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Todd Snider Interview – An Early Morning Talk of Jerry Jeff Walker and More…

I caught up with East Nashville based singer/songwriter Todd Snider on the phone as he woke up to a well-deserved day of rest somewhere in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was in the middle of a pretty heavy tour schedule (and finding out it wasn’t as easy as it used to be). I think it was a little early for both of us – there was even a little bit of confusion with the time zone difference. It’s hard to keep track of those things on the road.

As the morning’s coffee slowly burnt off the previous night’s fog, the conversation picked up. We talked a lot about his two recently released albums, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables and Time As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker, and a shitload more. It had been a couple of years since we last talked, and we covered a lot of ground – not too bad for so early in the morning. As is usually the case when talking with Todd, it’s a challenge to keep myself on track and try to watch the time. (I don’t want to wear out my welcome). What starts out as an interview effortlessly turns into a conversation full of intriguing and amusing tangents. It could be because I appreciate his music so much and can relate to it so well, or maybe it’s because – in spite of his laid-back persona – Todd is actually a complex man with a lot on his mind, who just wants to be understood.

So, pour a cup of coffee or pop a beer and enjoy the interview! (Caution: Contains some course language… shit, like I had to tell you that). Thanks go out to Heather and Elvis for making this happen. Next time we do a video interview!

Todd Snider Interview – Length: 44 minutes

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Be sure to catch Todd Snider this Friday and Saturday night (May 4th and 5th, 2012) at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, TX. Also check out the rest of his tour dates.

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Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables fill the air! Can I get an amen?

As expected, Todd Snider‘s latest album – Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (Aimless Records) – is full of surprises. I know that’s a bit of an oxymoron, but for years Todd Snider followers (lovingly referred to as Shitheads) have come to eagerly anticipate previously untouched subjects and style with each new release, and Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables is no exception. Snider’s peerless perspective of the world and it’s cast of characters is his alter, and his songs carry his slightly skewed sermons.

What better place to begin our services than with “In The Beginning,” a tale that takes us back to the kickoff of the race we call human, where it’s suggested that the pedestals the rich so proudly plant their asses on were already taking shape. When the poor considered rising up in solidarity to even the score (possibly by murder), the rich offered up a distraction – a hint to the mystical secrets of religion, the possibility of reward in their (after)life – all a gift from a supreme being named God (who oddly only seemed to speak to the rich). And as the rich man told them all about how good people could go to Heaven, but the insolent would spend eternity in the fiery pits of Hell, the people believed him (since no one could prove him wrong) as he smiled and said, “Who are you going to trust if you can’t trust me?” He told them all they needed to do was humbly serve him and they would be rewarded… but not by the rich man, as he put it, – “Of course, I could pay you a little bit of money / but… more importantly God would see / And if he sees you working humbly / someday he may give you what he’s given me.” So began the empty promises from “The Haves” to “The Soon-to-Haves” that the prosperity of the rich shall blaze the trail for the plenteous of the poor. Not much has changed, has it?

Snider effortlessly ties this timeless tale into our present day setting – high unemployment, uncertainty, fear, the rise of the 99%, and the Don’t get the people all worked up with the notion of class warfare attitude of “The Haves” – where we watch a bunch of rich politicians proudly wave their faith flags as they promise, “Support me and I will lead you to a land filled with good fortune! After all, who are you going to trust if you can’t trust me?”

If that first song didn’t piss you off, then maybe you’re not paying attention. That’s alright though, maybe your blood will hit the boiling point as Snider keeps the heat on it with a story told by a southern teacher who was set to retire only to find out that their pension fund was unwisely invested by a “New York Banker” who promised, “This kind of thing was even safer than gold.” You know how this is going to end, and that should piss you off.

A couple of years back during an interview with Todd, I said,  “When you do a cover song, you really make it your own.” At the time we were talking about his haunting cover of Robert Earl Keen’s “Corpus Christi Bay.” Now he has taken on Jimmy Buffett’s “West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown.” This tale about a girl escaping her former life and family was originally released by Buffett 38 years ago. Snider’s choices of instrumentation, dynamics, and phrasing have surpassingly rendered it into a composition with the texture and flavor of an Appalachian Folk classic; he made it his own.

Somehow Snider managed to tap into the vein of Rudy Vallée when he came up with the slow sweet jazz ballad “Precious Little Miracles,” a song that seemingly comes from the viewpoint of a well-to-do old-timer as he questions today’s youth. Why do they feel so entitled to luxuries that they didn’t earn or were born into? Why can’t they be satisfied being poor? There are so many other things they could be focused on – like entertaining the rich! And, in true Snider style, he delivers one of the most apropos questions – “Kids… their pants around their hipbones / Who wears their pants like that? / Come here kid, let me hitch up your britches / And while we’re at it, let’s fix that hat”. Kids… they’re a handful.

