Todd Snider on how he parties with the co-founder of Crocs, George Boedecker, Jr.
Todd Snider is one of America's most gifted storytellers. The songwriter, who first gained notice in the mid-'90s with the song "Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues," writes the kind of songs that can cut you to the bone and make you laugh at the same time. He has a knack for exploring and expressing the human condition with incisive commentary best captured on albums like 2004's East Nashville Skyline and 2012's Agnostic Hmyns & Stoner Fables, one of his finest releases to date.
We recently spoke with Snider about his knack for finding interesting weirdos, what he learned from John Prine, partying with Crocs co-founder George Boedecker Jr., and his supergroup, Hard Working Americans.
Westword: You moved back to Portland at age fifteen. What drew you back there?
Todd Snider: My girlfriend -- and I was starting to decide that I felt my family was bullshit, probably around my junior year. Then they moved to Houston, and Houston is even more sort of Republican and chanting "USA" and football. I just could feel myself not fitting in with the world that my family fit into. In Portland, I was starting to develop the person I wanted to be, the person I could be.
I think from there I tried to disassociate myself starting when I left home. So I left Houston for Portland and hooked back up with my girlfriend. That lasted another couple of years. By the time I got out of high school, I started becoming a grownup, I suppose -- an immature one, but by design, because I made a decision young not to grow up.
I haven't succeeded at much, but I had the balls to make sure the job I was going to do I was going to like it, so if tomorrow if I had to get up and do it for one penny, I'd still want to do it. And I still would. If the gigs dried up, I would just sit here and sing for my dog.
Pretty early on in your career, you saw Jerry Jeff Walker. Where was that, and why did he make such an impact on you, more so than other solo artists you may have seen?
It was at Gruene Hall, which is on this tour. There were two things about it: First, I had grown up in Oregon, but as a high-school kid from the suburbs, I didn't really know that people made music out there and made good livings, and I didn't know who they were. I started to learn that because there was a little bar down the street that had Huey Lewis playing all the time, and then one day they were on TV. I didn't know that happened to people. I thought you were either on TV or not.
I saw Jerry Jeff play in a club, and there were only five-hundred 500 people there. But they weren't there because it was some special or anything like that. They were there to see this thing. It was exactly like the concerts I'd been to, only with 9,500 less people. And I thought, "Well, that doesn't seem like I'm trying to get to the moon. That seems like a job that you could maybe get."
I found out that it's actually a really hard job to get. But I wasn't asking the world to let me be on television. I just wanted to play Gruene Hall. I thought that was an easier dream to say at a party without the girls rolling their eyes at you. Even if you are dreaming of being a rock star, you can say you were doing that, and it was a little more palatable to your buddies. So that kind of made it like, "Wow, I could have this dream."
At that time in my life, I was also very much what my friends called "the load." I was always hitching a ride or staying on your sofa. I had all the Woody Guthrie things you could have except the guitar. I didn't know that existed, and I had always felt really insecure. My friends lived in a college town, and they went to college, but I didn't go to college. And they had money, and I didn't have any money. And they had parents that liked them. I didn't have any of that. And you can't get any chicks like that.
Then I saw this guy singing about how he was a "gypsy song man, and no one wants your dimes," and I thought, "That's my theme song." Then I started thinking also, "They call me a freeloader now, but I'm three chords from being called a free spirit, and that's a whole different game" -- you know, that kind of guy who gets to make up poems and smoke dope and talk to chicks.
Up until that point, people told me, "You're wasting your time just smoking dope, talking to chicks and looking for weird parties. But if you write it all down, well, then, fuck, there may be a value in it, and your little hobby of trying to get in trouble all the damn time could become an actual occupation."
Even as a young guy, I'd go into a bar with my friends, and I'd immediately find the guy with the weird nickname who was going to have a cock fight in his basement after the place closed. I've always been able to find that my whole life, more than making up songs. If you dropped me off in the middle of a town tomorrow, you could come back in three days, and I will show you the weirdest thing that happens in that town.
That's a real gift.
It is. I feel really lucky. People with nicknames are always telling me when some shit's going on. Now my wife loves me, and I still just do the same things I did when I was 21; it's not just some story I get to tell when I come back with the beer. I get to actually get paid. I have to do it at a certain time, that's the only rub, which is fine with me. If I didn't have to do something at nine, I think I'd probably just do drugs all the time.
So it's good for me that I have a gig, or I would just party all the time. I used to just do that, but now I'm too old. I can't do the gig and drink all day. I've got to pick one. I don't drink ever anymore. I'll still smoke some dope with you. I love to drink, but it just doesn't work for me anymore. Drink a half bottle of wine, call somebody a fuckhead, pass out, wake up, apologize -- I can't do that anymore.
Keep reading for more of our chat with Todd Snider