Gasparilla Music Festival 2018: Todd Snider waxes on Hard Working Americans' mission to save the world

Never miss a Sunday show, they say.

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click to enlarge Todd Snider of Hard Working Americans, which plays Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa, Florida on March 11, 2018. - Stacie Huckeba
Stacie Huckeba
Todd Snider of Hard Working Americans, which plays Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa, Florida on March 11, 2018.

Someone fire up that sequel for East Nashville Tonight. Todd Snider, one of that town's most beloved songwriters, authors, and, yes, actors, would definitely do that kind of movie again.

"I love doing  those things. That East Nashville Tonight, just was one of the funnest weeks. I would love to do something like that again," Snider, 51, told CL during an early morning phone call on the Monday after the Daytona 500.

GASPARILLA MUSIC FESTIVAL 2018
WHAT THE DEAL | WHAT TO EAT (AND DRINK) | LISTENING CHART

"God, Hard Working Americans would make a great movie. It'd have to be like, terrible, like the acting has to be about the Kiss Christmas special level or it's too good. You can't try to be good. That's what I liked about the East Nashville Tonight thing — no one tried to act good. Everybody just was high school level, and that's what makes the film for me."

The Hard Working Americans Snider is talking about is the band he's currently fronting. The group is led by Widespread Panic's David Schools, who has called Snider one of this generation's best songwriters. Snider, for his part, is just happy to have the best seat in the house for a band made up of some his favorite musicians.

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NIKKI LANE | HARD WORKING AMERICANS | WARPAINT

"It's quite a ride — it's the funnest thing I do. I don't want to make it seem like I'm not grateful for my Alro-y job because I fuckin' love it, because I look forward to it, but this other thing is a powerful engine," he added. "It's a thing. I gotta be careful. I guess I'm the singer, too. I hardly have anything to do with how good that band is."

For 45 minutes, Snider and CL talked about how good Hard Working Americans is, the challenges about being in a band with such busy people and a whole host of other things like Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, politics, drugs and the mark that Snider's late father left of his own life.

Hard Working Americans will play Gasparilla Music Festival on March 11, and you can bet that Snider will be fully dialed in for the experience along with fans who've been clamoring for a band like Hard Working Americans (which is something like a Southern rock and jam band supergroup) to appear on a GMF bill.

"I like people. Especially if they are in that grateful process of lowering their inhibitions. I feel excited to be part of that," Snider said about the experience of playing for fans. "Widespread, CRB — that's my shit. It feels church-y to me. That's what I like about the band. It feels like, you know, they say never miss a Sunday show, but it feels like a service."

Read all of our Q&A — and get more information on the show — below.

Gasparilla Music Festival
Sat. & Sun, March 10-11 $30 & up.
Curtis Hixon Park & Kiley Garden, Downtown Tampa.


Hello?

Hey Todd, this is Ray Roa from Tampa.

Oh, right on. Thank you for calling me.

How are you?

I'm pretty good. I'm at the house.

So it's OK to talk right now? It’s early — I know you don’t drink as much as you used to, but why are you up and awake so early? 

Man, I have really odd hours. I'm always up really early.

You doing the Jerry Jeff thing and playing early in the morning?

Mhmm. I sleep kind of in the middle.

OK, did you adopt that from him?

Maybe so. I sleep a couple times a day.

OK.

I don't have one long chunk of time during the day, never have, when I sleep.

Is it like that nap after lunch or something?

Yes. I take a couple of naps of day.

Is that like after eating after Blue Sky Café? I was in Nashville over Christmas and that place is so good.

I haven't been over there in forever.

I don't know if I could live in Nashville though — it's too cold.

Fuckin' A. Heard that with by bad ear. I can't take it. I keep telling myself that I am gonna leave for the whole of the winter.

Well you are coming down to Tampa for this one, so there's that.

Yeah. I can't wait to get down there. I haven't seen the guys in a couple of months.


And I was gonna ask you real quick. Prine. I know he might be in Ireland, but he has a house nearby, so if he's around are you gonna invite him to the show?

Uh, yeah. I wonder if he'll be down there. I'll email him when we get off. That would be fuckin' happenin'. He might do something like that.

