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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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Tommy Womack is feelin’ good on Now What!

Tommy Womack - Now What!

The title of Tommy Womack’s latest CD – Now What! – may describe what went through his mind after the unexpected success of his 2007 release There, I Said It! (an album that almost never found its way to the record rack). As Tommy told me, “I thought I was done, and I almost pulled that record. I almost pulled the plug on it because I thought, No one wants to hear me confessing all this stuff. Thankfully I found out that by voicing my fears, I echoed the fears of a whole lot of people of my generation… It was far and away the most successful record I’ve ever had… It totally turned my career around.” The title of that album came from words that Tommy had written years earlier, and later took shape as a track on There, I Said It! called “I’m Never Gonna Be a Rock Star” that tells the tale of Tommy’s realization and reluctant acceptance that his rock star days were over. From 1985 to 1992 Womack had played lead guitar and sang lead vocals for the post-punk band Government Cheese. He may not be the rock star of yesterday, but Womack’s career as a must-be-heard singer/songwriter of today is thanks to that nearly shelved self-therapy project.

Now What! is an all-embracing collection of songs pulling influences from musical styles diverse as blues, Dixieland jazz, and classic rock, with just a pinch of rap. Womack lyrically sheds his skin with an equally assorted batch of subject matters. Tommy defends his diverse topics and says, “It’s really not a skitzo record at all!” There’s no need to defend his choices that, once again, a lot of people will relate to:  dealing with life on the road (or the road of life) and some of its pitfalls; the warmth of home and family; the past and how it can show up unannounced and bite you in the ass; the mortality we reluctantly realize as we grow older; and finally – love, simple and real.

The upbeat opener “Play That Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick Play” sets the optimistic tone – cheerfully declaring  “Another dollar, another day / I shouldn’t look back but I do anyway / Dad’s in the ground, Mom’s on the way / Play that Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick play” – while also giving us glimpses of Tommy’s undying love of his family, and his ever-haunting self-doubt. It’s all good in the end though as he borrows some favorite lines from Cheap Trick’s Surrender to sum it all up – “Momma’s alright, Daddy’s alright, the boy’s alright, we’re all alright.”

Listen to “Play That Cheap Trick, Cheap Trick Play”

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Continuing with the “we’re all alright” good vibe, comes “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Good” carrying the message that life needn’t be filled with gloriously rewarding moments. Sometimes it is what it is – ups, downs, paying bills, and mowing the lawn (and all that can happen in one day). The tune also reminds us “No matter what your life is like – it beats the pants off death.”

Have you ever run into an old flame and wish you hadn’t because all those old memories – good and bad – came flooding forward from their long-time hiding place way back in your mind? In the gentle ballad “Bye & Bye” (one of my favorite songs from Now What!) Tommy shares a story of when he bumped into, as he put it, “A real girl that I had a fling with back in the 80s.” As he explained further, “She was a real girl… well, she still is a real girl. We’d bumped into each other in the grocery store one day. It happened pretty much as it’s described in the song, except we didn’t end up at the checkout line at the same time”. Lyrics of remembrance came out of that encounter – “Your body still makes me a young man / Your brain’s still a bomb you can throw / I had me a nice hard decision to make / All those years ago.”  But in the end, the admission is made, possibly justifying that hard decision made so many years earlier – “I’d have made you a miserable husband / You’d have been a high maintenance wife.” But ardor seems to still linger in the air at that Harris Teeter. (Being from the west coast, I had to Google “Harris Teeter.”)

Listen to “Bye & Bye”

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The flip-side to “Bye & Bye” – “I’m Too Old to Feel That Way Right Now” – has Womack briefly trying to fan the old flame but realizing he isn’t quite up to it as “The touch of your hand leaves me inspired / But I’m set in my ways and kinda tired.” Getting old sure is a bitch.

In the slow-paced shuffle “On And Off the Wagon”, with a comical arrangement that cleverly pairs pedal steel guitar with a tuba,  Tommy confesses “I’ve learned to know my limits / I’ve learned to pass them by.” The lesson here – Maybe it’s best to say you’ve paused instead of quit.

