CONVERSATIONS WITH PERFORMERS: Todd Snider (Part 2 of 3)

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Snider

[Photo Credit: Senor McGuire]

Here is Part 2 of my conversation in Nashville on December 5 with Yep Roc recording artist Todd Snider.  Please see my introduction to Part 1 for the context of the interview.  The final installment will be posted in one week.  -VA

Do you feel like you have a layer between you and the audience?  Or do you feel like it’s open, and everything’s kind of going back and forth?

Todd Snider:  I don’t know, I think maybe the energy is going back and forth.  It’s a phenomenon sometimes where people will try to start a conversation with me while I’m playing, and usually, it won’t go in.  Or it’ll go in with amusement.  I always find it amusing.  Like the other day I was playing someplace, and these guys, I don’t know what they were talking about, but then one of them just hit the other one right in the face!  And I thought, what an interesting thing to do at a concert, man.

That was the Aladdin show [in Portland, Oregon on September 10, 2009].

TS:  Yeah, that was it!

And then the other thing that happened at that show, which I wanted to ask you if it’s something you do a lot, is you invited that guy up to play “Alright Guy”.

TS:  You know, I had never done that, and I haven’t done that since.

What prompted that?

TS:  I saw Jimmy Buffett do that once when I was about in 8th grade, and I think it might have been at the Aladdin.  And I don’t know, I just thought of it that night as I was playing.  And I forget, I think he did “Cheeseburgers in Paradise”, and he was like, “Does anybody know it?”  And somebody went, “Yeah!” and he got up and played it.  And so I thought, I’ll give it a shot.  And a couple people yelled yes, and I said, “Come on up,” and that one kid ran really fast up.  And I liked it!  I didn’t get to meet him – he jumped off and left.

Well, he posted a YouTube about it.

TS:  Oh, he did?  Oh, cool!

I actually put a link on my blog about it.

TS:  Oh, great!

Because I really was curious about that – is this something the guy does all the time?  What’s up with that?

TS:  I wonder how often it would work!  I was really knocked out – he knew the song very well.

Yeah, and it really came off.  What he posted was still pictures – he didn’t have video, obviously – but it was very interesting to see the look on your face, and I’d be interested to know what you thought of that.

TS:  Yeah, I was surprised!

Because you look like you’re kind of relieved!

TS:  Yeah, well, that too!

I mean, it could have been a train wreck.

TS:  He was good.  You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays in clubs and stuff, because he looked like it was not his first rodeo.

Well, I tried to find out some stuff about him, and it looks like he’s a DJ at KINK [radio] or something.

TS:  Oh, really?  Oh, cool!  That’s been around since we were kids, hasn’t it?

So how did you experience that?

TS:  It was cool!  I remember it pretty vividly.  I just remember him running down there so fast.  But then, once he got up there and I could see that he was going to play it good and sing it good, I just stood over there and strummed with him.  And then he was off, and we were out the door.  I think that was the encore, too.

That was really interesting.  It seems like there’s a place you can go where you can let the spontaneous happen like that…

TS:  Yeah.

…where you can be ok with whatever happens, you know?  It’s no skin off your nose.

TS:  Yeah.  I don’t care how it goes.

So then it’s like another layer that gets to be added to the experience for you, and for the audience, and who cares?  It’s over in a couple of minutes, and whatever, but it just happened to go well, and everybody totally loved it.

TS:  Yeah.  It could have gone horribly, and that would have been interesting, too!

When you are at the edge of your seat at a show, or when you listen to something, what does it for you?

TS:  Lately I’ve been getting into the jam bands, when they all noodle to a point where the groove changes and the crowd goes crazy.  I would like to understand how that happens, or who cues that or who talks that through, and I don’t think anyone does.  And I’ll get to see people so much, anyway, that open for you or that you open for, or you’re in festivals – I’ll probably see 80 concerts a year without going to any.  And this year I saw Les Claypool, and I was freaked out by that.  It’s great music, or I think it’s great music, and visually it was just like going to a play almost.  I just couldn’t take my eyes off it.  Then, as soon as I saw that I was going to like it, I went up to the sound board, so I was just really close.  And he had a costume box that was right next to where I was.  And he came off and he would take these masks, and he’d like put on a pig mask, and then he’d run out there and do this weird dance and everyone would go bat-shit.  And he played, like, 15 different bass guitars.  He fronts a band with a bass, and there’s no guitar.  It was a xylophone player, a drummer, a cello player, and a bass player – and it was rock and roll.  It sounded like rock and roll.

So what do you think it was about him that made that experience happen for you?

TS:  For me?  Well, it kind of feels like a bigger version of what I do.  Like I could tell that he had put a lot of thought into it beforehand, and then he was up there and he was probably kind of stoned, and had found a way to just let go of all the other stuff.  There had to be a meeting about the big picture that they hung up behind him, you know what I mean?  But some people, I feel like you meet them and they can’t put that part down.  They get anal.  They care.  They want it to go well.

Too much control.

TS:  Yeah.  Some kid asked me one time for tips on how to get used to performing, and I said, “You should go to some open mic and do everything you can to offend them to the nth degree, man.  See if you can get someone to throw a bottle at you.  And then maybe the police will come, and maybe you’ll spend the night in jail.  And then the next day you’ll get out and, see?”

“You lived through it.”

TS:  Yeah.  Fuck them, you know?  Or not them.  You know, I love people, to a degree, but I don’t love them so much I want them to do stuff.  I want them to do their shit.  I don’t care what they do.  I don’t love them so much that I care what they do.  They can do whatever they want.

To be continued…