Interview by Tom Finkel
When it comes to generating new material and grinding out a grueling tour schedule, Bob Schneider could be considered the Energizer Bunny of rock & roll, were it not for the fact that the Energizer Bunny tends not to testify about his passion for productivity with tuneful declarations along the lines of:
All I wanna do is rock this motherfucker all night long, y'all
Nonstop until the crack of dawn, y'all
Ass-knockin' till we can't go on
Stop over with the goodies and get it on
Without a doubt, a sizable contingent among the Bob Schneider devotees who assemble at tomorrow night's L.A. tour stop at the Troubadour will be hollering for the Austin-based rocker to lead them in time-tested ritual sing-alongs of "Tarantula," "Bombananza" and, yes, "The Assknocker." And their beloved Bob and his band will likely oblige.
He'll also draw on the full range of ammo jam-packed in his arsenal, from hooky pop numbers that you've never heard before but suddenly realize you know by heart after he's sung them to you to ragers that will sear your ears to just-plain-true songcraft that sticks to your ribs right where you thought your heart was. And, if you behave your bad self, some fresh cuts from his new CD, A Perfect Day, released April 19.
Our sister blog, St. Louis' A to Z, caught up with Bob early this year, and he spoke about writing songs, wrangling miscreant audience members, divorcing and daddying.
How's the new disc doing?
Great! I say that but I have no idea. People ask me that all the time, and I usually say I have no idea. But now I've decided to change that to just, "Oh, fantastic! Much better than we thought." Which still tells you nothing, but it sounds good.
Do you map out a setlist for shows in advance?
No, I just call 'em out as I feel 'em.
You get requests from audience members, and I know you require those to be written on a hundred dollar bill, but you often lower your demand to just somebody shouting something out. Do you like to interact with the audience that way?
Well, you know, sometimes somebody will yell something out and I'll go, That's a good idea, but if they yell it out and I don't think it's a good idea, I'm not gonna play it. Granted, if somebody does send in a request on government paper, then depending on the denomination it's gonna get more careful consideration from me. If it's a hundred-dollar bill, I usually stop whatever song I'm playing and just go right into that -- whether I know the song or not.
How often has that happened -- the actual hundred?
Not all the time, but it happens more often than you think. But if somebody just takes the time to write it down and puts it onstage where I can see it -- just the fact that they've taken that much effort, I'll usually play it.
The worst thing for me is when I go see a band and they don't play the song I really want to hear. I remember seeing the Stones in 1981. And all I really wanted to hear was that song "Angie." And they never played it, and I was just, like, Fuck! I really wanted to hear that song! So it's kind of stuck with me. I really do want to please the audience, I want to give them what they want. But at the same time, I have to try to have a good time. Because if I'm having a horrible time and just going through the motions, they're gonna figure that out.
It seems like because of the request thing and the broad range of your music, you have a lot of people to please in a lot of different ways. There's a potential there for a dynamic that doesn't work -- I've heard you directing that somebody be given their money back because they're not fitting in with the mood you want to set.
Well, you know, the vibe is, "Shut the fuck up and listen to the music, or dance, or do whatever you're gonna do." When you go see a movie, people are quiet, and they don't talk on their phones. If they did, they would be beaten to death by other people in the theater. But it doesn't fucking matter: Your phone can ring all day long, or you can scream at the screen -- but it doesn't change the movie. But when you do that in a live setting, you're affecting the performer, sometimes to an extreme degree.
When I'm with the band I'm like, "Fuck it, we'll just blow over anybody with volume." But if I'm playing solo and somebody's doing that, after a while I'll lay into them by humiliating them in front of everybody. If that doesn't work, I'm like, "Hey, can you please be quiet?" And if that doesn't work, I'm like, "Hey, you need to go get your money back and get the fuck out of here."
Seems to me you're pretty savvy about how to take the audience places, how we're all on the bus together and there's got to be a few rules.
Here's the deal: Your life is hard. You work at a job that you may or may not enjoy. Either way, life's tough. So I consider what I do a form of escape. And part of that is to be entertaining, not be boring, maybe move you emotionally -- either by playing sad songs or fun songs or angry songs, songs you can relate to so you don't feel so alone in the universe, blah, blah, blah, blah. But for me to do that, you gotta listen.
That sounds like a reasonable trade-off.
Having said that, one of the worst rooms in the country is Blueberry Hill! [The Duck Room] is one of the loudest, most boisterous rooms in the country. And because of that, I do a certain kind of set there when I'm with the band, that's kinda raucous and fuck it.
One of the few times I was gonna kick somebody out was playing solo at Blueberry Hill. I'd finally got the audience to quiet down, started playing a song and some guy at a table right up front just started talking. I stopped and went over to him and took a twenty-dollar bill out of my pocket and shoved it in his face and was like, "Get the fuck out of this club." And then he almost started crying. He was like, "Oh please let me stay here, 'cause my friend's gonna get married and he's gonna propose to his girlfriend." And I was like, "If I see you utter another word while I'm performing, you're out of here." And not a song later, I looked over and the motherfucker's just "blah, blah, blah.'" But at that point, I felt so bad that it had affected me so much.
Do you think it's something about the crowd? Or do you think it's that, um, dank, dark, low-ceilinged environment?
Well, it's a loud room. It's all stone in there; all the sound is just amplified, the noise floor of people just milling about is high. And then when you add people talking -- it's loud.
I know there are certain things I can do to bring it down a little bit. But it's a hard room. We call it a tough old whore, Blueberry Hill: "That's a tough old whore right there!" It's got nothing to do with the people. They're very passionate. They'll come see me play every single time, I can play whatever I want to play, they'll listen to it, they'll check it out, they'll keep coming back, they'll buy merch, they'll buy the new record, they'll buy the live CD....
But they're drunk and they're having a good time and they're partying and they're talking -- and it's a loud room. So what can you do? Make the best of it, have a good time. At this point my expectations are so low that if it's not jet-engine loud in there, I'll be happy.