Bob Schneider Interview
by Dixon Milner
Bob Schneider usually doesn’t act his age. He often curses and raps in his songs and does not deny rumors of habitual promiscuity. This makes sense for someone who achieved success later in life than most musicians, whose beginning involved harnessing a fleeting music fad (funk rap), and who embraces the famous laid back Austin lifestyle. All these things describe Bob Schneider. It is far easier to describe him than his music.
Often improperly labeled “Adult Contemporary,” Bob Schneider makes acoustic based songs with electronic beats and noises in the background, up tempo Latin songs, straightforward pop songs with non-straightforward lyrics, and other types of cross genre music. His live shows are known for improvisation, requested audience involvement, and the spastic dancing of his band member Oliver Steck.
Most of his albums feature a mix of all the aforementioned types of songs and more. However, on his new album, “Burden of Proof, there is an alarming amount of conformity. Working with the renowned Tosca String Quartet of Austin, Schneider attempts to create a “cinematic” feel to the album. Some of the songs are new, some are old fan favorites only now being recorded. Although there is one song about a failed late night booty call, the rest of the album seems to show maturity in line with his ill fitting “adult contemporary” tag.
The first three songs on the album feel like he took a perfectly normally paced song and slowed it down as much as possible. The effect is breath holding induced anxiety, not contemplation or relaxation. If it feels like you’re drowning listening to the first three songs, then perhaps the title of the fourth cut, “Swimming in the Sea,” would be too much irony. Except that it is a welcome return to a classic Bob Schneider sound.
“Unpromised Land,” the fifth track and first single, is much more up tempo and already fits in nicely with his live repertoire. Following that, the album dives back into a dizzying down tempo electronic driven number called “Best Day Ever.” “The Effect” is close to being a great Bob Schneider cut, but seems like an off brand version of one of his songs and has no sticking power. The rest of the album delves back into the drawn out numbers that define the album.
For those who are less familiar with Bob Schneider, suffice it to say he provides something for everyone, whether it be his stunning turns of phrase that set his pop songs apart or the energy of his live shows. His albums and live shows are absolutely worth checking out. His recent performance in Dallas involved recording a Harlem Shake video (where he wore a Luchador mask) with the audience and Ollie, his utility infielder of a backing musician, wearing several costumes, exuberantly dancing and playing several instruments. This was more of the fun loving, young at heart Bob Schneider fans have come to know, the one so rarely seen on his most recent album.
Longtime fans should not be disappointed- the album is not a miss, because Bob Schneider produces a huge amount of music that covers a lot of genres and most of his albums feature highs and lows. In fact, just getting a few decent songs out of this album could be considered a success as it will incrementally further his already broad and impressive catalog. As for the bulk of this album, pairing with the Tosca String Quartet was an interesting and natural experiment given his past with them, but ultimately it seems overwrought and not quite up to par. Perhaps he is trying to corner the “adult contemporary” genre he is so often lumped into for no good reason. Perhaps there is a market niche that he is going for here, and will strike gold with this album in that community, but fans of his more well known studio albums or live shows may be disappointed. Or perhaps he has finally, unfortunately, grown up.
“Digging for Icicles” by Bob Schneider from Burden of Proof
Q&A with Bob Schneider
Turnstyled Junkpiled: You are a big part of the Austin music scene but do you consider yourself a Texan?
Bob Schneider: I moved almost every year of my life before moving to Austin 25 years ago. I definitely think of myself as an Austinite. Living in Austin has definitely influenced me in a wonderful and unique way that has shaped what kind of music I make.
What’s your favorite place to play outside of Austin?
I like the Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s pretty much a little dive bar, but I like walking around that little city and I love the feel of that club. Gruene Hall (when the weather is good) is also one of the coolest places to play. It’s got a real energy and vibe to it that you don’t get from a club that hasn’t been around as long as that place has.
What do you think of the changes (growth, popularity, new restaurants, etc.) coming to Austin?
Well, I don’t like change at all and it’s hard to watch the places that you had so many good times in go away. But there’s a soul to Austin that will always be there.
Can you talk about what it means to you to live in Austin and what it’s been like to be there for so long?
The best thing about Austin is the people. They are the nicest most laid back group of folks in the country for a city this size. You just cannot find that in another city of comparable size anywhere in the US.
What’s one song you wish you could’ve written?
“Spiderlegs” by Danny Malone.
What have you been listening to lately?
Danny Malone’s new record “Balloons.”
If you could play one venue in the world what would it be?
I’d like to headline and sell out the Hollywood Bowl. That would be pretty cool.
What inspired the song “2002?” “2002” is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard because it’s so matter of fact and filled with grief. How do you feel about that song 11 years later? And the rest of the Lonelyland album?
