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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bob Schneider Will Sing Softly into Your Ear -- So Shut the Fuck Up!

Posted By on Tue, May 10, 2011 at 9:13 AM

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Well, it's always good to come into things with low expectations. I wanted to ask you about the songwriting game you play.

It started maybe ten years ago. Me and some friends were sitting around and we were like: Let's come up with a word and then we each have to write our own song and somewhere in there you'd have to use the word.

We started doing it and it was pretty fun. And then I was on tour in 2001 and Steve Poltz was the opener, and we started talking about writing songs and stuff. And I was like, "Oh, yeah, I was doing this songwriting game with some friends of mine." And Steve was like, "We should do that!" And so the four of us -- two of the guys who were in my band, Bruce Hughes and Billy Harvey, were also songwriters -- started doing it. We came up with the first word, I still remember it: Cashville. We all wrote a song called "Cashville," and then the next night we all played the songs for each other and then came up with another phrase. And we did that the entire tour. It was a three-week tour, and I think we each wrote eighteen or nineteen songs in twenty days.

Five years ago or so, we started doing it on the Internet and email. Now we just do it once a week. You should be able to find time to write a song at least once a week. So it works out pretty good.

Are there any songs on the new CD, A Perfect Day, that came from the game?

I think all of them did, or if not all of them, most of them. For instance, "Let the Light In," which was the first single off the record, came from the phrase "not a pretty pair." And it's in the last verse: "And they danced in the darkness on the floor/And the people in the room said, 'They don't make a pretty pair'/But the Tin Man and the Witch, they didn't care."

How did the phrase decide to come in there, if you know what I mean?

Well, lots of times I'll write a song and just stick the phrase in somewhere. And I think with "Let the Light In," that was pretty much what happened.

That line sticks out, but not in a way where I would have thought, Gosh, he just arbitrarily wedged that in there! Because the mood of the song calls more for a line like, "Don't they make a pretty pair," but you twist it the other way.

Well, lots of times when you just jam something into the song that way -- if it had been up to me, maybe I would have done that the way you'd expect. But since I had to jam that in, it changes the thing. And then all of a sudden, it becomes something more interesting than it would have had I not had the challenge of having to put it in there.

That sounds like poetry, where you can work either side of the metaphor. You can start with the emotion you want to make vivid by stating it as something else, or you can start with the something else: You realize what the emotion is because of the bizarre little thing that stuck in your head, that made you think of something, but it doesn't seem obviously to connect.

Ideally when you're writing lyrics, as in poetry, if you can keep it to where its not linear, the observer has to create their own connection between those two phrases. They can personalize that with their own unique life experience, and then all of a sudden the song becomes much richer and much more personal than it would have had you said: "OK, to get from this phrase to this phrase, you've got to take this route." I love lyrics where you have to fill in the blanks.

Let The Light In by Bob Schneider

Before I let you go, I'm going to ask you about Steve Almond's book, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, which had a chapter about you. We excerpted that chapter on this blog last time you were here, right before the book came out.

I loved it. I thought he nailed it. I thought it was right on the money. He really got an idea of what my situation is. You know, I have an exciting job that's fun, and I get to perform these songs I've written with really talented musicians and get to travel all over the place, get to meet all kinds of people and stuff. And at the end of the day I'm out there alone at my house -- me and my dog, and sometimes my son, and it's pretty lonely.

Did you read the rest of the book?

I did not.

I have to tell you, I know Steve. He's a former colleague and a good friend. I think he, like a lot of artists, struggles with the notion that suffering produces better work. He wants to believe you can have a well-balanced life and still be incredibly creative. I think he takes it personally when people are not enjoying their life. In that book he was looking around in music as a real fan -- it kind of traverses an arc that involves finding balance in one's life. You know, he can have kind of a light touch, but his "mancrush" on you is not bullshit on his part. He totally means that.

The ironic thing is that I'm probably as happy as I've ever been in my life. I've never really been very happy, and I think at this point, mainly because I've got a five-year-old kid, I get to experience joy with him that I've never experienced in my life. I mean, my heart is as wide open as it's ever been in my whole life. And I have moments where I can't even believe how wonderful they are.

And the crazy thing is that I get to experience that, and I also get to experience kind of the opposite of that. And it's heavy. You know, I've experienced some depression and sadness that I've never experienced in my life as well. I don't know if that's getting older, or having a kid, or just having my heart open or being more in touch with my feelings, or whatever it is.

But you get both. You get both in life. I really believe that no matter what your situation is, you can't help but get both sides of the coin. In the last five years, I went through a divorce. I've got a kid, and going through that -- which is, you know, the biggest sense of failure that I've ever had in my life, and the amount of pain and being away from my son when I don't get a chance to see him -- having experienced all that, I've grown in ways that I'd have never grown as a person. And I'm grateful for having had to experience all that stuff.

Read our review of Bob Schneider at the Duck Room, 5/11/11, with MP3s recorded at the show.

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