He played Clearwater in December as was like, "Uh, I'm gonna bring out my friend Sturgill," and Amanda Shires is already on stage at this point, and we're all just freaking out. That would be cool.

He has a new record coming out soon that I just heard — it's astonishing to me. I love John. And he's been really good to me — I mean, he's good to everybody, but he's been really good to me.

And you were on his label, right?

Well, I have been. I don't  have to do that anymore. I love him. There was never any weirdness. I was on a big label and then when I broke up with them, John, who was managing me already, just let me make records for him. Then we did better and when that got done the same big label that was there asked me to do a best of thing, and by the time I was done with that I could afford to do it all myself. And I kind of can't afford to not, I guess. I love John, I talk to him still.

Yes, he's awesome.

And you have settled quite nicely into that emotional decision you made where you decided you were gonna make a living telling stories.

Yeah, and I still dig it. And real quick, I don't want to derail the train of though too much, but know you’re second to Steve Earle as the Ramblin’ Jack Elliott of your time, but how long do you want to talk today?

Oh, as long as you want I suppose. 

OK, and you let me know, too, if you need to leave or anything like that.

Yeah, I don't really have anything going today.

I know the point is people want to dance and watch you jam, but how hard is it not to talk and do the banter situation in Hard Working Americans?

Pretty easy, actually. I enjoy it. The band shows are a lot easier for me. I don't really anything — I just sing, I don't play guitar. I just sing, I don't even talk. It's a dance band. I think lyrics are good, but I don't think they speak as clearly as drums do. I think moving people, getting people to dance, it's a physical expression of gratitude. I like doing my solo thing a lot, but one is more like reading to people and another is more tribal. Like I can take LSD and do the band show — I do all the time.

Yeah, I like that you talk about that. Because drug use has been maligned, specifically psychedelics, and was gonna ask you if you were gonna take anything before you played. I've been involved with this festival for a long time, and I've been there on several occasions where I have friends say, "OK man I'm gonna go ahead and take this and give you a heads up." Do you think you will when you meet up with the guys?

You know, you never can tell. Probably, I suppose. I mean we are a jam band.

I guess you are a jam band, but I hate when people start to use the labels on bands to start put them in boxes.

And that's very true, and I'm the only one in the group that says that. Because I never cared — it's never bugged me, but I respect that it bugs other people. Call me something, and I'm fine with it. But, you know, we don't do that very much. Sometimes we really can go into the ether. I never know what's gonna happen when we're together.

And that's kind of awesome, right? My impression of the band was that David drove the bus.

For sure.

OK, so he's the bus driver.

And it's quite a ride. It's, I risk, I think it's the funnest thing I do. I don't want to make it seem like I'm not grateful for my Alro-y job because I fuckin' love it, because I look forward to it, but this other thing is.

It's rad.

Yeah, it feels. It's a powerful engine. It's a thing. I gotta be careful. I guess I'm the singer, too. I hardly have anything to do with how good that band is.

Well. Watching the Todd Snider journey, you're very humble, lots of humility and you're able to have humor and tell jokes, so it's weird for you to say that because when David talks about you, he talks about you perhaps being the greatest living songwriter that we have, at least of our generation, 50 and younger.

You talked to him already?

No, no. I read it in another interview. You talk about other people in the band, specifically David, with admiration, and they talk about you the same way. David definitely thinks you're one of the best. I wouldn't down play your contribution to the band, and I did have some questions about the lyrics. Obviously less covers on the second album, covers on the first to get the wheels going and kind of establish what the sound was. Does any Richard Brodigan, Bukowski or other poets get into lyrics Hard Working Americans songs?

You know, probably. I don't read that stuff as much as I used to, but, you know, I would say so. Probably. Tough life, tough poems, in that way. It's a hard-livin' group — our group.

And I know Neal had to leave due to some scheduling stuff, but is he still gonna be taking the pictures?

Yeah, he has been. And we all love that cat, for sure.

