Todd Snider performing live at the Hardly Strictly
Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, 2006 (photo by R.Berry)
I saw East Nashville's Todd Snider perform at the
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco and was blown
away at his perfect mixture of humor, charm, energetic songwriting,
passionate singing, and overall stage presence. Armed with just
an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and hilarious in between song banter,
he clearly stuck out in a lineup that included Elvis Costello, Steve
Earle. I immediately picked up his latest album The Devil You Know,
and was pleased to hear that his studio performances are equally fun
to listen to. I hate to say "this artist is like that artist", but I
think it would benefit you to know that Snider has an insane mixture
of Mitch Hedgberg, Arlo Guthrie, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Prine, and the
remaining percent is just...Todd Snider. He's certainly one of
the more entertaining guys I've seen perform in a long time.
Todd gleefully tweaks conservative values without
letting liberals off the hook, either. His bare bones
philosophy of just living easy and being happy with what the person
you are today is a simple message that anyone can relate with.
I spoke with Todd in a phone interview while there was
still 2 games to be played in the World Series. A diehard
baseball fan, Todd was sad to see the two New York teams fade so
easily, but always a champion of the underdog, was rooting for the
Tigers to win. We went on to talk about writing, porn, cheap
wine, and dogs, and I'm happy to share the conversation with you.
In your song, "Tomorrow Never
Comes", what inspired the line, "If worms had daggers, birds wouldn't
fuck with 'em?"
(laughs)... I know where I got that, I
heard someone say that one time. This guy, his name was Skip
McQuinn, and I was about 18 and I had been waiting around to meet
Johnny Cash in front of his studio, and the guy let me in, the guy
that was running it felt sorry for me. And that day I met this
friend of mine...he's a songwriter now, he's famous now, but he was
18, too. And his name was Rufus Rutheford, he was working
there, he played his song then and he said "If country music was
worth a shit, this song would be a hit." And this guy said, "If worms
had daggers, birds wouldn't fuck with 'em." And I never forgot
That's great, so you got to meet
I did get to meet him. It was
real brief, he was walking out to his car. And then they let me
come in and play songs for him after he left.
Would you mind telling the story
about the connection with that song and your song "Beer Run"?
Well...I got a song called "Beer Run"
that my manager called me at the house and said that somebody had
done a new version of that song...that wasn't mine and that it was on
the radio, that wasnt' mine, and he wanted to know what I wanted to
do. And I might have told you before that just didn't want to
have to go to town and get dressed up, and so I didn't. Then I
got a call back later where they said the guys that wrote the other
version were looking into the idea that I had taken it from them,
and that seemed that might be harder to deal with than the other way
around. I didn't want to go and be involved at all, I just try
and stay out of those kinds of things, so my manager went in to town
and they talked and decided that nobody took anything from anybody,
which I thought was great.
And then a year or so later, I met one
of the guys at this Tom T. Hall benefit concert, this hall of fame
thing, and somebody said, "That guy over there wrote "If Tomorrow
Never Comes" and I said, "I love that song", so I went over there and
said "I love your song..." and when I told him my name he said, "Oh,
I had a lot of trouble with you, I wrote 'Beer Run', too." And
I thought, "You took it from me", that's what I thought in my head,
so I said that to him...and he said that he had, "Yeah I heard you
play it at a festival", which is fine with me, but that is the night
I got the idea to write "If Tomorrow Never Comes."
(laughs) That's Great!
Hey..."The Devil You Know" is one of the more exciting and action
packed songs I've heard in quite sometime. Would you mind talking for
a bit about the environment that inspired it?
Well, I live in East Nashville which I
love living here, I love my friends and neighbors. But it's
like a "not normal" Nashville. We don't starch our clothes as
much, we don't usually have like a big clever title, and we'll sit at
the green light for a minute, you know?
