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Interview: Musician Bob Schneider (Part One)

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This is the first part of a two part interview

I’ve heard of Bob Schenider but I’ve never HEARD Bob Schneider until this month.
As I told him in the outset of our interview by email in my unorthodox informal way:

“Hi, Bob. I think I recognize your name – I seem to recall you winning a bunch of awards at South by Southwest when I went a few years ago – but this was the first time I heard your music. (Or I’m confusing you with Todd Snider. I’m terrible with names.)”

I later confirmed he was indeed the one who won lots of awards at that Austin music conference for his albums and live performances, which I hear are quite stellar.

I listened to the two albums I was sent, I’m Good Now and The Californian, and was blown away. I’m an instant convert, feeling the urge to play his stuff for friends and say, “You have got to hear this!” Speaking of which you can hear three of his recent songs at his MySpace page as well as samples from the Amazon ads on this screen. There is more information about what’s available now and in the near future – something we will discuss in part two – at All Access Today.

Schneider lives in Austin, Texas. He was raised in Munich, Germany, the son of an opera singer. He fronted several bands, first Joe Rockheard (funk and rap) then Ugly Americans (a jam band, which opened for the Dave Matthews Band) then The Scabs (essentially Ugly Americans under a new name), according to Wikipedia.

 

He went solo in 1999, first calling himself Lonelyland – also the name of his next album – before going with his own name.

I think you are the first person I have interviewed who was the child of an opera singer. How did that affect you as a future musician?

Well, more than my dad being an opera singer, he was a very talented singer and musician and used to play guitar and sing around the house all the time when I was growing up. So I was exposed to creating music and entertaining people all my life. of course, he'd invite opera singers over to the house as well, and you'd get a chance to hear these amazing voices in your living room, which is pretty wonderful. It definitely made me feel like i didn't have such a great set of vocal chords, at least not compared to those singers.

Which do you prefer – being part of a band or being solo – and why?

I have more fun playing with the band, because you can bounce off of them and feed on that band energy plus the guys I play with are so talented that it's fun to listen to them play…..and they are playing songs I wrote, which is really a mind blower.

What was it like opening for the Dixie Chicks, as you did in 2006?

I really enjoyed playing in front of such large groups of women. Every night I'd walk out on stage and it was like a scene from a movie. Really exciting and scary and fun.

How do you think you have changed as a musician over time?

 I have become a better musician, which isn't saying too much really, because I started out with pretty rudimentary skills.

I'm one of those listeners more focused on lyrics than music and you have some fascinating lyrics. I wanted to ask you about three of those.  How much of this story from “Piggyback” is true? It's quite touching.

Read about a guy / when he was 23 years old / stood there three feet tall / man that's pretty small.  

But then he grew / to over 7 foot 4 / where he found he / just couldn't walk no more.

And mama had to go away / but daddy says i'll see her again / one day soon / when we go to heaven.

And daddy had a hook / where his hand used to be / he said that hand weren't no good / for me anyway.

All i want's a piggyback ride / to get to the other side / of this big beautiful world / sleep on a big beautiful bed / with beautiful coulds / inside my head.  

 
Well a lot of that is true. I was in Colorado on vacation and I bought a Guiness Book of World Records, which I hadn't done since I was a kid and found the guy in the first verse of that song. Then later that day I was walking in the woods and passed a father and his daughter walking together. The father had a mechanical hook for a hand and of course I started creating a story in my head about that scenario…where was the mom? what happened? You know.

The last verse also came from the Guinness Book as well. so most of that song is true. My favorite line is the part about seeing the kid's mom 'when we go to heaven'. There's so much grief and sadness in that line. when you receive a gift like that it's a good day as a writer.

Was there much reaction to “God Is My Friend”? I like it but then I'm Unitarian. Was it too irreverent for some? It reminds me a bit of Dan Bern in that you both are essentially treating Jesus as a character in a song. rather than as, you know, God!

From the song:

I can see god on / a cloud in the sky / on top of the world / watching the world roll by / with a great big grin / and some good cocaine / Jesus by his side / in the pouring rain.

Cause I can believe / in the in-between / what can't be said / and only seen /when you close your eyes / and open your heart / and everything you know / just falls apart.

Well, I have to say that Jesus is my favorite super hero.  There's so much information that people have on jesus, you can use his name in a song and already you're saying so much more than just that name. The song immediately becomes a very personal thing for the listener.

