By Bob Marshall
In just a few short months, Columbus, Ohio-based band Snarls have experienced a sudden rise from college-town curiosity to one of the most talked-about new bands in the country. So when 20-year-old singer/guitarist Chlo White and 22-year-old guitarist Mick Martinez try to explain the amount of attention their band’s brand of self-proclaimed “glitter emo alt-rock” is getting, White says with a laugh, “Honestly, we kinda just be shittin’ out songs.”
She’s not kidding. Martinez estimates that of the 10 songs that make up the quartet’s debut album Burst, out March 6 on Take This to Heart Records, at least eight of them came within “the first six months or so that we were a band.” Their knack for songwriting comes through in the effortless breeze of “Walk in the Woods,” the album’s first single that shows off the band’s penchant for dreamy emotional hooks and vocal harmonies. But it’s around the 2:50 mark, when White’s voice jumps an octave to belt one final chorus over a wall of distortion, that the song goes from “pretty good” to “oh... wow.”
Snarls began at Columbus’s Arts & College Preparatory Academy high school, when White met now 20-year-old singer/bassist Riley Hall on their first day, “solely because we were wearing the same pair of Vans.” “I was like, ‘Please sit with me, your shoes are cool,’” White says. At the suggestion of a teacher, White met recent graduate Martinez when the latter came back to run a songwriting workshop, and the pair hit it off. Coincidentally, Martinez and Hall’s parents were already friends, and the two had known each other literally their whole lives. “I met Mick and Riley separately and tried to re-introduce them,” White says. After cycling through drummers, the group added Martinez’s younger brother Max behind the kit.
Burst follows a 2018 self-titled EP; of those five songs, only the plaintive track “Twenty” made the jump to the full-length album. “We didn’t have a solidified sound upon finishing the EP,” White says. “But [‘Twenty’] was definitely the direction we wanted to go in, emo and twinkly, more so than the other [songs].” The tune resonated with them the most because of its shifting dynamics and its lyrical honesty, becoming a template for what the band wanted to become. “I’m young, and I don’t know what’s going on. That’s what that song is about,” she said, adding that the confusion of adjusting from adolescence to adulthood is a theme that runs throughout the album. “You’re figuring it out because you’ve never done it before.”
While it might come as a surprise for those outside of the Midwest, White and Martinez are adamant that Columbus might be one of the most creative and inspiring places for young artists in the U.S. Home to over 60,000 Ohio State University students, Columbus has surpassed Cleveland and Cincinnati to become Ohio’s largest city, and it’s still growing fast. “I feel like the city is very young, at least the areas we’re hanging out in,” Martinez says. “There’s a lot of very young creative people doing all sorts of things, not just music. There’s a huge visual arts scene. There’s a ton of photographers, we have a great dance community. There’s a lot of creativity happening here right now. It’s very cool.”
Unlike the bands that made the Midwest a bastion of indie-leaning emo in the mid-to-late ‘90s (think The Get Up Kids, American Football, and The Promise Ring), Snarls and their Columbus alt-rock peers proudly wear the emo label like a badge of honor. While the band says they were initially inspired by U.K. indie rockers Wolf Alice, they came to embrace their emo tendencies as time went on. White name-checks artists that she listened to in early high school like The Ready Set and The Wanted, saying that although she came from a musical household, “I feel like the music my parents played for me as a child has zero influence on me now. My parents liked The Dixie Chicks and Counting Crows and Keith Urban. It wasn’t my jam.”
However, White and Hall’s dual vocal harmonies, which set the band apart from most in the Columbus emo scene, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dixie Chicks album. Take Burst standout “Marbles,” which features White singing soft solo verses and Hall joining in for the heavier parts and the chorus — a page right out of the Natalie Maines and Co. playbook.
“I think that song really captures my coping mechanism, which is making fun of my own pain,” White says of “Marbles.” In the song, she lyrically adapts the persona of a heartbroken homebody who walks unshowered to her local Walgreens to buy a caffeinated beverage before finally expressing that, “Sugar messes with me / But not as bad as when you leave.”
“If I’m very emotionally stressed I’m like, ‘Haha, I’m dying,’” she said. “I felt like that was a good way to go about it, because there’s tons of self-deprecating songs, but they’re not funny. And then you actually cry.” She laughs, then finishes: “That one, you can self-deprecate and dance around.”
While Snarls may not be wholly devoted to Wolf Alice any longer, Martinez still calls the opportunity to one day open for them “a dream.” “That’s the goal,” agrees White, even if it could be “ages” away. “If they choose to make the worst mistake of letting us open for them, I would be so happy.” Judging by how quickly things are happening for Snarls already — they’re hitting the road with Citizen and Glitterer for a Midwest and East Coast tour starting later this month — “ages” might be here before they know it.