Songwriting, aging, the old 'hood
To call talking on the phone with Todd Snider — the Beaverton-bred, Nashville-based singer, songwriter with deliriously witty raconteur — an interview is a bit of a stretch.
To be sure, the genial 50-year-old, who has toured and recorded at a brisk pace since his 1994 debut album, "Songs for the Daily Planet," is happy to answer any and all questions. You just never know how far down the rabbit hole one might lead.
Snider is revisiting the Northwest String Summit at Horning's Hideout near North Plains this weekend. He'll present "Dance Class with Todd Snider," actually a comedic spoken word workshop session, on Saturday afternoon and do his musical thing on the Main Stage with Great American Taxi on Sunday afternoon, July 16.
Here is some of what he had on his mind in a recent phone chat from his Nashville home:
Tribune: For a "solo" singer/songwriter, you're pretty busy with bands these days, including the Hard Working Americans and Great American Taxi. How do you like those options?
Snider: I joined the band as an excuse to talk about myself in the third person. Even hearing myself talk about it is kinda disturbing. ... Yes (for awhile) I've kept the folk thing at bay and put my heart and soul to the band I joined, but I'm working my way back to songwriting. I was working on a song when you called. I've got this line, "Giving up on a dream, seems like making one come true / It's easy to sit around and talk about it, harder to go out and do." ... It's been every style of music it could possibly be. Today I think I got it (nailed down).
Tribune: How did your latest recording project, "Eastside Bulldog," based on the early sounds of rock 'n roll and an alter ego, come together last year?
Snider: You've heard "Johnny B. Goode," right? It's like a (crap) version of that. When you book shows (with contracts) you agree not to play (in competing venues). So I came up with this other person (Elmo Buzz). I started booking myself as that, to get as far away from me as possible so I'm not jimmying up what (management) is trying to do. We played "Louie, Louie" and (other) crap. ... That little thing ended up being a few songs. It was kind of a punt ... Personally, it was me dumping the (recording) vaults.
Tribune: It's always intriguing to hear about people like Springsteen and Neil Young, who record entire albums and shelve them, then record a fresh batch of songs when a new album is called for.
Snider: Well, yeah, but their B and C (level) stuff isn't up to my A stuff ... and I have the ticket sales to prove it! My manager says, 'Oh, let's make another album,' and I'm like 'Oh, let's go with the ones already made.' ... It's kind of a busman's holiday. I think of myself as in this band now.
Tribune: Do you still write songs pretty regularly?
Snider: Chasing (songs) down the rabbit hole, that's where the fire is to me. That's the thing, I think, that every singer I've met has: '"Where's that canvas? Can I get to it again?" I'm playing Sunday, and I can't stop thinking about the (ideas) I want to share with these guys ... I can't wait to share this riff with these guys.
Tribune: Do you still enjoy touring and being on the road?
Snider: I like the road. The thing I don't like isn't the road. It's myself getting old. I feel myself aging faster when you're constantly in transit for 30 years. There's a part about driving around, looking at everything, going to a new town and playing a show (that I'm) still as into it as when I was a kid. ... A lot of this requires being vulnerable in front a of a lot of people. It's like, "Well, you wanted to be a singer."
Tribune: You're a Beaverton High School graduate. Do you get to see classmates and people you grew up with when you perform around Portland?
Snider: Not as much. My circle of friends has kind of evolved into more music friends. The neighborhood I grew up in is sort of a Republican/sports neighborhood. I still like those people, we're still friends, but I don't think at this stage of their lives they really (make a point) to go out and see a folk singer, especially one with no shoes on.
But I have a little group in town I like to hang out with. Peter Buck (formerly of R.E.M.) is a hero to me (who I see) if I'm there. He's such an inspiration. ... If he shows you something he's (working on) ... you feel like you learn so much. He's a very creative person, and fun to be around.
Tribune: Do you look forward to the String Summit and being at Horning's Hideout for the weekend?
Snider: The thing I remember from the first time I played there was how did I grow up not knowing this was out there. ... This is a cool place for music. If you're a hippie, it's a good place for a musician. I don't know why they didn't tell me about it.