And it's also a bit rough, semi-crime
infested. We've got rappers and country singers in our part of
the town and there's a project not very far from here, and these kids
get in trouble like kids do especially... well
the song gets in to that, but it's been 4 times in the last 7 years
in my house where the police helicopter will be hovering down real
low, over your street, and you know if a police helicopter is
hovering over your house someone is being chased pretty damn
close...they did something dumb, it didn't work
out, it's gotten pretty dramatic, didn't work out, and they could
come over your fence at any second. And so, when that happens
we lock ourselves in and turn the alarm on, and that song, one night,
that's one night...well,
it was actually when the sun wasn't totally down yet, and this
helicopter got real close, like right over our back yard, and I went
out and looked at it, in fact I could see the guy's face, so I went
into the house...got on the typewriter, and I made up the first draft
of that song.
Yeah, it's a great song. There's a
line in there about "there's a war going on that the poor can't win".
What do you think it'll really take to change the amount of people
living in poverty in this country?
I don't know, that's sad, I can't
really say that I feel optimistic about somebody coming along and
doing that. God, the thing that scares me is it seems like we have
this enemy that's mad at us, if all the poor forgotten people get mad
at us to, I probably shouldn't say "us" 'cause I'm close to the poor
group, but if you think those people are pissed wait until the poor
people get pissed.
Right, look what happened to
(laughs) Right! It makes me sad
that...well I don't want to get political 'cause I know like 7 chords
and I've been smoking pot since I was 18, so if you're listening to
me, I would advise against it. But it seems like we're trying
to spread this system that we haven't got working yet. Let's
make it work and then go tell everybody about it. But seems
like we're gonna spread it, then fix it.
Yeah, like we're gonna break it
first, then fix it.
Right, but like I said, I smoke more
dope before 9am than most people do all day, so ask your dad that
kind of shit.
Historically, it seems that folk
singers seem to be more prominent during times of war. Do you
think that screwed up government is a key ingredient for folk singers
(laughs) That's a great point, I
haven't thought of it like that, but, God...probably so. I know
it seems like it's been good for me to have these songs I don't think
I would have have come up with had George Bush not been the
President, so I guess I owe him. I would take...I don't know
I'm one of those people that has a hard time getting behind any
government. I'm not somebody that the Republicans would come
and pluck out, but I would definitely call myself a reluctant
It's kind of hard to be proud of
that end of it too much, either.
Everybody voted for the war.
Everybody was in to it when it started. I don't know...I'm an
anarchist for comedic reasons.
You have songs about Phil Ochs to
borrowing a few lyrics from Snoop Dogg even. You probably have
one of the more diverse mixtures of subject matter I've heard in some
time. Are you a music history buff?
I'm not as good as some of my friends,
but I definitely am... I don't read the music books as much as I used
to, but I'm still a big avid like...especially with my heroes, I
could beat John Prine in a trivia contest about himself, I bet. And
there's The Stones and Dylan, I get into it. I would say that I
have 3 friends that I would defer to, there's a guy named Will, Tommy
Womack, and another guy named Peter Cooper. Those are the 3 rock
historians that put me to shame. I know enough about music to
babble on and bum out my girlfriend, like most musicians do.
You'd do pretty good on Jeopardy,
I'm sure, huh?
Yeah, if it was music I'd do pretty
It's funny cause when I first
encountered you at this Not Strictly Bluegrass festival, my buddy
said, "Hey let's go over to this stage and you gotta check this guy
out." And one of the things that I thought about when I was
listening to you, without any knowledge of you beforehand, was that
the humor in your lyrics really reminded me a lot of the early John
Prine stuff that I heard...my parents albums when I was a kid.
I was impressed to see that you had actually recorded some albums on
his label. How did that relationship come about?
I stalked him. I stalked John
Prine pretty good. A few people, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker,
Kris Kristofferson, and Billy Joe Shaver. Those are the four
people I was pretty obsessed with as a kid and know all of the lyrics
to all of their songs. And I also bought all the records of
their friends, and Keith Sykes
was one of their friends. And my dad was working construction
and found out where Keith Sykes lived...so I went to his house and I
asked if I could play him some songs and he liked me and let me stay
there, and said "come on in...I'll help you if I can." And
through him I met Buffet (Jimmy) and Prine, and Jerry Jeff, and
everybody...he's the one who got me going.