It's such a strange predicament that the group is in because of everything that everyone is involved in. And at the same time it could go the other way and other people wouldn't even take the time to form like this just because they thought that the scheduling would be difficult. But you guys went ahead and followed that gut feeling.

Yeah, I think we were planning on a record and a tour, and I can only speak for myself, but I had so much fun and felt such camaraderie. The only hiccup in the whole thing was when the band formed the Black Crowes were still together. So it looked like Neal would have time would have bigger chunks of time in his life, but then the Crowes couldn't work it out, which means CRB [Chris Robinson Brotherhood] is full-time now. And that's my favorite band, really. My favorite bands are the ones, it really worked because that was one of the first picks in the group. All that. Widespread, CRB — that's my shit.

Sorry Todd, I don't want my dog to attack the power guy. I'm gonna ask you another question, and it's gonna sound like I'm walking because I am.

No worries.

So, back to David. I know you said you were hyped to see all the guys again. Back to David, he’s pretty hands-off — after you’re done with a tour or even recording Chaos, what kind of energy does David leave you with? What does Hard Working Americans, and maybe David Schools specifically, do for the Todd Snider solo stuff?

It's funny that you ask that. I just got back from doing something. I learn stuff at the Hard Working Americans that I can take back to my solo stuff, and also, it gives me a break from it, you know.

Right on. And are you talking about LP 3 now?

I think so. We got that new Daniel [Sproul, guitarist] guy, so I just gotta make up a couple more songs I guess. Haha.

Haha. Yeah Daniel and Jesse [Aycock, guitarist/lap steel], who rip, so it'll be cool to hear that in person.

Yeah, and David did a great job on that live record.

How does it feel when you hear David say things like "The band exists to serve the songs." I mean they're your songs — mostly your lyrics, right? — how’s that feel? Does it put pressure on you? What is that like?

Oh no. No. I feel like when we get together there's this, I don't know if you've ever heard of Colonel Bruce Hampton.

Yeah, rest in peace. I talked to Derek Trucks, and we talked about the colonel.

Yeah, there's an ethic to, and I know that's what he's talking about. David is talking about whether we're arranging one of mine or playing one that we've already recorded. Live, there's a service. It's odd. I got drawn to this culture for this reason, and it's been a muse to me. The whole language of it. All the Zamby (?) culture — I guess that's what I'd call it. Like I was at that last show. 

You were at the show where the colonel passed away?

Yeah.

Oh, God.

There was this family of people there, a tribe of people there before. They were going through this sort of child-like, spiritual pre-show ritual that this guy had created. And I had only known about it for three or four years. And this guy invented this entire thing, I would call it the Church of Zamby (?). And Dave is deep into it, and Duane is deep into it. And I was just starting to get into it. I would say that's the fundamental root of Widespread, Tedeschi-Trucks, just about everything goes back to the tree trunk that is that guy. So in a sense. I mean, I guess, I got off track. When David says "We're serving the song," it's really flattering. When I got into this band I was incredibly flattered. I'm a fan of all this stuff, and I was also drawn to the cult of Zamby (sp?) — pulled into it. How to never grow up. I feel like that's what we have dialed into. I think our best work is ahead of us. We've been recording and writing, and I am certain we're gonna keep doing that.

Yeah, this particular festival that you're playing in Tampa, I worked for them for three years, and now I'm on the journalist side so I can't work for them, but they love Widespread and all of that so when I saw that Hard Working Americans was on the bill, I was like, "I wish I could be in that boardroom." It's a nonprofit, so it's like 13 people who work on it, and I was like, "I wonder if people started crying when they found out about Hard Working Americans." And they live for you. Now that you talk about this church, then it makes me understand this tribe a little more. Yeah. I think what your music has done, and this collective specifically, I think it's cook to hear that you'll keep going.

You’ve talked about Loretta Lynn and John Prine and how one of your favorite things about music is the way the older people treat you. And the way it makes you want to treat the younger people. 

Yeah. Man, thank you for looking into this shit.

Nah, you're one of the most interesting people, I think. I was surprised that you were available to talk for this. So I was stoked.

Right on.

Not that I didn't want to talk to anyone else, but you know. It's weird sometimes you do want to talk to the person holding the microphone. 