The original line in the song is "I can see god with a great big dick" but I changed it to "grin" because i thought that Wal-Mart wouldn't carry the record. They didn't carry it anyways, and I have always regretted changing that line of the song. I find so much more spiritual comfort when I treat god like someone who knows me more intimately than anyone and that i can say anything too, than some judgemental psycopath, and hopefully by the end of the song that sentiment comes through.

I have had people leave in the middle of the song though, because they were so upset, and I just wanted to scream out, 'hey, wait a minute, you're going to miss the pay off here!'

The song ends with this:

And i can believe / what can't be known for sure / the things that might be / the things that never were / and still not know / a thing in the end / and still believe / that god is my friend.

 

I think “Love is Everywhere” is the best love song I've heard in quite a while. Where did that song com from? Is it based on real people?

From the song:

Soon Yi was a pilot in the nationally known / Amazing ladies of the outer ozone / She didn't have no kids she didn't have no time / She was a woman of her word, she was a fighter of crime / She looked good in a hat, she had a natural way / With tools and no car she went to UCLA.

And everybody said she was as crazy as a loon / And she was a girl she'd spend every afternoon / Sitting in her backyard pretending to be /
A fighter ace in the Japanese military / She liked to make up her mind, she kept her feet in the air / She wore her heart on her sleeve, cause she'd found it there. 

The song and the characters aren't real, but the idea of being an outcast and not fitting in and then running into someone who doesn't care and loves you for who you are is very real. I really don't know where this stuff comes from. I have an active imagination, I guess. Lot's of times I will write some lyrics and not have any idea what, if anything, it means and then later on figure it out, and have an 'aha' sort of moment.

Okay, now a question from out of left field. Is it hard and/or frustrating to sing such lyrically complex songs as “Love Is Everywhere” at clubs and places where people are talking? Do you ever went to just scream, "Either shut up and listen or get out?" That question was partially sparked by googling for lyrics to that song and coming across YouTube clips of you singing when people are talking. It’s also a major pet peeve.

Yeah, it's frustrating for sure. You start doubting what you are doing. There are always people in the audience paying attention, though. I just have to remember that they paid to see the show as well and sing for them. If it gets too out of control I will usually embarrass someone and that seems to get the crowd to simmer down a little.

When's your next album coming out? What are your goals for it?

I have three records coming out in the next six months. I just want to like them when they are done. I don't care what happens after that.

Look for part two of my interview with Bob Schneider on these pages tomorrow. 

 

 

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Amanda

    Wow. Great interview. It is great to get the scoop on some of Bob’s greatest songs (Piggyback is an all time favorite) and know a little about the inspiration behind them.
    I too, feel like I need to inform the universe about this guy. He is great on record and even more amazing live. Nothing really compares to his live shows, whether it be solo acoustic, with Loneyland, or the best of “Dirty Bob” with the Scabs. He is true talent.

  • SCott Butki

    Thank you. I’m glad you liked it. I don’t know how I ever lived without this guy – he is so talented.

  • Rob

    Where is part 2… you left us hanging!

  • Scott Butki

    sorry about that. it’s coming in a week or two.

  • Kimmypie

    If you like the cd versions, you have GOT to see Bob & the boys live! When you go to a show, make sure to order the live version (the FRUNK) at the show. I actually prefer listening to my FRUNKS rather than the studio albums!

  • http://www.myspace.com/zelmarose Zelma

    i too am a lyrical person, who pays very close attention to the words and not so much to the music itself… i think bob is an incredible, amazingling gifted poet… i am obsessed w/ his work and listen to it daily, at work, home, car…. glad to hear that he has the same effect on others….

  • Scott Butki

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Part two on this is going to be a while because it’s going to include comments from him – and reviews by me – on his upcoming stuff.

  • Rob

    Is part 2 still coming?

  • Scott Butki

    Yeah but part 2 will include references to his next albums which haven’t come out yet.

  • Scott Butki

    If you like Bob Schneider you will probably like these guys

  • Rob

    Give it up Butki

  • Scott Butki

    My hands are tied – part 2 is tied to his next albums and I can’t make him work faster. If you want me to email this link to his publicist and include your comment I can.

  • Rob

    Naw! I’m just joking with ya. Hopfully FAYM will be coming soon… recent reports say March.

  • Scott Butki

    My theory is Rob is actually Bob and he’s just promoting himself.

  • Rob

    I guess we’ll never know how the interview ends…