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Published: 2015/12/09
by Larson Sutton

Hard Working Americans Have the Drive

Todd Snider is enjoying a beautiful December morning in Nashville, but soon his thoughts and his travel plans will turn to the west. Recruited in 2013 by Widespread Panic’s David Schools to front Hard Working Americans, Snider will reunite December 15-18 with HWA for a consecutive, four-night stand at Sweetwater, coinciding with an annual holiday toy drive at the Mill Valley, Calif. venue. We spoke to Snider about the group’s residency, songwriting methods, and future ideas of philanthropy a few days ahead of the much-anticipated spate of shows.

Four straight nights at Sweetwater. Are there advantages in a residency like this?

I hadn’t thought about that. When I heard about it, I just thought, I get to be in Mill Valley for four days, and that is a good thing. Now, I’m thinking that soundchecks can be rehearsals, after the first one. That would be really good for us because we’ve got a lot of new songs.

What does ‘new’ mean to this band? Because the group draws from musicians working often in other bands, are the songs new to everyone? New to you?

I like your question. Anytime we’ve ever been in the same room together, we work. Everybody is taking what would’ve been their time-off, to work in this band. A winter ago, we stopped in Chicago and we holed up in a studio for like, four days. I just yelled words, and they wrote music. David (Schools) is the producer, and we’ve been working on those songs when we’re together. I’ve been working on the words. Now, finally mastered, I think there are 11 songs that we wrote, and a Guy Clark song.

How did you like that way of writing?

It was cool because sometimes David would tell me to go out and dance, or take hallucinogens and start shaking around, and if somebody got an idea, they’d go out and start playing. I’d start yelling, and if I’d say something vulnerable, they’d say, “What did you just say?” Then, we’d hone it. It was a fascinating thing to do. I don’t know if they’d done it before, but I’m a folk singer. I’ve never just made up songs.

Will this be a chance to explore that creative process again, or an opportunity for extended rehearsing of the repertoire?

I wonder, because now we have this album. It’s up to David, if he’ll want to rehearse the old songs or work on new songs. I do have some words, and we’re talking about trying to make another record right away. It’s been really free-spirited. The process feels really genuine. I felt like there was no phoning it in.

I would think the idea of being settled in one place for a few days- not having to travel, no external responsibilities other than the show- could produce some interesting results for a group that is so free-spirited.

I wonder. I look forward to these when they’re coming up because I know the least about it. I’ve never done anything like this, so I think, yes, of course. We’re also all staying in somebody’s house together, so this could be a chance for some really unique and special shows. I don’t even know what we’re planning on playing yet. I bet this week is going to be really interesting. Four nights in Mill Valley? That could get fun.

I would think it will be a lot of fun, especially with the venue being Sweetwater.

I know the venue is why we wanted to be there for so many days. It has one of the best sound systems, period. And, then, Bob Weir is a Mt. Rushmore songwriter. I think the Grateful Dead invented what I think of as gypsy music; consistently moving without apology.

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