The lines outside Nashville’s biggest music venues ballooned last week, thanks to the influx of fans, bands, and music-industry personnel attending the 20th annual AmericanaFest. It was the festival’s biggest year to date, and Nashville — a city that’s grown exponentially, with more than a half million people moving to town during the last decade — was primed for the chaos. If visitors looked hard enough, they might’ve even seen the humorous advertisements promoting longtime East Nashvillian Todd Snider, who shelled out enough cash to fill his own page in a local magazine.
Clearly written in jest, Snider’s magazine ads applauded the songwriter’s 2004 album East Nashville Skyline for supposedly outselling Garth Brooks to become the highest-grossing country record ever. The whole thing felt like the ultimate Nashville-centric inside joke, delivered by a hometown hero who relocated to Tennessee in the late-Nineties, long before most people even knew what Americana music was. Hitting magazine stands during one of Nashville’s busiest weeks in recent memory, Snider’s clever jab at the music industry — not to mention his own career — reminded everyone not to take themselves so seriously.
That sense of oddball humor is on full display during Snider’s interview with Walking the Floor host Chris Shiflett. Released this week, the podcast’s newest episode finds the two songwriters talking shop, trading war stories, and geeking out over fellow musicians like Jerry Jeff Walker. We’ve rounded up a few highlights below.
Todd Snider’s banter between songs was inspired by Mr. Margaritaville himself.
“That part of it, I learned from Jimmy Buffet,” he says of the songwriting legend, who signed Snider to his record label in the mid-Nineties and brought him along on a major tour as his opening act. “[He taught me] how to tell a story before a song. He always told me not to tell anybody, but he just said, ‘If you stick to why you came up with the song…’ So I started doing that.”
During Snider’s younger years, his songwriting influences were mostly country-singing cult favorites and folk icons. That said, he also found himself impressed with the unwilling king of grunge music.
“I haven’t had a punk phase,” he admits to Shiflett. “I missed that. In the Eighties, that’s when I got into Seventies country. I found Prine and Jerry Jeff and Guy Clark and all that in 1985 or ’86. That was my thing. I remember being really jealous when Kurt Cobain came along. Not that I thought I was gonna be that guy, but I just didn’t think there was ever gonna be another one of those guys.”
His songwriting has been embraced by some of the titans of the music world.
“I made up some songs with Loretta Lynn,” he remembers. “We wrote a song [that goes] ‘She’s got everything it takes to take everything you got.’ I just adore her. She’s really pretty, and heavy into songwriting. She’s just as good as anyone. She talked about Dylan, calling him ‘that kid from Minnesota.’ He wasn’t intimidating to her.”
Now signed to John Prine’s record label, Snider has received some great advice from his boss.
“[Prine] helped me with my songs and the recordings of the songs,” says Snider. “I’ll show him what I’m doing, and he’ll say, ‘You’re not being honest. You’re trying to be smarter than me.’ Then I’ll go home and sit around for two weeks by myself, and be more vulnerable or be simple. I got that from Loretta, too. Almost the same speech! I love what she said: ‘Try not to use poetry.’ I was like, ‘I think I get what she means,’ because people call it poetry all the time, but I don’t know if that’s what you’re supposed to think it is when you’re the one making it up.”
Don’t expect him to ever take a job on Music Row, writing country songs for other frontmen to sing.
“I don’t know if I could make up songs that aren’t for a girl I knew,” he admits. “It’s hard for me to sing, ‘And she came in’ if I don’t know who we’re talking about! I get stuck. I can’t make up hair colors. That’s been hard for me. But I like those songs, and I’ve had songs cut by those guys sometimes.”
Although he acknowledges his reputation as a hard-partying hellraiser, he also thinks it’s a bit overblown.
“I don’t even drink anymore,” says a sober Snider, who showed up to the Shiflett interview sipping coffee. “I’ve heard that I robbed the Belcourt Theater with Elizabeth Cook. That was in the paper. Who thought that up? I liked it, when I heard it. I liked hearing that. It was funny. It took a long time for me to tell anyone we didn’t.”