So is that why Nashville is so
important to be home based in just because of all the...just such a
Mecca for all this stuff?
I like living here, but actually I
found this place in South Carolina called Folly Beach that I might
move to. But I've liked living here because I've got to be
around my heroes. Last night the Drive By Truckers came to town
and it was nice to drink with them. It's just a real music town.
Now I'm getting 40, and...my doctor
says...what is it, "I gotta stop calling home sick from work" as they
say. (laughs) He says "you need to set aside some time to NOT
listen to records and think about them so hard." So I have to start
thinking about that a little, that is if I want to live a long time,
which I guess has it's benefits.
It sure does. Speaking of the
drinking there, I read in your bio that you have a rooftop bar that's
the stuff of legend in your town.
Well, at least in the neighborhood.
This summer we were gone most of the time, but we have this deck
that's one the side of our bar that sits under the trees, it feels
like you're in a treehouse. We built a bar up there...we put a TV up
there, and we got a record player up there. And we put up these
lights around the deck and there's blue lights and red lights.
If the red lights are one, that means we're trying to be romantic,
and if the blue lights are on that means we're open. When the
blue lights come on, there's usually going to be some good music,
someone's gonna come play. Cause you can see it from pretty
far...well not very far, but it doesn't take long for word to get
around that we're open.
I gotcha, sort of the "everyone
come over lights", huh?
Yeah, we don't charge for nothin'.
I got it from, I had a friend named Moondog that had a tavern, he had
it in his backyard and it was open and it functioned just like a real
place except you just brought you own beer. It's a way for people to
get out and not have to spend a bunch of money. We serve wine, too.
We always have lots of wine, so you don't necessarily have to bring
your own, but if we're open, it's free.
What's your favorite kind of wine
It's called Big House Red from
Bonny Doon Vineyard
and it's made by prisoners in Northern California.
Do they make it in their toilets
out of raisins in their cells?
I'd like to think so! There's a
screw off top. And whether you're just trying to relax for the
evening, or drink a whole in your stomach like I'm doing, it's good
for all occasions.
As a self proclaimed, "porn
watching hippie" would you say the quality of porn has got better or
worse since the creation of the internet?
(laughs) Well, the accessibility has
improved so much that you would have to imagine that the quality goes
down with that. I don't know, that's a tough question.
Well, it's certainly more
accessible, as you say.
What is they say..."Ever since the
first I had the worst I had was good". Unless it's that porn
that you don't really get to see nothing in, it's pretty good.
What is that Bill Hicks said, "Unless it's that hairy bobbing
'man-ass' for 30 minutes."
I always laugh at those ones you
see in the hotel rooms when they're edited to be a bit more safe so
you just see...
Yeah...you're like "what's the point?"
10 seconds of just some guys face
just groaning 'cause they have to cut out the rest.
Yeah, that's aggravating.
Your live show is a great mixture
of comedy and music. Are we gonna see another live album or a
I would definitely like that to be
something I do every few years. I think I might do something like
that again. I don't know when the time would be right. I'm not
sure exactly what we're doing next...I think there's maybe some kind
of DVD coming in the Summertime (2007). And I also heard that
there's some album that Oh Boy's gonna do that I haven't heard
yet...some outtakes or something.
I'd also like to...I wrote a story one
time that I'd like to put out, the story of Moondog's Tavern, and I'd
like to try and record it someday.
Like a spoken word story thing?
Yeah, just like a 30 minute story, I'd
like to try and record that someday.
We had your video for "A Tale of
Two Fraternity Brothers" linked on our site, and we got a great
response from the readers about that. Do you really enjoy
I do but I'm not into them.
I'm like actually, if you're the video director, I just got there and
say "Now where do you want me to be?" Once I pick the guy...they come
at you with a few video directors, and I tell them that I'm pretty
shy, you know, and then I'll do whatever. Once I pick the guy I
just let them (do their thing)...I don't want to hire a guy and say
"Here's what we're gonna do", I just want to say, "I trusted you, so
go for it." And not many people like the way they look, I hope
I'm not alone in that.
