, Gov. Mike DeWine issued an order closing all bars and restaurants as a means of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, actions soon matched by numerous other states, which led to the almost immediate shutdown of the entire U.S. concert industry.

“It was our debut album, and I was just beside myself that we had actually done it,” said singer/guitarist Chlo White, who simultaneously described the run up to Burst’s release as an almost romantic time and one in which she felt the weight of expectation, hoping listeners responded positively to a batch of songs the band had lived with for the better part of two years. 

“We had everything booked to leave for this tour, and we were starting to get everything packed up, and then I remember our manager texting us like, ‘Hey, guys, this coronavirus thing is actually starting to get pretty serious,’” said guitarist Mick Martinez, who joined White for a mid-March Zoom interview. “For a week it was really up in the air, and then, just a couple of days before the tour was supposed to start, they called it, which sucked. … It wouldn’t have felt so shitty if we’d had even one tour, like one big tour with our label under our belt already, but no. It had to be our first one, with one of our favorite bands. Like, c’mon, this could not have been crappier.”

So instead of hitting the road to celebrate a long-in-the-works album that arrived amid a wave of glowing national press, the band was forced to press pause, entering into an up-and-down pandemic year where hope would occasionally spring up (the March tour was initially rebooked for two months later) only to again be snuffed out (the rescheduled dates were subsequently canceled).

“For the first couple of months I was really bummed out, but at the time I think a lot of us were like, ‘OK, everyone be really good about being safe this summer and we’ll see you at the end of the year,’” Martinez said. “And then it got to be five months later and there was zero light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s when I started to get really depressed. I wasn’t in a good spot creatively, and I was just super down where I was definitely thinking the worst about everything.”

At these lowest points, both White and Martinez questioned if snarls would have a future, or if music could even be a viable career in any form moving forward.

“I remember thinking to myself a few times, ‘Is this it?’” White said. “And it was really sad, like, 'Did I just do all of that for nothing?’ … These are my best friends, so not only did I not want this specific band to end, but, personally, I grew up with this and I don’t have a plan B. This is what I want to do with my life.”

“I was very not OK with this coming to an end,” Martinez said, “but that thought did cross my mind, too.”

During this stretch, the bandmates went nearly two months without gathering for a rehearsal amid social distancing restrictions. Martinez, meanwhile, took a 9-to-5 temp job as a recruiter, while White resumed working for a catering company. As the summer progressed, though, the musicians started to gather, playing occasional livestreams, including one for Audiotree Live, recorded in August, which afforded the band a chance to travel to Chicago. “Being able to get out of Ohio and actually travel for music … was a fun experience,” Martinez said.

But the real breakthrough arrived when snarls heard from celebrated producer and former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla (Postal Service, Decemberists), who expressed a desire to record with the band.

“I was like, ‘Oh, suddenly I can write songs again,’” White said, and laughed. 

Beginning in the early fall, White and Martinez joined fellow bandmates Riley Hall (bass/vocals) and Martinez’s drummer brother, Max, to start assembling rough demos in their North Side practice space, sending them to Walla, who works out of his Hall of Justice studio in Seattle, Washington. While both Martinez and White expressed confidence in the new material — “I’m not cocky, but I have an air of confidence about me when I’m working,” White said — the two said that there was some initial hesitation hitting “send” on the first email to Walla containing the new tracks.

“Actually pressing send on an email to Chris Walla is a different ballgame,” said Martinez, who described the songwriting process for the new tunes as more collaborative than in the past. “We might be confident that these songs are cool, I guess, but we’re about to send them to this dude who played in one of the biggest bands ever, who wrote crazy hit songs and produced our favorite records. It was like, ‘Is this really as cool as we think it is?’”

To this point, the band has received a positive response from Walla on the songs, which White described as having taken a more introspective, melancholy turn, owing in part to COVID-related shutdowns that necessitated more time alone.

Burst definitely talks about me in the context of the world. We’re all scared of entering the world when we’re young, like, ‘Who am I? What will I do?’” said White, who will decamp to Seattle with her bandmates next month for recording sessions with Walla. “But with these songs, I’ve been looking into my interpersonal relationships, which is something I was never open about, but on this record I’m being more open about my trauma history and just navigating life and love as a young woman, specifically. So, yeah, it’s definitely emo.”

In an ideal world, snarls would release the new recordings sometime in the fall, the drop coinciding with the band’s second attempt to play its first-ever nationwide tour. But, after having their two previous tour attempts canceled, the musicians are content to see how the next few months play out rather than winding up in a position where they're again forced to pull the plug.

“We’re not going to post anything until it’s certain,” Martinez said. “The last thing anyone needs is another total letdown.”

“I’m glad we’re all on the same page with it, too, because I don’t want to have to be like, ‘Never mind!’ again,” White said. “I want to get in a better place with people feeling safe, and where the vaccine is widely available. And we’re not far off from that. We’re not. Hopefully it’s just around the corner.”