"I totally sing lead."

Haha. "I'm the lead singer. Do you guys have my microphone ready for me?"

"That's not the right scarf for tonight."

If you start swinging the mic by the cord, like Morrissey or something, then I think you can freak people out.

It's funny, mostly I just listen though. I try not to dance, if I can, but I can't so I do. 

Yeah, it's hard, especially when you're outside and it's beautiful. You’re only 51, so you're not old, but who are the young people you get to mentor?

I would know if they need much mentoring, but I definitely get turned on by Jason and Amanda. The girl that's opening for me Rorey Carroll, I think she's really great. Like the East Nashville scene. The whole new, like Jason and Amanda — I was the reverend at their wedding.


Yeah, yeah.

I haven't met Sturgill Simpson or any of them, but I know that Jason runs with those cats. That crowd right now seems like of Willie and Waylon-y.

Yeah.

It's exciting to me.

And it's honest. It goes some ways to dispel this myth or mythology surrounding Nashville and country music, the industry. Not there's necessarily anything wrong with getting your song on the radio, or do the Nashville machine thing, but it's nice to hear you — well for one, I think it was 15 years ago, 2004 with East Nashville Skyline, you had that song "Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Male.” One of your best songs, and I wanted to know: does it make you sad that the very thing your were satirizing in that songs hasn’t really changed much over the years?

Not really. You know. How they say in karate they say, if you're fighting somebody, the less you really care the more effective you'll be. I don't get worked up about the way things go. You know? I think about 'em, but I'm not an angry guy. There's a zen thing about music if you play it over and over and over again. Eventually, I don't know. I feel like I can detach a little bit. I'm rooting for the world for sure, in every way, but I'm not betting on it.

I hear you there.

And if I can help, let me know. I definitely don't feel, you know, like, it's hard to say. I guess that's it. Waves like this come and go. Well, this wave has got a little sand in it. This is new for me in my life. I've never seen anything like this, with the new president, but I don't know what we should do.

I hear you, and I was gonna ask you if you think that part of your fan base gets the "Hard Working Americans" joke or meaning of the band name, but we can just skip that.

Oh, I don't know. This band is for the burnouts hanging out in the smoke pit. I don't know. I'm tongue-tied. As a band we are trying to save the world. From what, we don't know yet. We do have a message, we just spaced it.


Tell me if I am asking too personal of a question. I ask because my father-in-law just died in September, and my wife and I are going through it, and it takes taime, and you told this story about your dad one time, talking about *I like that story about your music career telling you that you’d be playing music when you are 80. Not quite sure what message he was trying to get across, but it gave you hope for your career. How often do you still think of him and how do you think you were able to get over the loss of your dad, when did he pass? And if you don't want to answer this, then I get it.

Oh, I love talking about my dad. I never got over it. I think about him every day. He is the main reason I am hoping there's an afterlife. And then, you know, I wonder what it would've been like if he could've made it.

When did he die?

He was 54. He died the same hear that my first record came out. He got to go to the record signing party or something. In those days when you had a record contract there was always a party and a dinner. He came to that, and he watched, and he realized that it was work. Not that it is, but he was wanting to see some sweat it in. And he did. That was literally what he noticed. He came to the show, and I came off, and he noticed that I was sweaty. And he went, "Oh, I guess this is a job."

And if you said this in other interviews, then don't answer, but what did your dad do?

He was, he had his hand in a lot of things. He was a developer, I guess, would be the technical thing. He was a bit of what I would call a grifter. He had a really colorful life.

And that's the way you saw it has a kid. I feel like when we're kids we picture our fathers, you know the imagination is so fresh and raw, we paint our own pictures of what our fathers are like. I used to think that my dad knew a song for every question. I would ask him a question, and he would sing me the answer.

Right.

And I thought he knew the song, like for it, but he was just singing what he was thinking. And it wasn't until I reached my 30s when I realized he was just singing the thoughts in his head. So that was the image of your dad then. Was he a hero for you?