Remember back in 2006 when “Carla” left that guy that sang about her on The Devil You Know? Well, apparently the stupid shit took her back and she’s still kicking him square in the ol’ ball sack in “The Very Last Time” (co-written with Todd’s longtime friend Will Kimbrough). Come on pal, snap out of it! You obviously know what a bitch she is when you say, “I had a dream that you came to see me / You asked if I was okay / That’s how I knew that I was dreaming / You asked if I was okay.” That’s golden.

And speaking of sequels (were we?) the foreboding atmosphere of contempt and resentment that envelopes “In Between Jobs” (co-written with Todd’s loyal sidekick Elvis Hixx) along with its echoes of murderous thoughts (as contemplated in the opening track) are in stark contrast to the arrogant optimism of the ex-con narrator and his nothing-to-lose attitude in “Looking For a Job” from The Devil You Know. But six years ago Americans were more optimistic; time has changed all that. The abrasive structure and threatening tone of “In Between Jobs” rips at your skin, maybe in a desire to replicate the pain, desperation, and lack of self-worth felt by scores of  jobless and hopeless that cover our country.

There are reviews out there spouting Snider’s upbeat love-song  “Brenda” – about an unlikely couple who “met on a train going somewhere fast” and hit it off right away. She was driven, him not so much. But together they built an empire that conquered the world with each new endeavor. Their tumultuous relationship eventually scarred and they went their separate ways, only to return to their destiny… each other – as being all about the musical duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Seriously? What makes you think that? I hope it’s not just because of those lines Todd threw in near the end of the song – “Mick Jagger was born on a Monday morning / Keith Richards was born on a Saturday night / It was true love.” Isn’t it possible he may have tossed those lines in just to fuck with us? I mean, shit, we’re talking about Todd “The Grand Imagineer” Snider here! He loves to play with the lyrics and mess with our heads!

Listen to “Brenda”

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Okay, after listening to it again… I’ll admit, there are some vague similarities between Jagger and Richards and this couple. Mick and Keith were childhood friends back in the early 1950s until their families moved apart. They didn’t cross paths again until 1960 at a Dartford, Kent train station… just a coincidence. Mick had some Muddy Waters records on him that day which revealed their shared taste in music, and they formed a band. From there on, they shook up the world. You couldn’t stop the flow of songs that poured out of them. Okay, but their relationship was good, right? Wrong. They were more brothers-of-different-mothers than friends. Eventually, they got away from each other – Mick into the jet-setter’s life; Keith fell deeper into drugs. They found their way back to each other. Have you read Keith’s book – Life? Turns out one of Keith’s nicknames for Jagger was Brenda. I’ll be damned. See, what did I tell you? Snider likes to mess with our heads.

Sometimes a man can only take so much of deceit and lies. They’re pushed to the edge of a cliff where all that’s within their grasp – to keep them from falling off – is revenge. This is where we find the narrator of the jaggedly driven song “Too Soon to Tell.” A dark cloud hangs over him and he’s headed to a place he doesn’t really want to go, but knows he has no choice. His disconnected thoughts, desires, and regrets seem to fly past us like so many pages ripped from the spine of a book and fed to the wind.

Digger Dave and Todd Snider

Todd & Digger Dave back in the day

If you’ve been to a Todd Snider concert lately then you’ve probably heard some of Todd’s damn-near-unbelievable stories about his old Alaskan pal, Digger Dave. If you haven’t been to one of his shows… what the hell are you waiting for? Anyway, “Digger Dave’s Crazy Woman Blues” tells one of those tales about, well… the title pretty much says it all. If there’s trouble, there’s a woman somewhere close by watching the shit she stirred up hit the fan. And Todd swears that this is the truest story he’s ever told, and we know that almost all of the stories he tells are true.

That brings us to – one of my favorites – the final track “Big Finish” (How does he come up with these catchy song titles?), a churning bluesy number that has reflective lines like “If I could do all this all over / I wouldn’t do nothin’ the same” and “I try to remember / It helps me forget.” The soulful instrumentation of “Big Finish” has Amanda Shire’s violin, along with Chad Staehly’s B3, weaving their way around Todd’s grinding guitar, and over the solid rhythm of Paul Griffith’s drums and Eric McConnell’s bass. My favorite moment in this tune is one of ponder – “The older I get, the more I worry that the more I worry, the older I’ll get… and yet I still worry. Ain’t that about a son-of-a-bitch, I tell ya.”

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