sit down and get to know bob schneider
What were you thinking when you got the call about joining the Stevie Nicks tour?
It was pretty amazing. Stevie Nicks is nothing but pure hits. And it’s not just hit songs, but they are really good. They are songs that are inspired and original. At first I was like, ‘Yeah! Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, hits.’ It was all going through my head. I mean, she could play twenty songs and I’d know the lyrics to nineteen of them.
And the new album is such a great surprise.
The new album is so good. I was like, ‘Goddamn!’ The other thing too is that it’s one thing to have a lot of hits, but it’s another to have a lot of hits and put out a great album years after. It’s always ‘What have you done for me lately?’ and what she’s done is put out a bad-ass record.
That was probably the surprise of the year. You always expect to be disappointed.
Right. I was completely amazed.
You are a songwriter, and to me when a songwriter compliments another songwriter it’s got to be a good thing. How do you feel about compliments and/or when someone says a song effected them in such a way?
That’s what you hope for. You hope it happens on every song. So when it does, it’s really cool. But you take responsibility for writing the songs. I know and all songwriters know that it’s a mysterious thing. I don’t just sit down and write great songs. I know how to put pen to page and write and play guitar. But to put words and music together so something special comes out, well, I don’t know how to do that. And when it happens, it’s a gift. It comes from somewhere and I don’t know where. I’ve been doing this for twelve years and I still have no idea. Every time a good song comes out, I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you very much.’ (we both laugh) You don’t know if another is ever going to come. I don’t know what happens to certain artists, but you’re right. At some points even good artists can put out crap.
Is there an artist out there that blows you away?
There are a bunch that blow me away. I’ll tell you, I think last year I went out and bought Randy Newman’s record, I’ve never bought any of his albums before and I’ve heard they’re really good. So I bought that record and I couldn’t believe it was so good. That record was amazing, so I went out and bought every Randy Newman record. That man is incredible. I think every album he put out is amazing. Even the stuff during the ’80’s was great. I think he might be in the top three for me. Tom Waits, he put out Mule Variations, I don’t know if it’s his best, but I tell you it’s better than ninety-nine percent of everything else I’ve heard. I saw him at South By Southwest and that was the best show I’ve seen in years. I mean, I’ve heard that his voice sucked and really I expected the worst because he is my favorite, but he came out smoking and playing this song I never heard before in my life and completely blew me away. He was cool and the most powerful performer I’ve ever seen. He’s got to be fifty, but truly amazing. There are people who do it and do it well. And then there is John Lee Hooker. I saw him before he died and that man was bad to the bone. He was wearing this completely bad-ass burgundy red polyester suit, sitting in a chair trying to pick up these teenage girls in the front row, he was eighty, and he was bad to the fucking bone. Maceo Parker rocks the house. No one rocks the house like Maceo. James Brown’s the man, he’s put on a little weight and questionable hair. Still, I was scared. I was like, ‘That motherfucker is bad.’ He would eat me up. His band was horrible and cheesy and not scary. If James Brown came out on his own and started talking, I would be scared to death. Which is what you need. I want to be scared to death at a rock-n-roll show. I want goose bumps and want to be like, ‘Fuck.’
What turns you on musically?
I’ve always been a fan of people who perform their own music. Those people have always been around. I mean, you have the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC who never wrote a song, but then in the ’50’s you had Elvis.
I know, and I always think about Bing Crosby who recorded on terrible mediums, but his amazing voice always shined through. Then look at Sinatra. I mean, where is the line to cut?
There are great entertainers. Bing Crosby brought a lot to the table.
He did a lot to bring Jazz to the forefront.
Bing Crosby was a smart motherfucker. I mean, that dude was bad to the bone. When he left us, he left a sizable estate which is hard to do when you only a singer.
Do you ever look back at your songs and think about what was going on in your head or are you conscious?
You can’t look back. You never know what is going to come out. The best songs are like if you are feeling shitty and write a feel good song. That’ll usually be better than when you are feeling shitty and you write a shitty song.
What turns you on most about a song?
If the lyrics are good. If you get a good combination of lyrics, melody, and emotion. The lyrics have to have emotion. If you can combine that with music and showcase that, then you are set.
Do you ever listen to a Radiohead or techno and think ‘I might like to try that’?
I was listening to Radiohead last night and I was like, ‘Dude, this is so easy. I could sell a million records.’ (we both laugh) But here is the deal, that is easy for me to say, but I can’t sing like that guy because he has a beautiful falsetto voice and I can’t play as good as those musicians. I think I could do it, but I haven’t.
Are you more into the barebones sound?
I think everyone has an idea of what they think good is. For me, the song has to have a real song quality to them. I have this definition of what a song is. It has to have lyrics that have meaning, they have to be clever, it can’t spell things out too much, it has to leave gaps so you fill them in, the lyrics have to be poetic, there has to be a memorable melody, and so I think my songs tend to be more traditional sounding. I think those elements are important. I just have an idea of what I think is good, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. For Lonelyland I took the best songs I had. They are stories that have a beginning and an end. Nowadays I listen to songs and I’m like, ‘Why am I listening to this song?’ There is no emotion, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it, and it doesn’t move me. It pisses me off because I could write songs like that all day long. You shoot for a song with emotional impact. It’s very rare that I hear songs with weight to them on the radio. You do hear them, but it has to fit into what people think is commercial enough.
Are you a paper writer or do you just record yourself?
Usually I write the lyric down and then I’ll pick up the guitar and record it on the four track.
What do you hope people come away with when they listen to your music?
Hopefully they come away with a little truth and can relate to it. The cool thing about music for me is I’ll be like, ‘Wow, someone thinks about that too,’ or realize someone else worries about the same stuff so you don’t feel so alone. There is something magical about going to a big concert and everyone is listening to this song and sharing that experience and relating all at once. I think there is a magic there that no other medium has.
What is it like to be the one at the center of it when you are onstage?
It’s amazing to feel that energy and to know you are the conduit for it. That energy hits you and you throw it back to the audience. You get that cycle of energy going and it’s the most incredible feeling in the world. You can’t sing a wrong note, say a wrong thing, or do wrong. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it happens, it’s like being in the zone. It happens for everyone. It happens for athletes, musicians, lawyers, and probably fast food workers. (we both laugh) You just stop thinking and start doing. You live for that magic.
+ charlie craine