Yeah, he sure was. I looked up to him quite a bit. And we fought a ton by the time I got older. And he definitely didn't get the singing and the poetry, but I think he probably would've if he had gotten to live longer. But he was a touch fucker, you know. He was a stout fucker. We were a lot alike. I remember the first time I saw Jerry Jeff [Walker], I thought well this is kind of what y dad would be like if he did this, but he did that in his own way.

And last question about your dad. You said you still think about him every day and haven't gotten over it. Was there a point, and I think I'm asking this for personal reasons, but was there a point where you were able to let yourself feel happiness again. Because sometimes there's some guilt associated with it. Do you remember when that happened?

Yeah, that took a long time. A year or two later I, you know. Yeah I definitely had a lot of guilt and anger and I felt like I didn't hang around enough at the end. Ugh. Yeah, I feel like time has healed it at least a little bit.

And sorry to ask you all that then switch gears.

No worries man. I enjoy talking about it, and I'm sorry to hear that you're going through that.

Yeah, you know I always wonder whether I should ask the question of somebody when I am thinking about it, but I guess selfishly, in my mind, I guess, music has always been a thing that can fix things, so why wouldn't I ask the question of someone when I had the opportunity. 

Right. It doesn't bother me. And I'm sorry about your dad.


And so let's switch gears and talk to someone who isn't your dad. You and Jimmy Buffett didn’t have any beef after that setlist fiasco and half-cover of Margaritaville?

Haha. Oh God, no. I love him. I'd do anything for him.

It was funny, you were talking about your dad wanting to see some sweat, and I was thinking in the back of my head that at least you weren't wearing a puka shell waistlet or something.

Haha. Yeah, I don't think he would be able to handle that.

And you were talking to Ben Greenman interview you did. It was one angle, and you had your head down a lot, but when your fans asked questions you looked at them so glowingly. When you’re onstage — especially with Hard Working Americans — and look into the crowd, what do you see as far as the humanity in front of you?

You know, I like people. Especially if they are in that grateful process of lowering their inhibitions. I feel excited to be part of that. It feels church-y to me. That's what I like about the band. It feels like, you know, they say never miss a Sunday show, but it feels like a service. It feels like, if people are dialed into it, the more people dialed into it, I feel like there...like I'm from folk. Sometimes our band, I never know where we're going, and you know when a band is jamming, and the crowd cheers. I'm there in that moment. It's like having the best seat in the house. I don't know where it's going either — I get caught up in it to. And I think they kind of do even when they don't, even when they can see it. They can see the end even when they're in the middle, but the singer can. And I'm getting stoner-y, but I feel like I am at the gig in more ways than one.

And you mentioned that you used to write in them a lot, but stopped, so have you been able to get back to your journals or is it a matter of finding time, or are you actively avoiding your journals?

I guess I just got into, I was making up a game. Yeah, I don't know. These days I'll just work on songs. When you called I was working on a song. So lately I've been doing that. I could see myself getting back to doing that again. I'm supposed to write another book. With that I haven't had the time. I don't know exactly — it's like I can kind of tell that there are a few things going on in my life where if I just wait a little bit, then they'll get funnier.

Probably. I'm thinking you making jokes in your head, how you turn life into anecdotes and are able to come full circle, especially in your book, like that whole story about Seamus is hilarious. Sorry I got lost in the moment.

That's alright man, I'm having fun.

Did you watch the 500 with your brother this weekend, or did you quit after the Bill Elliot thing?

That's funny. I watched it, but I was in Chattanooga, I think. We got off the phone during the race.


Speaking of things you wanna get back into, are you still acting?

Uuuuuuh. Aaah. I can't say that I'm not. I'm just waiting for that right role. Because you've seen the movie. If you've seen East Nashville Tonight.

I've seen parts of it. And when you talk about your brief acting career, I enjoy those stories. You have friends that are filmmakers, so I'm sure people are always asking you to be in their movies.

I love doing  those things. That East Nashville Tonight, just was one of the funnest weeks. I would love to do something like that again. Yeah, God, Hard Working Americans would make a great movie. It'd have to be like, terrible, if the goal, like the acting has to be about the Kiss Christmas special level or it's too good. You can't try to be good. That's what I liked about the East Nashville Tonight thing — no one tried to act good. Everybody just was high school level, and that's what makes the film for me.