Yeah, it's kind of hard to see
yourself so much, huh?
There was two guys that did this
video, and I appreciated them. I didn't really have to do a whole
lot. It was all their idea. I just read it and thought, "That's
Your look's kind of evolved through
the years. Is it kind of weird looking at yourself with the
different stages of hair and whatnot.
Oh yeah, it looks like I've been beat
all over with a tire iron.
Now you're with a new record label
with your new album that's just come out "The Devil You Know"...was
it difficult to leave Oh Boy! or was it kind of in between deals?
Yeah...they just had the most bread,
really...I had lived up to my agreement with Oh Boy, and they wanted
me to stay, but it turned out that there was a bunch of people, there
was four...I guess maybe five people that had come to my
manager...actually this guy that was very close to Oh Boy, this guy
that signed me the first time, for Margaritaville, his name's
Bob Mercer, and he's just always been a close friend...and he had a
lot more dough than everybody else.
And I'm not one that really thinks
about it that much 'cause I just make the record. Just like I
did with the video I just go "OK guys, do your best." and I don't
bitch. And I'm just like, "Thanks for the dough, I'll try and
be at all the stuff you say for me to go to." I've been really
lucky 'cause I've switched labels a few times and...I've never had
any kind of a feud or anything like that, you know? Of course I
haven't heard this outtakes record yet, so if I don't like that I may
have to go throttle them, but that don't mean I don't love 'em.
So will this connect you back to
the stuff you released with MCA so you could have compilations with
your new and old stuff together now?
I guess they could but I don't think
they would, I think they'd separate them. But part of the deal was
that I got to...they said they're going to do a greatest hits album,
and if you give a shit you can pick the songs and do everything.
Oh, that's great.
Yeah, that was really generous, and so
far I've got no complaints with the people I've worked with and i
don't think they have any complaints with me. They all still
call and shit.
Do you think that frat boy is still
going to get away with it?
I...yeah, I do, I do... I think it's
the nature of the world. I don't understand why no one has explored
anger at God during these times. I dunno...sometimes I wonder
how does things get the way they are? I dunno...but yeah, of course I
do. I'm a negativitist, so I think this, too, shall blow up in
our faces. (laughs) I've chosen to go through life without hope or
confidence. It really sincerely is working out.
That way you're never disappointed.
I've taken all the hope out, I've
taken all the confidence out, and now I'm just rolling along.
To kind of wrap things up, if a new
fan enjoyed your latest CD, The Devil You Know, what previous
album would you recommend they should try next?
I think if you like it the very next
one to get is East Nashville Skyline, which is like the
prequel. To me I felt like I made them as bookend records. And
those are also my two favorites. After that I would say, a lot of
people would say there's a live one...I like that one a lot.
I'd go with those three at the top.
And then my next favorite after that
is one called Happy To Be Here, but I don't like that as much
as the last three.
But I don't know, it would be a tie.
If you get The Devil You Know (laughs) East Nashville Skyline,
the greatest hits album, and the live record, you don't need none of
(laughs) Okay! So you're taking a
little break from touring for about a week or so and you'll be back
on the road again.
Yeah, I'm home for a couple weeks.
That's good, it's kind of nice to
touch base for a while and relax.
Yeah, I was glad to get home. I've
been away most of the time this summer, so it's nice to (be back).
Do you have a kid?
No, it's just me and my wife. We
used to have 3 dogs, but we lost 2 of them, now we only have one.
You had them quite a while?
Yeah, both of them we had for 5 years
or more, then both of them died from different reasons within a few
months of each other.
Oh...that's too bad.
So now I'm gonna get a new one, and
I'm going to name him Cowboy Jim.
How do go about picking a new dog
out, do you go to a pound, or a breeder?
We go to the pound.
That's cool. Well, thanks so
much for talking to us. Best of luck to you and we're big fans of
your work here, and we wish you much success.
Thanks! Next time you come to a
show, come and introduce yourself.
If you'd like to listen to the entire
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