In the few of the tunes on Now What! you might get the sensation that you’re on the road with Womack as he shares his witty tales. But in the hard-driving Rap-esque “90 Miles an Hour Down a Dead-End Street” you feel like there’s a pissed-off drunken maniac behind the wheel, and you’re trapped in the passenger seat clutching a bottle of Chianti for dear life as the driver – looking a lot like a creation of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth – barks at you, “Don’t spill any of that shit!” At this point, you may wonder if jumping from this crazy ride would be better than the possible ending – but you choose to stay because it’s so damn fun!

The lyrics in the jazzy bop number “Guilty Snake Blues” shuffles near-carelessly over a wide topical stretch of lustful land, but somehow it all ties together like a cool ribbon of random thoughts punctuated by Jim Hoke’s smokey soulful sax.

Tommy Womack & Sheba the Wonder Dog (Photo by Gregg Roth)

One of Tommy’s personal favorites on the record is “Pot Head Blues.” It’s a quiet heartfelt acoustic tune that has him recollecting and somewhat regretting  time lost while stoned. But he doesn’t let it hold him back, stating “Nobody ever made me do it / No time to turn around, you blew it, get to it / Lay it down, you got nothing to lose.”

“I Love You to Pieces” is Tommy’s playful, flirtatious love letter to his wife, Beth. But feel free to use it on someone of your choice. It’s got plenty of Stones-like jamming filling it up with nothing but fun.

“Over the Hill” had been bouncing around in Tommy’s head for years, and he’s finally let it out. It’s a blend of feeling your age and spreading your love in the spirit of Donavan – complete with sublime horns.

The peacefully haunting “Wishes Do Come True” (sweetened by Lisa Oliver-Gray’s vocal talents) intrigued me as I tried to get the underlying meaning of it. To me the lines – “All through the day you used to want me / You used to need me now you just haunt me / I sold my soul for one night of your touch / How could I know when too much was too much” – spoke of Womack’s up and down relationship with the music industry. When I told Tommy my thoughts on this he laughed and said, “You know, I’m not sure what all “Wishes Do Come True” is about. That one has ambiguities in it that escape me. I wrote that with Irene Kelley. There are lines in there that we really liked, but there are lines in there that I’m not sure what they mean to this day. It could be about the music business. If it works that way in your interpretation, then I’m not going to say that it’s not about that. Who knows, maybe subconsciously it is about that. Like I said, I’m not sure what it’s about. You could take it as meaning infidelity.”

Listen to “Wishes Do Come True”

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The album wraps up with “Let’s Have Another Cigarette” which made me ask Tommy if he still smoked (even though it wasn’t any of my business). “No, no,” he said, “I haven’t smoked in about two and a half years. I’ve got a snuff pouch in my mouth right now. I still do those.” Getting back on the subject at hand, I then asked him how “Let’s Have Another Cigarette” came about. “I don’t remember writing it,” he said. “One day – I had it, the day before – I didn’t. It’s based in fact to a degree. I got a speeding ticket in Ohio one day where they were convinced that I was transporting drugs. So they took everything in the car apart, and I didn’t have anything in there… thank goodness. So I always see that as being a song about being in Ohio going from one gig to another, and it just seemed to call out to be the album closer. You know, because I’m leaving somewhere and going somewhere else. Also, in that song – I’m sober. There are other songs on that record where the character of me is not sober, but in this one I make it to the end of the record, and I’ve sobered up, I’m going on to the next gig, and life continues on. A nice way to close out the record – on an optimistic note.” Now What! comes full circle, ending as it began, cruising along in Tommy’s car, taillights fading into the night, he’s fully aware of where he’s at – “I got about a half a tank of gas / I’m a pimple on Dylan’s ass” – and he couldn’t be happier. Hopefully, we haven’t seen the last of Tommy Womack.

There, I Said It! was a tough act to follow, but Tommy Womack took himself to the next level and did not disappoint with Now What!.

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Tommy Womack Video Interview – Now What!

Photo by Gregg Roth

Back in 2007, when Tommy Womack released his solo CD There, I Said It! he had pretty much given up on his dream of making it in music. He recorded There, I Said It! without the intention of even releasing it. He didn’t think that people would want to listen to him whine. He was surprised to find that things were quite the opposite – people related to his tales of middle age stress, self-doubt and disappointment.

I got the chance to sit down and talk with Tommy (via Skype) about his latest release Now What! that picks up where There, I Said It! left off only with a more optimistic feel to it. Oh yeah, Tommy’s still singing about cigarettes, sex, pot, and life on the road, but he seems more at peace with it all.

