2014 is going to be the year of Todd Snider. If you haven’t already heard of the storied-stoner folk singer, by years end you will have. Sandwiched between his steady solo schedule, Snider’s Hard Working Americans debut album drops this month followed by a 20-date tour and the release of his first book, I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, in April. He’s a busy, busy man. He’s also a movie star. But, thankfully, the self-proclaimed “Mike Tyson of folk music” carved out some time to answer my call.
Hard Working Americans, a collection of other people’s songs, is out on January 21—how did that project get started?
My friend, Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi), was ribbing me, “how come you never make music with anyone your own age?” and asked me who I would want to play with. I told him I just never thought to do it, but I’ve always admired David Schools, from Widespread Panic. So, we called him up and jammed and started talking about recording together. I said I had some songs and how I wished some jam bands would ask me to produce them and David said, “why don’t we make a band and do them?” So, to make a short story long . . . I asked David who he thought was a good guitar player, he mentioned Neal Casal (Ryan Adams, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), which was funny because I had just met Neal two nights ago and he fucking freaked me out, so he joined. And then David wanted Duane Trucks, we had Chad, and that’s the heart of it.
And the name?
We came up with a name we thought would offend the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
You should have a political platform to go with it.
We announced that the other day . . . The Republicans and Democrats are controlled by bankers and oil and gun makers and both parties have bands that suck. So, we formed our party band first!
The album features songs by Hayes Carll, Kevin Gordon, Randy Newman, Gillian Welch—what you’ve called “perfect songs.”
I should have used a different word because that suggests a knowledge of what that would be and I’m more of the mind that there’s no such thing. I wish I would have said perfect for me.
I think that’s implied.
I hope so. I’ve been on this circuit forever and I meet people who dedicate their lives to making up songs, poem-type songs . . . these ones got right into my brain. I wanted to take those kinds of songs and apply it to a jam band.
I love the Hard Working Americans video for “Stomp and Holler”—Hayes Carll is a fairly recent discovery for me.
I have his T-shirt on right now. He’s fucking great. Guys like him, not only do I never get to miss them, but I get them paraded in front of me . . . they always want us to hate each other. In theory, we do. On paper, I cannot STAND him. But, in person he’s hilarious and fun to smoke dope with. And, he writes great songs.
I love that song, that whole album was my summer anthem last year.
You know, it’s funny . . . Hayes and I were at my house listening to this Van Morrison record. He wanted out of a record deal so he did these songs like “stomp and shake” and “shake and shout”—10 two-minute songs. A few days later Hayes calls me up and says, “we should make up a song called Stomp and Holler.” I laughed, thought it was a joke, and didn’t say, “yes, WE should.” I go down to the studio to visit him and he puts that song on and I’m like, “you fucker!”
You should reverse it and do a “Holler and Stomp” version.
That’s right, “all I wanna do is holler and stomp” . . . maybe I will.
Do you think you’re going to feel a little bare on stage at these HWA shows with no guitar?
I’m not quite sure what I’m doing to do. I’m not going to interrupt the dance party with some long story. My goal at these shows is to be part of something that makes people dance. I really think in my heart of hearts that is the most spiritual and intellectual thing that music does—it makes you dance. The other things are good too, but the deep one is move. I think that might almost be my religion.
For the stories, you can refer the crowd to your new book, I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales.
And, they are all true. I hope I don’t lose a bunch of friends, but I probably will . . . I fuck up a lot, [the book is] mostly fuck-upy stuff—I’m like the Mike Tyson of folk, without any rapes, or cannibalism, and no face tattoo . . . overreaching?
Maybe. Was it difficult to write a book?
My friend Peter Cooper came over and we knocked it out in 2-3 weeks. Cooper can type fast and well, and I never shut up so that part was easy. My original title was Smoking Grass and Dropping Names because the first chapter is about an argument with Jimmy Buffett and the second is about when Jerry Jeff Walker got really mad at me—longer, true versions of the stage tales.
Is Jimmy Buffett still mad at you?
No, this was back in the early days. I was on tour with him. My song about the Seattle grunge group was on the radio at the time and I wasn’t playing it and he wanted me to. He called me into his dressing room and had made a set list for me. I said I just know that you would not have let someone make a set list for you when you were 26. And, he unloaded all his backstage food on me. I deserved it. Anytime someone like that gives you advice and you don’t take it you should get fruit pelted at you . . . in fact, it says that in the book.
New album, tour, book . . . what else is there?
Oh yeah, I’m a movie star, too! East Nashville Tonight, me and Elizabeth Cook. It was going to be a documentary but they made it into a movie instead . . . a very, very druggie movie. I was on acid the whole time.
It seems like the spotlight is shining on Nashville again, not that it ever really went away. Maybe, more specifically, the spotlight’s focused less on Broadway and more on the music coming out of East Nashville?
I’ve been here for over a decade, I love it. I don’t mind when people say it’s hipsters cause if we’re talking about clothes it is . . . but I’ve been to a lot of hipster areas in my life and this area doesn’t roll its eyes at anything. It’s kind of an acidy little neighborhood, a pothead neighborhood—Americana meets punk rock meets jam band conglomeration. I’m sure it will pop someday. Some young songwriter who’s great will fucking roll his eyes at everything and it will change, but right now, today, it’s great.
The few times I’ve hung out there it’s been pretty welcoming and light on the attitude.
Everything that everybody tries to do is being encouraged, and there isn’t competition yet, feels very 60sish—free love and everything. The younger people keep coming and the older people don’t resent them. I know I don’t, and we don’t seem to be embarrassing them. The Turbo Fruits—they’re one of my favorite bands in the neighborhood. I love them.
What’s it like meeting and befriending your heroes, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker?
I really feel grateful. I can remember fantasizing about being their friends and picturing myself hanging out with these guys. I’ve never gotten to the point where I totally calm down or feel completely comfortable, but they’ve always been really good to me. Jerry Jeff Walker is the one I can most fuck around with. I’m still star struck when I see him, but if we hang out long enough, 30-40 minutes, I’ll start to relax. He picks on me so much that eventually I stop calling him sir and tell him to shut up.
Who’s still on the list—the dream collaboration?
Mick Jagger. I think he’s a great songwriter, his lyrics . . . it’s like people forget that his lyrics are up there with Dylan. I always like that he’s just trying to poke and inflame people. If you’re a prude he wants to make you uncomfortable. He’s the original Lady Gaga. He wants to give your parents a reason to be afraid. And, he’s such a good singer and dancer.
You’ve been plugging away at this for a good 20 years, what’s changed for you?
It’s easier when you get older. People are nicer to you. When I first started touring, the sound guy was an older guy and I was just a kid. The sound guy was intimidating, and, now he’s a pink faced kid… and, at least in my genre, this young group coming behind me—Jason Isbell, Justin Townes Earl, Hayes, Amanda Shires, Elizabeth Cook—I’d put that group up there with the group I most admire. They’re on fire—they don’t look up from their guitars. They’re on their path, careening toward the sun with no good plan. That’s when you hit record.
A shorter version of this interview appeared in the FLY magazine.