Todd Snider and his songs of integrity

Todd Snider and his songs of integrity
By Daniel Durchholz



Todd Snider

You hear a lot of talk about integrity in the music business. Usually, it’s just people blowing smoke. But Todd Snider, whose alt-country songs are sardonic yet often speak truth to power, has integrity in spades.

Snider recently ditched a new album he was about to release simply because he fell out of love with it.

“It was bugging me,” he said by phone from his home in Nashville, Tenn. “It felt like two records, and some of the songs didn’t sound finished. So I’m going to start from scratch. And if I don’t like that, maybe I’ll throw ’em both out there and call one ‘Bipolar High’ and the other ‘Bipolar Low.’ I’m kidding, but I won’t do something that doesn’t feel right.”

Snider acknowledges that he faces less pressure than some recording artists: “It’s not like I turn a record in and somebody says, ‘I don’t hear a single.’ There are no singles.”

Q: There are many ways to write a song about George Bush. How did you arrive at your approach on “You Got Away With It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers)”?

A: I asked myself what Shel Silverstein would do. My wife and I were sitting around and I said, “I want to say something real direct about politics, but I don’t want to beat people over the head.” The first thing we thought was, what if it was from the point of view of someone that got beat up by this guy? Then we thought, no, what if it was about a friend reminiscing about it, like it was fun? And once we did that, I just had to make it rhyme.

Q: Have you been audited since the song came out?

A: Actually, the year before it came out.

Q: That’s just how good they are?

A: They must have seen the rough draft!

Q: You’ve mentioned St. Louis’ own Chuck Berry as being among your major influences.

A: He’s my all-time favorite. If you’re talking about words, he’s right in there with Hank Williams. I think his words are amazing. And the music, too. I saw him in you guys’ airport the last time I was there. I’ve seen him a few times, and I yell at him and tell him how great he is.

Q: And then what happens?

A: The first time, I think I scared him a little bit. But the second time I was calmer, and he was real nice. He just smiled and said, “Thank you, son.”

Q: On “Highland Street Incident,” you take a cue from another of your heroes, Randy Newman, and get into the head of some guys that mugged you.

A: I was thinking of him when I did that. He’ll take on characters that are unsavory. I can only speak for myself, but I wound up finding something to like about those people. I genuinely don’t have a beef with them. It made for a song that I enjoyed more and, in a strange way, helped me get over something that was really scary. It felt therapeutic to do that.

Q: One of your most popular songs is “Beer Run.” Do people confuse it with the Garth Brooks-George Jones “Beer Run?”

A: Yeah. It’s usually when people think I should pick up the tab. It’s like, “No, no, no. Mine’s not the one that was on the radio all the time. Mine was on ‘Bob & Tom’ like six times.”

Q: But you exacted some revenge by writing a song called “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” which is the title of one of Brooks’ big hits.

A: I did that after I met one of the guys that wrote the other “Beer Run.” I said to him, “I wrote ‘Beer Run,’ too. Did you hear me do it?” And he said, “Yeah.” As soon as he walked away, I asked my friend, “Does he have any cool titles?” And my buddy said, “He wrote, ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes.'” I said, “Oh, man, good. I’m gonna write that, too.”

Q: You don’t have anything approaching a major-label sensibility, yet you’ve spent about half your career on major labels. How has that come about?

A: It’s usually because I have a drinking buddy who worked at a major label and convinced them I wasn’t the sort that came in all the time and went, “How come I’m not on the charts?” I don’t go in there and say, “Put a million dollars into me and I’ll make you $20 million.” I go in there and say, “Hey, loan me 20 bucks and we’ll go get some drinks, and maybe you’ll go home with 27 bucks.”

Todd Snider

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Boulevard

How much: $20 balcony, $25 orchestra

More info: 314-534-1111