Before you watch the following video, I feel obligated to tell you the story behind this little technological adventure…

I had made arrangements through Tommy’s publicist and manager to interview Tommy on the morning of January 31, 2012. I was ready for it; I’d been testing some software that seemed to work good for recording and editing Skype video calls. Sometimes things aren’t always as they seem…

The interview itself went great. Tommy and I covered a variety of subjects and talked for about 15 minutes. Later that day I converted the video so I could start doing the post-production work on it. When I opened the file, I couldn’t believe it… There was no video captured at all from Tommy’s end. All the audio was there (thank God), but just video of me. And I thought, well shit, who in the hell would want to watch this? They’d be stuck looking at my ugly mug the whole time they listened to Tommy talk.

I got in touch with the software developer in Australia – which in itself was kind of weird because they’re in the future – anyway, they sent me an update insuring me that it should work. I tested it some more and all seemed cool. Now, I’m not a religious person, but I really prayed that Tommy’s publicist and agent would give me a second shot at the video interview. They did. We appropriately conducted take two of the interview on Groundhog Day. I called Tommy up, fired up the recording software, and all was cool… for about eight minutes, then, well… you’ll see.

Damn it! Just when we were getting into the new album! That’s when I think a solar flare blanketed North America… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

My next post will have a more in depth review of Now What!

 

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The Lost Snider Tapes – Part 1.2

This interview with Todd Snider took place the morning of May 9th, 2009. Todd’s upcoming record, The Excitement Plan, was due to be released a month later. In this second part of the interview, we cover everything from pot to Dock Ellis to being lucky in life.

OKOM: The last time you were in Eugene, we were talking on your bus, and you mentioned that you and Dave had gotten popped for possession. Now, I’m assuming that’s the backstory for “Greencastle Blues.”

Todd: Yeah, it is.

OKOM: Yeah, and I couldn’t help but make comparisons between “Greencastle Blues” and “Tillamook County Jail.” But, “Greencastle Blues” has a serious and somewhat dark, more mature tone to it. There is even a hint of regret in there. What were your – if this isn’t too personal – what are your thoughts about what you went through that ended up being the inspiration for a very personal song.

Todd: Yeah, I was feeling more ashamed about getting caught smoking marijuana than about smoking marijuana. At the age of 42, I think it was my seventh little trip to jail, and they are starting to get old. I would like to shake that side of my life but the thing that sticks with me is that I still smoke weed and I assume that I probably will for the rest of my life. So, that means that I always have to be real careful and try not to be disrespectful to the people that don’t want me to do it.

OKOM: What also came across in the song – besides being so personal – was that last line that spoke like a little act of defiance – “less than an ounce of possession, shit, I can do that kind of time standing up.”

Todd: Yeah, I feel like I was trying to show the cycle of how somebody stays a person like me. And most of the cats in my neighborhood are like that too. You find yourself – well I guess I shouldn’t say you, I should say I – you know how someone says, “You find yourself.” I’m like, no, you find yourself. Don’t tell me what I should do. So anyway, I find myself – damn, after that I forgot what I was going to say. But I liked the other point. [laughs]

OKOM: [laughs] A little side thing, last night I read that the New York Times had dubbed Jackie Greene as the Prince of Americana. I couldn’t believe that when I read it but… So, what would that make you?

Todd: Ummm, The Grand Imagineer!

OKOM: [laughs] That sounds much better than Prince.

Todd: [laughs] Yeah!

OKOM: Okay, onto the next one. “America’s Favorite Pastime” – the title alone can be taken two ways – is our favorite pastime baseball or hallucinogenic drugs?

Todd: Yeah! [Laughs] Wow, I love you, man! You really appreciate the lyrics. I like to hear that you listen to it because it makes me feel understood. I always try to put in little things like that, you know?

OKOM: [Laughs] Man, you’ve got a lot of stuff like that. Now, when did you first hear about that game? I mean, you were only about four years old when that game was played.

Todd: Oh yeah, sure, I know. Maybe it was about two or three years ago. Maybe it was from one of the guys in Yonder Mountain String Band. I know it was backstage at a hippie festival, and the conversation went to – because a lot of the hippie bands take acid before they play – and the conversation turned to Dock Ellis having thrown a no-hitter that way. And I was just very fascinated by that.

OKOM: So did you have to do some research about Dock Ellis and that game?

