AUSTIN SONG MACHINE: Bob Schneider whittled down his new album from a whopping 50 songs.
Can't Slow Down
Bob Schneider's many unstoppable voices
By Bruce Robinson
Bob Schneider is just not a one-band man. In addition to performing under his own name, the Austin-based singer, songwriter and band leader also fronts a pair of very different hometown ensembles, the Scabs and the Texas Bluegrass Massacre. And, with infrequent exceptions, each group plays a separate set of Schneider's songs.
"Usually what happens with every project is I'll have a song or a couple songs that I've written that don't quite fit in the other thing that I'm doing," Schneider explains by phone from the Texas capital. "That's what happened with the Scabs—I was playing in the band called the Ugly Americans, and I had written some songs with a friend of mine that didn't quite fit in that band, so I started the Scabs so that I'd have an outlet to play those songs.
"Then I started playing solo when I wrote some mellow songs that didn't fit into the Scabs, so I started a solo band project. I did the Texas Bluegrass Massacre because I had some friends who were great bluegrass players and I just wanted to play music with them. So I started doing that."
Even in his solo projects, such as the recently released Lovely Creatures CD, Schneider's wide-ranging musicality covers considerable stylistic ground, from the leisurely groove of "Realness of Space," though bittersweet pop melodies like "Bringdown," to the endearingly cheesy vocal chorus that decorates the amusingly verbose "Your Head Holds Gold, Your Heart Holds Diamonds." His new record also features the irresistible Latin rhythms of "Bombonanza" and "Tarantula," two longtime staples of his live shows given hot-blooded, extra-brass-and percussion treatments, in part to dress them up for those who already know the songs.
"When a record like this comes out, my fans have already heard the music," Schneider explains. "I record all my shows live and make them available for sale at the end of the night. So a lot of the songs that are on that record, my fans have live versions from when I've toured through that part of the country and they've heard the songs and are familiar with them already."
Bootlegging his own shows also enables Schneider to showcase the output of his prolific pen. "I only get to tour the county maybe twice a year, so in that span of time between records—maybe it's two to three years—I'll have written a lot of songs that will never get recorded on a record. So when people come to the shows, it's like a brand-new record every time."
The actual new record, just his third studio set joining Lonelyland (2001) and I'm Good Now (2005), wound up featuring a connective theme that Schneider insists was entirely inadvertent. "Once we had recorded the songs and put the record together, I looked at it and realized the common thread was that they were all love songs in one regard or another. Some unrequited, some are requited love songs, just different phases in love relationships. But that was just a coincidence."
Often Schneider's songs are detailed miniatures, capturing a mood or moment and running with it, as in "Bicycle vs. Car," "Slower Dear" or "Trash." Other times it seems that the music can scarcely contain an upwelling of words and freely associated thoughts, such as the aforementioned "Your Head Holds Gold" and "40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)," the track from Lovely Creatures currently drawing the most radio play.
To at least some degree, that disparate output is a result of Schneider's restless creative urges.
"I've always drawn my whole life, and I love making stuff," he adds, animatedly. "It's kind of a continuation of that with my songs. I just like putting some words together and putting some music in and recording it. I just do that all the time."
Still, Schneider leaves room to introduce those new songs that constantly keep appearing. "My whole drive is just to create something—anything," he continues, "and I'm able to write a lot of stuff doing that. Then later I try to figure out if this is a song I can play live or is this a song I may have to start another band for."
Bob Schneider plays Thursday, Dec. 17, at the Last Day Saloon. 120 Fifth St., Santa Rosa. 8:30pm. $15. 707.545.2343.
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