“Mick Jagger was born on a Monday morning, Keith Richards was born on a Saturday night.”
–Todd Snider, “Brenda”
The last time singer-songwriter Todd Snider played Flagstaff was in November of 2004. As far as I can tell, it’s the only time—aside from his show here this Friday—that he’s played here.
Snider had released East Nashville Skyline in July 2004, and it was an album that would become his classic work up to that point. East Nashville was the totality of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of shows he’d played along with the five studio albums he’d put out since the mid-’90s. It became his breakthrough in many ways. But, in November 2004, the album wasn’t really going anywhere—just stagnating as he toured relentlessly.
Not many people had heard of the east Nashville songwriter and on that late-November Sunday evening Flagstaff experienced a heavy early season snowstorm. I had recently started my job as editor at Flag Live, hadn’t heard of Snider before and unintentionally failed to mention him in the paper in any sort of prominent way. I didn’t even bother to go to the show. Not many people showed up anyway.
Now, I’m not someone who harbors much regret, but I do wish I had (a) gone to the show and (b) tried to interview Snider or draw attention to one of the best kept secrets in modern music. But alas, it didn’t happen. A few weeks later I gave East Nashville Skyline a thorough listen and I was blown away. He was speaking my language with socially relevant-yet-humble tunes about everyday people, hilarious fictional stories (“Iron Mike’s Main Man’s Last Request”), his bohemian and slightly ragged home of east Nashville (“Nashville”), and everything from organized religion to the terrified reaction mainstream society initially had to rock ‘n’ roll (“Ballad of the Kingsmen”).
In addition to being the flag bearer of how to live a free and easy lifestyle in the year 2012, Snider also wears his east Nashville pride on his sleeve. On his 2007 outtakes collection, Peace, Love & Anarchy, he celebrated the contrast between his less pretentious side of the Cumberland River and the polished, music-biz-dominated side of Music City: “East Nashville skyline, discount cigarettes, liquor and wine/Anywhere, anytime we deliver.”
These days Snider is riding a nearly decade-long wave of a spike in popularity. Since East Nashville Skyline his albums have sold well and his performances are consistently packed by throngs of fans who hunger for the honesty and candor the songwriter puts out live. He typically includes a quasi-self-introduction: “My name’s Todd Snider. I’ve been driving around this country more than 15 years. I make these songs up and I sing ‘em for anybody that’ll listen to ‘em. Some are sad, some are funny, some are short, some seem like they’ll go on forever. Sometimes I may ramble on for as many as 18 minutes in between a particular song … If everything goes particularly well this evening, we can expect a 90-minute distraction from our impending doom.” (From 2011 his live album The Storyteller)
For his newest offering, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (out on March 6), Snider gathered several east Nashville musicians and put together 10 tracks of electrified folk and roots rock that often veers into beautifully dark and bluesy territory. The crew cranked out the record in less than a week, giving it a casual, low-key vibe. Keeping imperfections intact, the album sounds remarkably personal, like you snuck into the studio during the recording and caught it all coming together before being booted out. Snider told me that, in an attempt to capture a Neil Young-esque vibe, he gave simple instructions to his band: “I don’t want to be on the radio and I don’t want to be liked. I just want to make a mess. I want everyone to just lose themselves into this,” he told me. (See an excerpt from our conversation on page 16.)
Todd Snider probably won’t be burning up the pop charts anytime soon, and most likely won’t be asked to judge “American Idol.” And I’m sure that’s just fine with him. Stay weird Todd.
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