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Todd Snider Talks New Album, Nashville ahead of Show with John Prine

Todd Snider
Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images

In music, few tools are as effective as a well-told story. While instrumentation, rhythm, melody and more are undeniably crucial to a given song’s resonance, a good story can elevate a song like little else.

What makes a good story varies from artist-to-artist, song-to-song, and even genre-to-genre, but you can often identify one when you hear it.

One of the best storytellers working today is Todd Snider. A singer-songwriter based out of Nashville, Snider has been crafting excellent stories and songs for more than two decades. At their best, Snider’s songs are simultaneously poignant and humorous, entertaining the listener while taking them on emotional journeys.

Snider’s music can be political, personal, and informative, often all at once, giving him a style that is uniquely his own.

Snider’s latest record, the sparse and folk-leaning Cash Cabin Sessions Vol. 3, plays to all these strengths. Light and dark humor, thoughtful reflections, and songs that are topical without preaching are all filtered through Snider’s unique lens.

Though Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires make typically strong guest appearances, Snider carries most of the load himself, both in terms of songwriting and performing. Recorded at the Legendary Johnny Cash-affiliated Cash Cabin, the record is a great one for fans of folk and country.

Snider returns to Minneapolis on May 31 for a show at Northrop Auditorium, opening for the legendary John Prine. Few combine story and song as well as those two, and few write better songs than either, period.

Both sets figure to be rewarding explorations of the artists’ expansive catalogs with new material mixed in (Prine’s 2018 The Tree of Forgivenvsess is also a gem). It figures to be a can’t-miss show from two can’t-miss artists

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Todd returns to the road beginning tonight in Columbus, OH, and continuing across the Midwest before a special hometown show with John Carter Cash at the Ryman Auditorium on 4/20. The tour includes shows in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Tulsa, Charlotte, Atlanta, and more. Where will we see you? ? 4/10 JoAnn Davidson Theatre – Columbus, OH 4/11 Park West – Chicago, IL 4/12 The Fitzgerald Theater – St. Paul, MN 4/13 Pabst / Riverside / Turner Hall – Milwaukee, WI 4/15 The Ark – Ann Arbor (sold out) 4/16 Wealthy Theatre – Grand Rapids, MI 4/17 Music Box Supper Club – Cleveland, OH 4/18 TheVogue Indy – Indianapolis, IN 4/20 Ryman Auditorium – Nashville, TN For a full list of dates visit the link in Todd’s profile. #toddsniderlive #cashcabinsessions ? by the great @eastsidestacie

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Below is an interview with Todd Snider (edited for consistency):

MIM: What does recording at the Cash Cabin Mean to you?

TS: I had just moved out there, and it mostly felt like I was making a friend in John Carter Cash. Also, when you’re an older singer, I wouldn’t say it’s harder to get inspired, but sometimes it takes an exciting event or something and going down to that place, it started a process. There’s a couple of records, and a volume two coming later.

MIM: Is it true that one of those is poetry?

TS: Yeah. I had gone there to watch Loretta Lynn record a song that she and I wrote together, and started having dreams about it, so that made me think maybe I could create some songs. I asked John Carter if I could record out there and went out there and read some poems that I had made up. I didn’t end up liking them that much, but it gave me a chance to get there and get a feel for the place.

I started hanging out there, and I think a lot of the songs came from being out there. There’s a song about Johnny Cash and one about his best friend. The word I guess is “inspirational” or “inspiring.” When I first started making up songs, they just came out, and they still do, but they never know when or why, and I need them, I need them for work. It just started off, I used them to tell girls I liked them, and that’s still the only way they come out, but now there’s people waiting. It’s not like I’m U2, but it’s my gig.

MIM: You’re known for being a prolific songwriter. when you’re writing an album or song, do you know what it’s for? You’ve recorded with bands, you’ve recorded electric albums and more. Does the purpose of the song come right away or later?

TS: It feels like it goes into different muses I guess you could call them. Sometimes I’ll give them names and go through phases. I guess you could say I’ll mine them. There’s a jam band I’m in and that stuff I’m into. All of the things I started I still do…if something gets me into music I just let it happen and let my own music go that way.

I don’t think it makes people who are into my music always like the records because they’re different, but I think they at least know I’m not pandering. I feel like the thing I try to do mostly is chase the music that is genuinely coming out, and not just try to do the thing that people like.

MIM: What has changed in Nashville since you moved there and what remains the same?

TS: I think it’s changed a lot. When I got there, it was the 90’s and Garth Brooks was running it, in a way, artistically. Johnny Cash was still what I would call the “President” of the town. When he passed away, Guy Clark kind of became the President, or the unofficial person you answered to. Slowly, it felt like, in my opinion, the un-altruistic side of whatever that was that was going on [took hold]…I think maybe they made a bunch of bread and eventually it became that thing they called “Bro Country.”

A few years ago, it felt like that popped with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, and Kacey Musgraves…  If you’re an old person from, I guess, my side of the tracks, like Elizabeth Cook or Robert Earl Keen or any kind of semi-country, but not as ambitious, it’s fun to watch. Like all those singers I named, when they sing those songs, they’re actually about people. Like when she says “Oh, you broke my heart,” Kacey Musgraves is talking about some guy that broke her heart. For a long time, it was more like what do people want to hear, lets do that…I wasn’t as into that. I’m into Townes Van Zandt type music.

MIM: What makes a great storyteller to you?

TS: My favorite ones are usually the ones that are hard traveled, like Mark Twain or Hunter S. Thompson…sometimes having an adventurous life is more important than wanting to be a good writer.

MIM: A lot of the songwriters you mentioned, especially Sturgill, Isbell, and Stapleton, all had their long stories, they all went out and lived.

TS:  Those guys have lived lives like mine in a lot of ways, and now they’re country stars. That’s what Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and all those guys did…I’m a fan, almost like a sports fan, of country music, so it’s fun to watch right now. It didn’t bug me when I didn’t like it either. The bro country thing didn’t bother me, I just wasn’t that into it. I’m really into what’s going on right now.

MIM:  There’s some really inspiring stuff out there….

TS: I meet all of them cats, they’re all nice to me. I’m like an uncle or something.

MIM: Any that you’re particularly close to?

TS: I was the Reverend at Jason’s wedding. I just met Sturgill through John Prine not long ago, and really liked him. Amanda, of course…. Hayes Carll I love. I haven’t met Chris Stapleton yet, but I love his music…Kacey and Margo, they’re cool, they’re East-siders. East Nashville is cool, and it’s a really cool time to be there. There’s a kid named Aaron Lee Tasjan. I love that kid.

I think it helped a lot that Jack White came to town. He’s such an artsy-fartsy guy, Just an artistic guy. When he moved to town, it seemed like after that, art got kind of interesting to people.

MIM: His label puts out really great country music. I love that Joshua Hedley record. Margo Price is great, Lillie Mae is tremendous….

TS: Those are east-siders too. I like that Joshua.

MIM: You’re opening for John Prine on your Minnesota Run, What does playing shows with him mean to you?

TS:  I feel like I always learn more from him about everything. More than any other singer I’ve met, he seems like a person you can learn a lot about how to act onstage and off from. His role in our town is a lot like Johnny Cash.

The show he’s doing right now is next level, in my opinion. If you’re talking about doing what I do, the current best version of it to ever exist is the tour he’s doing right now.

MIM: Is he playing Solo?

TS: It’s him with a band, and he’s got these new songs. I’ve been a fan for long enough to know it’s kind of a new show. A new sound, a new way to present… I always thought him, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan were the best three people to pick up a guitar and sing a song.

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