Singer/songwriter Todd Snider talks chaos, success and how to deal with a mugger

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comMay 30, 2013 


    WHEN: 7 p.m. June 2

    WHERE: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St., West Columbia

    COST: $17; $20 at the door


Folk singer/songwriter Todd Snider wasn't sure the ideas, phrases and other random thoughts he had tacked to his wall would ever amount to anything, let alone one of last year's best records.

It had been nearly three years since Snider, 46, had made a studio record but once those ideas began to form of songs, including one about Wall Street that, rumor has it, former White House Chief of Staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested he write, Snider knew who to call -- the most unreliable people he knew.

"I wanted the kind of people on this record that would show up late and might show up to the studio drunk or all drugged out," Snider said. "I wanted this record to be an unprofessional mess and not be afraid to mess things up. Like when we were in the studio, they would be like, 'I didn't hit that note right, is that all right?' And I'd be like, '(Expletive) yeah. That's more than all right.' I wanted something that sounded like a rough Neil Young or Bob Dylan record, an album where you would tell they were drinking when they made it."

Snider found the chaos he sought while still garnering the critical acclaim for "Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables," an album Rolling Stone listed as among the 50 best records of 2012. The magazine also declared the Nashville native, "one of the sharpest, funniest storytellers in rock."

"I didn't see that coming at all," said Snider, who will perform June 2 at the New Brookland Tavern in West Columbia. "Especially considering that I never really saw this record being anything."

Snider talks about the history of rock 'n' roll, the first time he got mugged and reading album reviews.

Question: Your first album, "Songs for the Daily Planet," came out in 1994, how has the music industry changed in your eyes since then?

Answer. From a business standpoint, I've been really lucky. For a long time, I kept all of my money in a coffee can and eventually gave it to an accountant and I've never paid or seen a bill or anything like that. As far as I know, I've never been ripped off and if I was, I hope they needed it. From a musical standpoint, I think it's important to remember that rock 'n' roll was maybe 30 to 40 years old when I first started and the decadence of hair metal and all of that had kind of imploded on itself, and you had a music scene where guys were almost ashamed to be famous and had this very skewed perspective on wealth. For guys like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, it wasn't about the money ... As far as I'm concerned, rock 'n' roll really began with Elvis and died with Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols. Everything that we're doing has already been done before.

Q. Much has been written about your records, do you read reviews?

A. I used to try to stop myself from doing that, but I've found that if something really (expletive) is written about you, your friends will make sure you know about it, so I'll check some of it out now. I'll read a review where they said they hated me and yeah, part of you wants to reach out to that person and try to get them to like you, but at the end of the day, they were paid to listen to this record and write about it and that's what they thought. In a way, you want to thank them for writing about you at all. I think of it like pro wrestling or sports like when people are like, "I (expletive) hate Patriots" because they're playing the Titans. They don't think of those players as having mothers or having families. It's all a cartoon to them.

Q. Humor has been a noted signature of your songwriting style. Has that always been the case?

A. Cracking jokes and trying to be funny is something I do when I'm really, really nervous. I remember the first time I was mugged, I was about 23, had a gun pointed in my face and I said to the guy, "What is this, your first day? I'm a folk singer." My humor really does come from a place of panic. It is a defense mechanism for me when I'm trying to sing my songs for people. It's how I get through it.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at



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