Equal parts Shel Silverstein, Jerry Jeff Walker and Mitch Hedberg, wise-cracking folkie Todd Snider released Live: The Storyteller, an album that documents the thoroughly entertaining stage presence he is known for. More than just a singer/songwriter, Snider is a full-blown yarn-spinner in both his music and his between-song banter. “If you’ve never seen me before, my name is Todd Snider,” he says at the beginning of most shows. “I’ve been driving around for 15 years making this shit up, singing it for anybody that’ll listen to it. Some of it’s sad. Some of it’s funny. Some of it’s short. Some of it’s longer than others. And sometimes I’ll go on for as many as 18 minutes in between the songs.”
As he prepared to head out for his 2011 tour, a week before The Storyteller’s release, Paste caught up with Snider about the new album, grammar and Joaquin Phoenix.
Paste: How’s life finding you these days?
Snider: Great. I’m getting older, but enjoying it.
Paste: What have you been up to?
Snider: Let’s see, just in the last week… You know, we’ve got a record next week so I’ve been doing a lot of interviews and stuff like that, but I’ve been making up songs. I think I’ve got about 10, maybe about 10 of them.
I got a side band called Elmo Buzz and The Eastside Bulldogs that Elizabeth Cook used to be the tambourine girl in, and we’ve moved her to lead singer, and we think we might make an EP. I think we’re pretty good. Yeah, it started off as a bit of a lark, but I love it. It’s something that I really look forward to doing. We’re a hard rock band. [laughs]
What else did I do this year? I tried out for a movie and choked. I thought I choked.
Snider: Yeah, the first try I was great. Then, the second try I thought about it. Boy, and you could feel it. But, I really had fun failing at it.
And let’s see, um, I typed all my stories recently out. That’s about it. I tour. I tour whether there’s a record out or not.
Paste: Have you been touring recently?
Snider: No, not in the last few weeks because I’m about to go do all of February, March, April. So, yeah, it’s about to get to be extensive. So, I’m going to take a few weeks to do nothing. Although, I’ve been over at the studio and stuff. So, it’s not like I’ve been just sit— I walk my dog a lot, too.
Paste: So, this new tour that’s coming up is going to be in support of the live album The Storyteller that’s coming up?
Snider: Yeah, yeah, and I think that’s next week or something. I know that I play New York next week, and then don’t come home for a while. Well, I mean, I come home for a day or two here and there, but I’m pretty much on the road there for a while.
Paste: Are you looking forward to it?
Snider: Yeah, I am. I love to go up to New York. My in-laws are up there, and I just got a lot of friends up there, and then I get to go out to California where I love to be in. It’s warm. I like it when we go out to warm places in the winter. By the time I get home, it’ll be baseball again.
Paste: You’re a fairly big baseball fan, right?
Snider: I am. I’ve really gotten into it as I’ve gotten older, and it’s something to do. I like summer. I like it when it’s hot, and I like the sound of that. I just like it in the background, you know, when we’re sitting around outside.
Paste: Tell me a little bit about The Storyteller. This is your third live album?
Snider: You know, maybe so. Let’s see there was Near Truths and Hotel Rooms and then, I always forget, it was a limited little thing they did, but when we were doing a record called The Devil You Know and made like an EP of like an in-store that you could get for a minute. So, I never really counted that. I never heard that, but of course, I haven’t heard this record either. Cause I thought if I listened to it, I’d start chopping it up and fucking it up.
So, I had my buddy Elvis, who tour manages me, and then there’s this other kid, Brian, that they call ‘Magnum D.U.I.’ and sometimes they call him ‘Foghat,’ and he records all our shows, and those two got together and made what they thought was the best of about a year and a half of stuff.
Paste: So, these are recording from several different performances?
Snider: Yeah, and I think it ended up mostly coming from a show here in Nashville last year, and then some Bonnaroo is on there. Then, there’s three or four other cities that are on there, too.
Paste: What prompted the release of this live album? Did you just feel like it was time for an update?
Snider: I think most of the time when people put out live records, I always assume it means ‘cause the person that makes the records wants more time to make up some songs. You know, it’s like a punt. But, you know, I look forward to doing the live records cause I’m like a student of folk, and I love Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Jerry Jeff [Walker] and Arlo Guthrie. So, I like to tour. I like to do the shows as much as I like to to the record, and it is different. So, I like it. Even though they’re songs that are already out, I know that people will enjoy it.
Paste: Do you consider yourself a live musician or a studio musician?
Snider: Live. I can play in the studio. My time is good. Not as good as everybody’s, but I’m a pretty good rhythm guitar player, I think, and finger pickin’, I can do that. But I think of myself more as a gypsy song man. That’s what Jerry Jeff calls himself. I feel like that’s his kid, and he’s Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s kid.
Paste: You have such a variety of songs with different tempos, different lyrical styles, different points of view and a vast catalogue of content that’s in your music. When you’re preparing a setlist, what goes into what you select to play for the night?
Snider: One thing I do is I keep a journal of—
Well, I don’t do it anymore. I can do it on the computer. This other kid started doing it, and he does it better than me, which is keeping up with what we played before.
So, when I get to a show, in the dressing room sitting right in front of me next to my free wine is the last three setlists from the time I was in, say, Atlanta. So, first I’ll look and see, “Well, what did I do last time?” and it’ll tell me what stories I told if I told any stories and all that. Then, I try not to repeat that. Then, I just have songs that I prefer to others, too, that I always think, “Well, what if Shel Silverstein was here? What if Prine showed up?” So, that kinda plays into to it.
Then there’s the trying to remember them all, which is difficult, but if I have the urge to play a song, the lyrics are easy to find, and usually if I get someone to print them out for me and read them a couple of times before I play, I can do it. I’ll remember.
Paste: Going back to The Storyteller specifically, what do you think separates it from your previous live albums?
Snider: Well, there’s a band on it, and it’s a lot longer. It’s a double. It’s got like 20 things on it. It’s got more stories on it. Then, The Great American Taxi from Nederland, Colo. has been playing with me. I would say it’s a bit better recorded for people that that matters to.
And, you know, all the shit I’m saying I like…[sighs] Yeah, shit. I should admit I haven’t even heard it, but I was there, you know? [laughs] It makes me too self-conscious.