I just played through the entire Lonelyland album last week at the Saxon Pub (Ed. Note: He plays the Saxon Pub in Austin every Monday) with my band and it brought up a lot of wonderful memories. One of the things that struck me was how good the songs are on that record. There isn’t a bad song on the whole record. It also made me think of Stephen Bruton who played guitar on the record and died a few years ago. It made me sad and nostalgic and proud to have made that record. As for “2002,” I wrote that song in 1998 after this girl that I longed for ended up going out with another guy. I thought that I’d be fine in six months, but I just wanted to fast forward to that time. I wrote the song as an alternative. Now people think that it’s autobiographical, but I just made the whole thing up.
Where do you get inspiration for your musical arrangements?
Just living life and listening to other bands and going out and seeing music and getting knocked around. I’ve always had a really active imagination and I can just come up with stories in my head on the spot. Then it’s just a matter of making them rhyme, which is the easy part.
How did the Texas Bluegrass Massacre, one of your side projects, come about?
I’ve always really loved the sound of acoustic instruments. I did a tour with Leftover Salmon a few years ago and one night some of the guys were jamming with some locals at the hotel we were staying at and I got a chance to sit in the room and listen to the play. It was so magical and amazing hearing those clanging instruments in such a small little space. I guess I just fell in love with the sound of the banjo and mandolin and fiddle that night. Then it was just a matter of getting some really talented players together and covering my songs. We don’t do any traditional bluegrass though. It gets a little tiring on my ears, so it’s a pretty eclectic mix of genres with the common element being the bluegrass instruments.
What inspired “the Way Life is Supposed to Be?”
Again, I just made that song up. I love the imagery of the first verse especially. I really don’t know where that stuff comes from. It’s like a gift from my subconscious. It just comes into my head and I write it down and just feel really lucky that I got to write it down.
What is “Let the Light In” about? It seems to be a positive take on a negative experience?
A friend of mine had been in a bad breakup about a year before I met her and she was telling me that she hadn’t dated anyone since. I guess that’s where the heart of the song comes from. The rest of it is just getting some characters to play out the theatrical parts in the verses.
“40 Dogs” has some very non-conventional descriptions of relationships. Where did those lyrics come from?
“40 Dogs” was one of those songs that just wrote itself very quickly. It even had another verse that I took out because the song was too long. It’s pretty wonderful when that happens. It’s like discovering a full dinosaur skeleton out in the dessert in an area that you thought was all fucked out, but lo and behold, there it is. Complete and just waiting for someone to dig it up.
The album “Lonelyland” included several longer cuts, like “King of the World” and “Oklahoma” but your more recent releases have tended to stay closer to traditional pop song lengths. Is that a conscious direction you’ve taken?
Well, I think it’s harder and harder to write as you get older, because you’ve already written about so much and you have an idea of what works and what doesn’t work and one of the things that you learn, is it’s always best to leave people hungry. I think the same goes for songs. Most songs fair well with some editing. I was watching a very talented song writer not long ago and he started a song that was just incredible, but it just went on and on and eventually I fell off onto the road of my imagination. I think if the song was a little bit shorter it would’ve been more powerful.
Can you talk about your trumpet/keyboard player Oliver Steck and how you found him and what it’s like to work with him?
I’m not sure where I found Ollie. I know that I was looking for an accordion player for the Texas Bluegrass Massacre five or so years ago and someone recommended him. After about a year of playing in that band, I started having him play in my regular band and haven’t looked back since. He’s really one of the most amazing musicians I’ve worked with. He has a library or songs in his head and can play almost any song you request, as long as he’s heard it once or twice.
What was it like to film a Harlem Shake video during your Dallas performance? I find that type of audience interaction/real life application of internet memes, etc. to be very interesting in a meta sort of way. The last time I saw something like that was Ben Folds using Chat Roulette in a live performance. What inspired that?
Well, I thought it would be fun and the audiences in Dallas are some of the liveliest anywhere in the country, so I knew they’d rise to the occasion.
Do you run your own Twitter page?
My management posts shows and stuff like that on there, but I do go on there and retweet stuff that I find funny or interesting, or occasionally will tweet something naughty. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would be interested in what I’m doing or thinking about that I’ve never met, so it’s not something that comes very naturally to me.
At what age did people start calling you Bob?
When I went to college I made the change. My family still calls me Bobby though.
What’s your favorite songwriting experience?
I wrote 2002 in a hotel room in Denver in 1998 in one gush of writing and recorded it into a four track that I brought on the road with me. The hotel was in a pretty shitty area of the city and you can hear the police sirens in the background as I’m singing the song. Songs that come all at once and out of nowhere are always the best and are like gifts that come fully wrapped to your subconsciousness. You just have to get out of the way and write it down as fast and as accurately as you can.
For more information on Bob Schneider visit: www.bobschneider.com