Todd: I did. I had my friend Peter Cooper show me how to get on the computer and get the box score. Wait a minute – was it him? Anyway, somebody showed me how to get the box score. That was all I needed.

OKOM: You give a rundown of the whole game and a lot of the stats in the song.

Todd: Yeah, I did. My innings and my scores… I believe are correct, and the coach’s name – Murtaugh. I used the box score pretty much for all that. And I had heard of this one part, that I couldn’t quite get in because I couldn’t get it to rhyme. It was a part about somebody hitting a dribbler at him and he hit the dirt like it was a line drive. I had heard that supposedly happened.

OKOM: Yeah, I believe it did. Okay, “Bring ‘em Home.” I love the viewpoint from the soldier’s side and it is not your typical end-the-war songs.

Todd: It was important to me, for some reason when I was working on that song, that I don’t come out and tell anybody to bring somebody home. So I felt like I wanted to tell it from the point of view of somebody else.

OKOM: Right, and why not somebody that’s out there in the middle of it? One of my favorite lines from that song is “it seems like all I’m ever almost dying to do” I mean, listening to that, it’s like you’re saying – or he’s saying – that he knows that any day he could die.

Todd: Exactly, and he’s just trying to get back. And I don’t know the answer. I know some people with some kids over there that just want to come home, man.

OKOM: I hope you don’t mind, Todd. I’m just going down the list.

Todd: No, I’m enjoying it. I appreciate you doing this for us and thank you for listening to it.

OKOM: That’s what’s always got me about your stuff. I always tell people when I turn them onto your music – listen, because you’ve got a lot to say.

Todd: Well, thanks man. That means a lot.

OKOM: It’s not superficial shit, it’s deeper than that. You work hard at it, and it shows. Next one – “Corpus Christi Bay” is one of my favorite Robert Earl Keen songs. But you didn’t just do a cover, you made it your own.

Todd: I tried to.

OKOM: I think it’s your vocal style and when that haunting fiddle of Molly’s comes in on the second chorus just sets that sad and pathetic mood.

Todd: Yeah, you got it.

OKOM: Now, was there a personal reason for the choice of that song?

Todd: Yeah, I’d heard that it was true for Robert Earl. Every time I’ve heard that song it reminded me of me and my brother. If you took the Corpus Christi Bay and replaced it with, say, the music world; and took the oil rigs and replaced it with the road and honky-tonks, you’d have our story. He [my brother] was out there with me for a while and now he’s home.

OKOM: Where does he live?

Todd: He lives across town here. He works in a booking company.

OKOM: So, you guys are still close?

Todd: Oh yeah, very much so, I talk to him every day.

OKOM: Are you far apart in age or are you very close?

Todd: I think it’s only about a year.

OKOM: That’s good to be close. My brother and I are nine years apart; we’re like two only children.

Todd: Oh wow, that’s weird.

OKOM: The years don’t matter; we love each other like brothers. And I think  – shit, I know – I was an accident. My mom told me I was.

Todd: [laughs] Hey man, that’s cool, accidents are fantastic!

OKOM: [laughs] Hey, as long as I’m here! Enough about me. Okay, a couple of songs – “Slim Chance” and “Good Fortune” – it’s obvious, well at least it seemed obvious to me that you’re talking about Melita. Does she inspire you a lot?

Todd: Yeah, oh yeah.

OKOM: Do you consider yourself lucky?

Todd: Oh yeah, very much.

There’s more to come next week. Right now, I’ve got to get ready to go to Reno for Todd’s two shows at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. See you there. It’s gonna be a blast.

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The Lost Snider Tapes – Part 1.1

This interview with Todd Snider took place the morning of May 9th, 2009. Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs were scheduled to play a Full Moon Party at The 5 Spot that evening. Todd’s upcoming record, The Excitement Plan, was due to be released a month later. In part one of this interview, we talk about “Money, Compliments and Publicity” and how Don Was came to be the producer of The Excitement Plan.

OKOM: Hey, Todd. How are you doing?

Todd: Hey man, I’m doing good. Are you calling from Eugene?

OKOM: Yeah, I am.

Todd: Right on. Good to hear from you again.

OKOM: Well, it’s always good to talk to you. What I was hoping to focus on today was the upcoming CD [The Excitement Plan].

Todd: Oh great, I’d love it.

OKOM: Yeah, I’ve been listening to it quite a bit since Courtney sent it to me a few weeks ago.

