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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 03:29 am

Talking with Todd

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Todd Snider talks, plays and sings at the Hoogland Center for the Arts on Sat., Jan. 14. 

I just had the best time visiting with Todd Snider on the phone. I’ve always heard he was a nice guy and he even wrote a song called “Alright Guy” that made number one on the country charts. Now I know for sure he’s cool as can be and getting along quite well.

Even though he’s been a working musician for many years, Mr. Snider isn’t in the household name category. Yet his steady career keeps him going at a good pace with continuous live shows and nearly annual albums and he’s done things that any entertainer in his field would be proud and happy to accomplish in a lifetime.    

From making it with MCA records and working with fellow Americana stalwart Will Kimbro to signing with John Prine’s label Oh Boy!, Snider made a good run in the 90s and early 2000s. His live show and fun recordings put him on the map and now he works with various cool labels like Yep Roc and Aimless Records, top notch producers like Don Was, putting out whatever the muse moves him to do, including a recent retrospective live album of 24 songs and lots of rambling, hilarious stories in between, appropriately called Live: The Storyteller. As I was saying, we just had the best conversation, drifting from funny stuff to serious concerns and always coming back to how his life revolves around making music. His interesting and workable perspective on it all came early and stayed on.

“I started out at 20 going from bus boy to bar singer and one day I looked at myself in the mirror and thought – what if I’m still doing this at 80?” he says. “Hell, that would RULE! And I’ve just been looking at it that way ever since.”

The Beaverton, Ore., native relocated to Nashville, Tenn., several years ago and promptly ended up in the area of town known as East Nashville. Over there, on the other side of the interstate divide, the more anti-establishment musicians congregate to reside and play music without the restrictions required by the mainstream country music scene. Snider’s brush with the Nashville music money world resulted in his co-written song “Beer Run” getting recorded by Garth Brooks and George Jones, household names for sure. Todd recalls the tale with no acrimony at this point, but a fellow songwriter stole the song, changed a few things and when it became a hit, Snider was not listed in the credits nor included in the hefty publishing rewards.

He just finished recording a new album around Thanksgiving that’s a bit of a departure from his usual acoustic-based, folk-flavored music. This collection uses a full band, including a Hammond B-3 organ, fiddle, drums and bass with Todd playing the electric guitar doing leads and rhythm. The album, Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables, comes out soon and contains a bunch of new songs for the world to ponder.

“We made a mess, a real nice mess and wanted to do something different,” he explains. “Some guy was joking about hearing a fifth chord and a bridge in the new songs, but mostly I just try to keep it simple.”

The end result may seem simple but the complexities of lyric and music in Snider’s work are amazing. He’s funny, but makes a damn good point at the same time. Much as does his favorite artist, Bob Dylan (“I just think he’s a very wise person”), Snider combines gut feelings with imaginative impulses to follow a muse appearing artistically clear and creatively strong. But rather than discuss something that intense or obtuse he prefers another answer.    

“No matter what happens, we still have a tour,” he says, laughing. “That’s the motto around here: the show must go on.”

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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