There should be a screenwriter with you on a tour, and for like 20 minutes a day just work on this movie. You could finish it when you get home and let somebody else play you like in those crime drama things.

God, I'm making a movie at the gig. A spy thriller. We have a comic book. We save the world all the time. Yeah, I think maybe there's only one or two of them. We just got done with a great tour with Tedeschi-Trucks, and everybody had to get back to their other gigs for a while. I think everyone is coming into town next week.

And when you say coming into town. You're saying coming into Nashville to practice.

Yeah.

Where do you practice?

In the movie, the East Nashville movie, there's this building called the Big Purple, and it's smack dab in the middle of East Nashville, and we use that, the neighborhood, there's, I don't even know how many people, they use it to store their crap and rehearse. It's kind of like, it's a pretty good fort. When we're in town we practice there and keep our crap there.

I only have a couple more questions, but I did want to mention, since you were talking about Nashville people. I think you do like Robert Earl Keen, right?

I love him. He's a close friend.

He's awesome. And Jonny Fritz, he's not Nashville, but he's rad. 

Who's that? Jonny Fritz?

Yeah, you listen to Jonny Fritz?

Nuh, uh. I will check it out today.

Oh, you might like that. There's so much humor and sadness at the same time.

Oh great.

He wrote a song about the Stadium Inn, which is great as well.

Oh, that's a great idea. Check out Aaron Lee Tasjan — he's the one that I hear about all the time.


OK, so Aaron Lee Tasjan, and I will look up Rorey as well. And Molly Parden is another East Nashville songwriter who is really great.

Right on. Do you sing and play, too?

Nah, I can, and I did, but I don't. You know what I mean? It's weird, I'm just trying to figure out this job that I'm doing. I don't know I should probably start, I still play but I haven't written in a while.

My friend Peter Cooper does both.

Yeah. There's Patrick Rodgers over at the Nashville Scene. And I think it's necessary in a way. I mean if you're not actively writing or recording, then where to do start to try and relate with people on the phone.

Yeah, that's true.

Yeah, constraints of time or what not — all excuses, really. I think I know you're answer to this, and we're all stoked on the John Prine album, but was there a part of you that was like, "Oh man, I wish I could've been on that album"?

Oh, hell yeah, man. Oh, hell yeah. He's a fuckin', this new stuff it really shook me. A magazine came over here doing an interview with me about him, and they played me two tracks off it it.

What tracks did they play?

The first one and the last one. And they were both, I laughed and cried through both of them, and I though, "Oh dear," and there's only 10. We're touring it together in the fall.

Yeah. 

So that'll be my first chance to really.  I haven't seen John face-to-face in months, probably over a year. 

Shit, maybe he'll come to your Tampa gig. 

If he's down there?

I don't know. He's got a lot of friends.

Tell him to bring some weed.

BOOKS ISSUE 2017
John Prine’s Beyond Words journeys beyond the songs, lets fans into his heart

Ask him to bring Joe Nuzzo and his family. That guy owns a surf shop and has this great story about meeting John Prine one morning after a gig at Tierra Verde Marina Resort, He spotted Prine and longtime manager Al Bunetta walking the docks the morning after a show and he was like, "You boys sail?," and they had their boots on, and he was like take your boots off, let's go. Something like that.

Oh neat. 

Another one of those stories where Prine is this down-to-earth, salt of the earth person. But he's this great poet, storyteller, mailman everything. You said at one point he probably knows karate, and he probably does.

He probably does. Haha. I've never met anybody even close to being like him — especially in our line of work. You know. I've never gotten to meet Bob Dylan, or Keith Richards, or anybody like that, but I wonder if it wouldn't be kind of like that.

Maybe you will. I'm excited to see you guys, and I hope you have a safe trip down.

Yeah, come say "Hello," to me, man. Thanks for reminding me. I'll see if John will come.

Yeah that would be cool. Thanks for everything.

I appreciate talkin' to you, thanks, dig it.

Have a great day, Todd.

You, too.

See ya.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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