For 20 years, Todd Snider has been traveling around the country telling his truths and near truths to anybody who will listen. Armed with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and a bag of tunes that are just as likely to split your sides as they are to break your heart, it is often difficult to tell whether Snider is filling the interludes between songs with stories or the space between stories with songs. Not that it matters, as Snider is just as entertaining when he’s singing about statistics as he is when he’s discussing the finer points of incarceration. With his new album, The Devil You Know, making top 10 lists nationwide, Snider is poised to offer Santa Barbara some wise words come Wednesday night.
Your songs typically convey their message kind of covertly. Have you ever had the urge to hit people over the head with your points? Not really, because it doesn’t really concern me if they get it or not. When I’m singing out something political, it’s mostly because it’s eating at me. I get so much from it personally that I haven’t ever gotten to worrying about what other people are getting from it. Just as long as they clap, I’m okay.
Given the political nature of some of your songs, do you ever find yourself changing things up for certain audiences? I probably should, but I don’t! I just trust that it will be alright. And if it isn’t, it usually makes for a good story.
How has someone so independent spent so much time on a major label? I’ve had this drinking friend called Bob Mercer, and he’s probably my best friend. The whole time I’ve known him he’s been a music executive-a really big one. So big in fact, I don’t even know what he does. He’s always taken care of me and my music, and no matter who I’m working for, I’ve got a better deal than I should have from them-and got it because of him.
What brought you two together? I think he appreciated that even as a young kid I wasn’t really concerned with aiming for anything. I think he was really impressed by my lack of ambition.
Your songs cover so much subjective territory. Is there anything we won’t hear about in a Todd Snider song? I have never really written much about sex. Love and romance and all that, I’m into. And I like it when other people do it-like Prince-but I don’t ever see myself writing about that anytime too soon.
Lucinda Williams is another who does it well : It’s funny you should say that, because I like her so much, and when I was just saying that, I was thinking she’s one of those people who can do exactly that. And I love it when she does it. That’s exactly the thing I don’t have in me. I have just never been able to say that kind of stuff in public.
There’s a song on your new album titled “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” Is that a swipe at Garth Brooks for using the title “Beer Run”? The guy who wrote “If Tomorrow Never Comes” for Garth Brooks is the same guy who wrote “Beer Run” for him. I was sitting having a drink with a friend of mine backstage at a conference and we see this guy and then we realize we’re the “Beer Run” guys. He tells me he heard my song before and I thought, “Well, that’s funny.” And when he walked away, I asked my buddy if this guy had any good titles. My buddy went through them and I thought, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” yeah, I like that; I’ll take that one :”