Todd: Oh man, well, thank you. We worked hard on it.

OKOM: I wanted to talk a bit about some of the songs – and well – why don’t we just get into it.

Todd: Sure. Sounds good.

OKOM: Okay, since this is an interview – and we know what comes from an interview – I thought the appropriate song to start off with would be “Money, Complements, and Publicity.”

Todd: [laughs] You got it.

OKOM: Personally, I learned a very valuable lesson from that song. That is to never listen to one of your songs for the first time while driving my car…

Todd: [laughs]

OKOM: …because I damn near got in a wreck when you got to that line about taking care of your friends.

Todd: [laughs] Yeah!

OKOM: You know, because the song starts out as sounding so sincere and then it takes a sharp turn towards narcissism.

Todd: Yup, yup.

OKOM: Then you thank everyone including Clive Davis. Did you get your inspiration for that song from watching the Grammys?

Todd: You know what it was, I was working on the record, and I’d come up with a ton of songs but I only liked nine of them. In my head, at the time, I just needed another song. I’d never done that before; I’ve never looked at anything like that before. So, I got up one morning, and I sat down at the piano, and I thought – okay, what can I sing? And I realized, I said to myself, “You know, you’ve never done anything like this. You’re just sitting down at the piano to make up a song just to have another song. What the hell are you doing? You’ve never done this before.” I was disappointed in myself. And I thought, wow, what’s the point of singing a song if you don’t actually have something in your heart. And then I remembered this thing that I had read about this Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War II pilot. He’d said that man had reached his pinnacle of success when he ceased to care about money, compliments, and publicity. And I thought, the only reason I’m sitting here at this fucking piano – if I really wanted to be honest with myself – is because I’ve got to get a record done. And what you do a record for, right?

OKOM: [Laughs] Right.

Todd: [laughs] So, then I started just singing it like that. And I started writing that out and all, and about halfway through, I thought – Hey, I’m going to get a real therapeutic, real normal song out of this. And I don’t know if I would actually do what I said in the song, you know. Like I tell all my friends when they hear that song, “Of course I’ll call you! Just you, me and my old lady.”

OKOM: Right, don’t take it personal.

Todd: Exactly, don’t take it personal. I’m talking about everybody else, man!

OKOM: Yeah, yeah.

Todd: Man, there’s some dark, gross truth in there. I’m one of them people that can get in my own home and stay in it for months. I enjoy my friends, but they know that I can disappear for long periods of time. So, I ended up really getting something really good out of that song. I always like it, when I write a song, and end up with something like that, no matter how it comes out at the end. Even “Alright Guy” that I made up years ago, came to me when I had just been dropped from some job, they gave me a record contract, and then they told me that I couldn’t have it anymore. I was like 25 at the time. And I remember, even though I was purging, I don’t know, it was sad – it was a very sad day that I wrote “Alright Guy.”

OKOM: Yeah but you got a lot of good stuff out of those times.

Todd: Yeah, I like those types of songs.

OKOM: And this one [Money, Complements, and Publicity] is another one of those songs of yours that starts out going one direction and then doesn’t end up the way you think it’s going to end. At least to me, you had that turning point in it. It started out sounding so heartfelt, and then you hit us with that line – buy an island, run a phone line, call and tell them all to get fucked – and I thought, shit, that’s classic!

Todd: [laughs] I’m glad you liked it. I’m glad you liked that.

OKOM: Oh and by the way, I hope you guys have fun tonight. As just my little way of showing support, I’m wearing my Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs T-shirt.

Todd: Oh, kick ass! We’re going to rock tonight. We’ve got a saxophone kid that came out the other day and a piano player too. It’s cool. We actually had a practice!

OKOM: Oh, yeah?

Todd: We’d never done that before. It’s sort of changed. It used to be that we –

OKOM: Wait a minute. You said you have practiced before or you haven’t?

Todd: We haven’t ever before. It used to kind of be a practice when we played under that name. And then we started making up songs to do just as that. Now we have a bunch of songs that we play.

OKOM: I’d heard that you were planning to put out a CD under the name Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs. Is that true?

Todd: It might happen.

OKOM: That would be cool.

Todd: Yeah, we’ve been thinking about it. If we can do it, we will. We almost did it last week, but we decided to just wait.

OKOM: Were you thinking along the lines of a live CD or a studio CD?

