Listen to Todd Snider's The Devil You Know on Rhapsody!
By Dennis Cook
Like old times
Screw off the top on a bottle of wine
Living out our own kind of American dream
Your goal was always the same as mine
You didn't want to throw a fishing line in that old main stream
Nashville jewel Todd Snider tells tales of folks on the edge – fringe dwellers, the unlucky and those who wear their scars with pride. A 12-year veteran of the Austin and Nashville singer-songwriter circuits, Snider is a beautifully rumpled chronicler of the battered but unbroken. "I think I am that kind of person. In fact, I know I am that kind of person actually," says Snider. "I'm the singer who went to rehab three times. I get a sense of my community sometimes. Most of my friends are fuck-ups, and I've always felt a little defensive of them. I love the phrase 'Try to make it real' - compared to what? My thought with the [new] record was to say your Thanksgiving isn't better than my Thanksgiving because you're rich or well-adjusted. I know this from experience."
Todd Snider by Senor McGuire
Snider is the first guy to stand up for underdogs because he's been lying down with them for years. He's punk rock in the purest, best sense, but expressed in a voice that's garnered the praise of giants like John Prine and Kris Kristofferson. He redeems the phrase "working class," giving it dignity and removing the ugly taint our money-obsessed culture puts on it.
"I've been to dinner at Jimmy Buffet's house, and I've eaten it at a homeless shelter. And there's great joy and harrowing terror to be found in both places. And I'm being sincere about that," observes Snider. "I'm not trying to knock Jimmy Buffet 'cause he's a fun person to hang out with, but I distinctly remember being in Reno one time and I feel asleep on a rock. A chick found me and asked me if I needed food. I felt real funny telling her I didn't, so I went and ate at this place that was giving sandwiches away. I never asked her, but I think she thought I was a young homeless person. Or a not-so-young homeless person [laughs]. But I think I had a better time that day."
The Part Of Town You Leave
Snider lives in East Nashville, the less glamorous section of Music City, USA, where it's noisier, dirtier and tougher than the white-washed side that appears on the Country Music Channel. For a true blue song craftsman like Snider, it's a constant source of inspiration that's produced the two best records of his career: 2004's East Nashville Skyline (which has both the balls and the chops to reference Dylan's classic album) and the brand new The Devil You Know, which mixes up his funny, achingly true observational tunes with a bunch of rockers that shake it like Jerry Lee Lewis with a head full of hillbilly crank.
"At the very beginning, this one felt a little like part two to East Nashville Skyline. Then, it started to take on its own shape," comments Snider. "It takes me a few months of listening to really hear it, but I listened to them back-to-back. At the end of East Nashville, I'd say this guy got a break, but by the time the next record starts, it's like he doesn't want to take it. It's weird. What's wrong? Why is he still mad? Once all that drug stuff passed out of my life, I had a lot of complex feelings. They say people take drugs because they're pissed off. I was numb for about four years, and as soon as that ended, my first instinct was anger."
Total sobriety doesn't sit well with Snider. When we hung out recently at his beachfront hotel in Santa Cruz - a hidden, homey oasis for bohemians - the table outside his room had tasty red wine and tastier California reefer laid out alongside the chips and snack crackers. Snider, like many of us, understands that getting loaded is a natural human instinct. Stifling primal, reptile brain urges is always dangerous, even if indulging them too much can land us in the shit.
"It was like, 'Alright, I'll stay here but under protest.' I feel like I've done this dance a lot of times," Snider says. "One of the first things I wrote down for this album was 'Sometimes you rise above it. Sometimes you sneak below it. Somewhere in between believing in heaven and facing the devil you know.' That felt like the starting place." When I wishfully suggest it would be nice if our vices weren't our undoing, Snider responds, "Yeah. Wouldn't it be great if they were our 'doing'? It'd be great if all that shit you're compulsively drawn to just made your family tighter. 'You look a little sullen. Eat this! Smoke this!' Why doesn't it go like that?"