It’s 8 a.m. — not exactly the most rock ‘n’ roll of hours — but the notoriously hard-partying raconteur Todd Snider has been up for hours.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep,” he confesses. “It’s usually, like, sort of around midnight to four or something like that. And then sometimes I’ll sleep for a long, long time, but most of the time I just get in an hour here, an hour there.”
“But it’s not like I do coke all day,” he shrugs. “People think I do, but I just can’t sleep.”
It’s not really that hard to imagine Snider, 52, living a kind of unorthodox lifestyle so readily apparent in his songs and the stories he loves to tell in between them onstage. Since his 1994 debut, he’s proven to be masterful at crafting funny songs that are also serious, or maybe serious songs that also manage to be funny — all of which are imbued with Snider’s distinctive spirit. And while he casts himself as a devoted disciple of folks like John Prine and Jerry Jeff Walker, at this point boasting a catalog to rival, he’s also a firm rock ‘n’ roll devotee. This fact is apparent in everything from his more boisterous solo recordings to his efforts in the jammy Hard Working Americans and the ’50s/’60s-style garage rock of Eastside Bulldog.
Snider explains his dueling devotions: “My two favorite songs — it’s a tie for my favorite — is ‘Mr. Bojangles’ [by Jerry Jeff Walker] and ‘Louie Louie’ [by the Kingsmen]. I feel like I’m always pinging back and forth between out looking for Mr. Bojangles or just some place to dance with someone, and I get pulled between those two. You know, I feel like if I do one for a long time, if I’m out sort of hitchhiking around by myself for a long time, I feel like I’m always heading towards a big party. And then after that party, I’m going to have to dart out the back by myself. I’ve just always been that way.”
Perhaps more so than most, Snider tends to live out his songs and art, balancing raucous partying and camaraderie with solitary introspection. Since his divorce, he’s lived alone (save for his dog) in Hendersonville, Tenn., this after years living in the bohemian community of East Nashville. It seems he can still pack everything he needs in life in 15 minutes — advice from fellow songwriter Aaron Allen he’s known to quote at shows.
“When I was really young, I made an agreement with myself to be crazy, you know? I was being called out anyway, and it was like, am I going to embrace it or not?” Snider says of his vagabond ways. “And so one day I just go, ‘OK, I don’t fit in, so I’m just going to hitchhike away, or every time somebody asks me to get in the car, I’m getting in it. Every time somebody offers me something, I’m taking it.’ And that’s sort of my M.O., you know? This is how I’m gonna walk through the world, as opposed to getting therapy or whatever.”
He’s slowing down a bit these days — part of the last few years of singing in Hard Working Americans, he says, was due to struggling with arthritis that made solo performances more difficult. But in the meantime it’s clear that the years and work have lifted him into another strata, helping him become one of the older heroes of the scene that he once looked up to.
“That would be flattering to think,” he says ruefully of the idea. “It’s different as an old man. I root for the younger kids because they’re all, like Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, they’re just flying into the sun at a thousand miles an hour like I was trying to do. I guess I’m still doing it, but at my age you’re kind of just like an old moth drifting towards it, limping along like Fred Sanford. I feel like Fred Sanford a lot.”
Snider continues: “Sometimes I feel like Jason and Amanda, they look at me and they’re like, ‘Well, he’s not in prison and he’s walking around and his dog has food in his belly. Why do I have to be rational?'” he continues, spinning a story the way only Todd Snider can. “I watched Guy Clark and John Prine make decisions that weren’t based on the way they were raised. They were based on adventure and, you know, hilarity. Money just never came into it. It’s like when I met Jerry Jeff and was like, ‘Well, they don’t have cuffs on that motherfucker. I ain’t changing [either].’ It does feel like you’re getting away with not having to grow up. I think I liked not growing up just as much as I like playing music.”