Todd: I don’t know, I don’t know. We’re not quite ready yet. But we’ve been thinking about it. We sure have a lot of fun. The thing with that group is that – the rule behind it is that it has to be absolutely, positively fun. It can never not be fun. The couple of times that we hinted at making a record, man, when you start to do that, it changes everything. So, we have to find a way to just disappear someplace and do it without telling anybody so that it doesn’t turn into work. You know, my job is really, really, really fun. I love it. But when I get with these guys, and we plug in our electric guitars and we go jam – I don’t ask anybody on my team about it, you know? Like my manager, I tell him, “You can come, but you better be drunk and you better leave me alone.”

OKOM:  Well, I’ll be having a glass of wine for you and wishing I could be there.

Todd: Hell yeah.

OKOM: And I hope you’re getting some use out of that “Keep Eugene Weird” T-shirt that I gave you last time I saw you.

Todd: Oh my God, I had it on yesterday. As a matter of fact, it was for a photo thing. So maybe you’ll be seeing it come back at you.

OKOM: No shit? That’s great! Alright, let’s get back to the CD, because I easily get sidetracked. Okay, you teamed up with Don Was.

Todd: Yeah.

OKOM: He’s got a hell of a history. You also have Jim Keltner – he’s one of my favorite drummers. Anything that he plays on, I just love what he does, he makes it sound so simple but so perfect. What he did on some of your tracks was just that – perfect.

Todd: Yeah, I love his style.

OKOM: Yeah, and you’ve got Greg Leisz. They’re all legends. How did that all come about? And how jazzed were you that it did all come about?

Todd: I was really excited and shocked. It started as I was working on the album and I was seeing that I had run out of ideas as a person who was basically producing myself with my friends. At least I thought so, and so did the rest of us. We were like, “You guys, we’re doing the same thing that we had already done.” So, I was starting to get into that Kristofferson that he had just made and taking this as maybe more as where my head was at. Actually, there was one track on there – “Loaded Again” – I went in and played that for my manager. And I told him that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to sort of go in this direction and fuck around down here for a minute and that I think I should get somebody to produce me. He called me back later and he said Don Was wants to do it maybe. And I went, “You’re fucking joking around right?”

OKOM: Wow.

Todd: Yeah, he said, “No, I know a guy who knows him. He’s the one who made the Kristofferson record and I thought to call him. They’re on the road right now, and he said to go out there and get on the bus with them for a while, see what happens.” So, I rode around with the band – there was like 13 of them. Then me and Don went to a Brewers game and talked about records, and why you make them and what they’re for and all that. He asked me if I wanted him to help me. So we went right back to his hotel and he pulled out a whole lot of equipment. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the video on YouTube.

OKOM: Yeah, I saw the one where he’s sitting in the corner recording as you’re playing.

Todd: Yeah, that’s the one. We had just got back from the Brewers game. We had recorded like 16 songs that day. And my tour manager, Elvis, was filming those. That’s what that is. And then, he said he would do it. And everything that I was telling him that I wanted or was looking for, I never had that in my life, you know? I’d say that I wanted a sound like that Ry Cooder record or that JJ Cale record. And he’d say, “Oh, that’s Jim. You want to get Jim?” And I’d be like, well sure… you can do that? You know that guy? And then I’d said something about a Joni Mitchell thing or something about steel guitar. And he’d say, “I’ll get Greg Leisz.”

OKOM: He’s played with a ton of people too.

Todd: Oh, yeah. And he [Don] knows I’m a big fan of all [Rolling] Stones. I’m a huge fan of all of Don’s Stones period stuff. And it was so exciting for me to get to be around somebody who watches them work. And then he got the engineer that did the Bigger Bang record. And it was just the five of us, and we did it in like 2 1/2 days. Live, completely, there’s no overdubs on it.

OKOM: I was wondering about the recording of this record because it has a very raw but clean sound to it. It’s not overproduced or anything. So that is the case; you just laid it down live.

Todd: Yeah, we did it real spontaneous and loose and they just recorded it real good. I even told him that one of my favorite records was Tapestry by Carol King and he just said, “Yeah, we can go there.” [laughs] I just said, “Man you’re the best!” And now he is going to come play Bonnaroo with me. I really feel like I’ve made a friend, you know.

OKOM: A friend like that is rare.

Todd: He’s been really kind to me. That was probably the most fun I ever had playing music.

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