Todd Snider's CDs should come with a warning label. Something like:
The music on this disc is catchy, intelligent, articulate, sardonic, sarcastic and sometimes fantastic and it defies the kind of basic categorization that the recording industry has embraced for generations. Though they are well-crafted on the CD, the songs contained herein are even more impressive in a live venue, when punctuated by Snider's sage storytelling.
Branded as an alt.country, roots-rocking, barefoot singer of neo-folk Americana music -- as well as a devotee of Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Bill Hicks and Mitch Hedberg -- Snider, 41, returns to Milwaukee for a sold-out show Friday night at Shank Hall.
OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Snider via e-mail last week and the troubadour talked freely about his music, his idols and his affection for the Brewers.
OnMilwaukee.com: The weather in Milwaukee has been pretty brutal. As a Nashville resident, do you have any regrets about playing Midwestern dates in the winter?
Todd Snider: I always hit the cold cities in the winter and I'll be in Miami by the time it hits 105. I've always been a lunch money pimp. I like to "hit them where they ain't," as the baseball players say. But, if I were a high school football game, you'd play me on Thursdays. It's by design of the gypsy code. We do it for the same reason Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase's character from "National Lampoon's Vacation" parked so far from the entrance to Wally World and that is that "at the end of the day when the rides have closed, we will be the first ones out of the park."
OMC: You've played in Milwaukee a number of times. Do any of those shows stand out in your memory? Have you done anything fun in the land of racing sausages?
TS: Multiple memories jump to mind. My uncle lives near there and I love to see him. I really dig the Brewer games. Also, when I walk out the front door of Shank and take a right (on Farwell Avenue), it heads to a cool little neighborhood that I like to walk around and I've also found the perfect hotel for me. As for gigs there, I always dig them and seeing (Shank Hall owner) Peter Jest. I also have a fond memory of a night off, watching Kelly Joe Phelps at Shank Hall.
OMC: I think your former label boss and idol, John Prine, has a place in Chicago and I know he's friendly with Peter Jest. Any chance he'll drop by on Friday? Can you describe the influence he's had on you and what it's like to become friends with one of your idols?
TS: I can't imagine him making the show Friday. I feel like he'd have called already, but who knows? Knowing him now, I look up to him for how he acts at work and at home and I consider him a good friend, but I still don't see myself as someone who would ever be punching someone like him in the shoulder, so to speak. He has friends that see him and yell, "Hey you old coot!" but not me; I still have too much stuff I want him to sign.
OMC: Speaking of idols, you've been at this long enough that there have to be young whippersnappers looking to you for inspiration and guidance the way you did with Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine. Is it strange when artists are stoked to meet you and reciting your lyrics back to you the way you reportedly did years ago with Chuck Berry and Randy Newman?
TS: Yes, it is strange. I can't really get my head around it. I remember how awkward Chuck and Randy looked when I did that to them and thinking "How could you not like that I know all your songs?"
But then, when some kid does that to me I think, "Oh, yes, this is awkward," but mostly awkward because I wonder why some kid is bugging me when Chuck Berry and Randy Newman are clearly still walking around.
TS: Aaahhhh ... My My Space Space. How much space would a MySpace space if a MySpace could space space?
Personally, I spaced the music industry long before the flux and yet even I can see as clearly as anyone that this new fangled Internet, or eBay, as I like to call it, may well be the flux capacitor that gets this music game we all love so much back to the future as it were so to speak.
OMC: A singer-songwriter friend of mine did a show not too long ago and said that a woman stood with her back to the stage sending text messages for nearly two hours. Have you encountered that kind of short attention span theater with your audiences? If so, is it hard not to be thrown off when you feel people aren't paying enough attention? (Or is that a good thing on some nights?)
TS: There is a wave between "This could be your last performance ever" and "This is just another night on the boards" that I like to try to ride. When I'm on it, which is most of the time, I can pour my heart out without regard for where any of it goes.
When I'm not on it, I'm usually somewhere in Texas and some drunk frat kid is yelling my name through the whole show, which will undoubtedly be very short because some days just aren't for surfing.
OMC: You're pretty open about your musical influences. Did Bruce Springsteen have any impact on your storytelling on stage? Do you find that you are more relaxed or talkative before certain types of crowds than others?
TS: I don't talk to crowds that won't let me and I feel no bummer about it. I'm happy just to sing, too. I love Bruce, but can't honestly say I studied him like I did Ramblin' Jack Elliot and John Prine and Jimmy Buffett. I've gotten private lessons from all three of those cats, and I also study Bill Hicks and Shel Silverstein, too. I have adapted some of his songwriting tricks into storytelling tricks.
OMC: What is the tone of the upcoming album? Does it carry on some of the lyrical themes of "The Devil You Know?"
TS: Well, I finished it and now I think I'm gonna throw half of it out. So, I'm not exactly sure what will happen now, but I feel like "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" has always kinda been my theme.
OMC: I know you're a baseball fan and you like the Giants. How do you think the Giants will do in the beginning of the post- Barry Bonds era? The Brewers haven't been to the playoffs since 1982. Is this the year?
TS: I think the Giants are in for the long, trying times. The bright side is that seats will be easy to get for a while and when we do get back, it will be glorious.
The Brewers will make the playoffs. They are ripe. I follow them, too. Their Triple-A team is in Nashville, so I watched all y'all's guys get groomed. I love the Brewers and really do think they have built a World Series team.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.