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Todd Snider fills us in on the broken soul of the artist

No holding back: a chat with the veteran songwriter

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Todd Snider, the alt-folk-Americana modern legend, has recently released a studio album titled Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables and a tribute collection called Time As We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker, featuring songs by his idol, whom he credits with inspiring his own career.

Snider has made a career touring solo. He recently played across the South and Midwest with Colorado-based Great American Taxi. He welcomes songwriter Kevin Gordon to the stage at a show at the Pour House this week.

City Paper: What made you decide to do a tribute album to Jerry Jeff Walker? How influential was he to you?

Todd Snider: I feel like I had come to a breaking point after the last album, where I wasn't sure whether to take a break for a while or what. I don't even know how many albums I've done, you know? But after all this time, people don't usually come to hear me sing — or at least to hear me sing other people's songs — so this was kind of an indulgence for me. [Walker] was the first person that made me feel like I could do this. His were the first songs I learned, and I just always loved him. He was a gateway to me with his whole Hunter S. Thompson-with-a-guitar thing that I wanted to do.

CP: On Acoustic Hymns and Stoner Fables, there are a few songs that feel like they belong in today's America, like "In Between Jobs." You have other quite sad songs as well. Do you consciously try to write songs like that?

TS: You know, people who do what I do, people who are drawn to this lifestyle of touring and playing music, they're usually out here because something's broken — they have a broken heart or a broken home or whatever. There's tons of people like that, and they tend to gravitate to this industry, For some reason, they have this stuff — you know, the stuff that makes you late for shit. So that comes through in a lot of songs, but I don't ever try to write anything. I only know what my family or my bar friends talk about. It's weird. Sometimes, after I put an album out, I'll read something about how it's a song about this or that, which I wasn't necessarily aware of at the time.

CP: On the other hand, you're also known for your more goofy songs, like "Beer Run" or "Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males." I'm assuming you don't just sit down thinking, 'I'm writing a goofy song today,' so how does that split personality of your songs happen?

TS: I put funny lines in sad songs and sad lines in funny songs just because that's the way I write. There are some people who almost apologize or try to downplay some aspects of their lives, like they're too serious to do certain things. They'll kinda flush when you bring up their redneck mother or whatever it might be, but I don't hold any part of me back. And I don't go in with an idea for the songs. I'm just putting phrases together.

CP: You mentioned Walker as the reason you wanted to be a musician, but take us back a little earlier. What was the first music you remember hearing as a kid that you didn't consciously choose to hear but you remember really being into?

TS: I know exactly what it was. I was real young and it was two songs: "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" and "House of the Rising Sun." And the first time where I heard it and realized I could go get it was Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" and "Run Through the Jungle" by Creedence.

CP: Oh man, we love us some Creedence.

TS: Oh yeah, they're the greatest. That music will be around forever. Oh shit, I just remembered, I did an earlier interview and I was asked for the five best American rock bands and I forgot Creedence. The guy said I could do solo so I had to say Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Elvis, and the Dead. I'll definitely take Booker T and the MGs out for Creedence.

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