Todd Snider: Stoner Fables A Gypsy Songman
*JPG: Speaking of personal stories, when I saw you in 2009, you had this lengthy intro about waiting at a fast-food drive-thru and watching some businessman-looking guy going off on the kid working there. And the thing was at first you felt bad for the kid, but then you felt bad for the guy because he had that much of a screwed up life that he would flip out on someone at a drive-thru. At this point, after listening to the songs on “Agnostic Hymns,” have your sympathies shifted back to the kid? *
TS: I guess I still feel bad for both of them because the bummer is we’re dying. I wonder if that is why everybody’s pretending other things matter. I don’t know if my sympathies have shifted. I like to think I’m for everybody or I’m on everybody’s side. To a degree there’s that…we’re afraid to die, we all get worse than we deserve. That’s something I said in there, too. I don’t know though. I like, what do they call it? Throwing the goat (term for heavy metal devil horns). We’re talking about just a kid that works for a store. I was thinking also just about kids in general. I tend to be on everybody’s side if I can, to make a short story long.
JPG: I listen to something like “New York Banker” and that’s why I thought maybe your sympathies shifted, as in the anger from that song would relate to the anger at the businessman-looking guy.
TS: Yeah, it’s hard to root for that guy in “New York Banker.” His name is John Paulson and he’s just running around free, which is scary, I guess. (from Wikipedia — Paulson’s a hedge fund manager who became a billionaire by short-selling subprime mortgages five years ago, and then made $5 billion in 2010.).
Kurt Vonnegut in his last book talked about how if every amoral person in the world just turns pink all of a sudden it would astonish you. And then, it would also astonish you how well they do and how upsetting that is. I thought it was an interesting thing.
I can’t be on that guy’s side, but I thought, ‘I betcha if I worked at it just for the sake and time to make up a cool song I could find a way to empathize with that guy.
JPG: What was that Vonnegut line?
TS: I don’t even know if that’s how he said it. but he said something to the effect of, he said it, I think the way he said it, if he had one piece of wisdom to pass on to young people, you would be astonished if you knew how many of the people among you in your daily life were completely amoral people that will do whatever they got to do to get what they want. He was saying that he thought the president at the time, George W, was one of those people. So I was saying, compared to what they used to say about gay people, if they all turned pink, you’d probably be freaked out; people that pretend to be religious just so they can be part of something. You know, that kind of person.
JPG: Another thing I want to bring up about the album, the “Stoner Fables,” songs like “Brenda” and the Jimmy Buffet cover (“West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown”). Politics is a big thing right now but some people hate politics in their music. Are you now dealing with that attitude?
TS: I kinda don’t like it in music but it’s in mine. It’s not necessarily in the music I listen to. And I don’t argue with the people that say it doesn’t belong in music. I don’t know that I think it does. I don’t know how it became this thing I did, but I don’t know why that was inside of me for some reason. I just sing what comes out, and I’m thankful that something’s going out. Sometimes I sing about love and that kind of stuff. For some reason I’m always looking for story songs and stuff like that. I’m a pretty bad stoner, too, like a stoner liberal. And that comes out, too.
*JPG: The song that you worked on with Loretta Lynn. You said Elvis Costello sang it with her. Any update on that ever coming out? *
TS: I don’t know. I hope it does. I wonder what’s going on with that. I haven’t talked to her in awhile. I heard the song and I don’t know that she’s put out a record. I talked to her son-in-law not long ago, that’s how I know her. I’ll check on that. I don’t know. I imagine it’ll come out some day.
JPG: Last thing, you told the musicians that played on “Agnostic Fables” that you wanted them to make a mess. That was the goal of the record. Why did you want something so loose sounding and was it meant to correlate with the lyrics?
TS: I thought it did and also it’s the kind of stuff I like. It took me a long time to learn that that’s what it was I liked. Even when I listened to my first couple of records it took me forever to figure out, ‘I just don’t know…they bug me.’ And then my friend Eric helped me to learn right around the time I was making “East Nashville Skyline,” I didn’t like stuff that was in perfect time or perfect pitch. It just doesn’t scratch my music itch. So, I try to make stuff I would like to listen to.
JPG: The lack of perfection gives it a sense of swing.
TS: I hope it does. I listen to old records that I like and I don’t think they’re so meticulously created as some are today. We try to make what, I guess, we would call old-fashioned sounding stuff, like Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young. And there’s just some records, [Dylan’s] Desire, as being one we copied. Sloppy records, that’s what I like. Exile [on Main Street]. Shit like that. I wanted to make sure I found a group of people that wasn’t gonna freak out if we didn’t sit there and work on something until it was in perfect time.