Bob Schneider is unlike any singer/songwriter I’ve interviewed.
There was something almost disarmingly laid back about him when I interviewed Schneider on the phone earlier this week. Not that most musicians of his kind are particularly high-strung, but there was something uniquely nonchalant about how he conversed with me.
Regardless, it was a real pleasure speaking to Schneider, a 20-year veteran of writing and recording music as we talk about everything from his cover of a Broadway show tune to the proper way to write about emotionally heavy experiences.
Schneider, who will perform at Liberty Hall in Tyler tonight, recently released his latest album, “Burden of Proof,” which is an eclectic mix of material ranging from the personal and melancholy to somewhat lighter and even softly humorous fare.
“I really did want to make kind of a beautiful-sounding record, and I knew I wanted to use strings on all of it if possible, which ended up happening. But you want it to be interesting as an experience from the beginning to the end, and if you make everything the same emotionally, if everything is all down or all happy, whatever it is, it just gets boring, so I like the emotional tone to change throughout the record,” he said. “Luckily, I write a lot of songs, so I had a lot of songs to choose from. Usually what I’ll do is start with one song and build the whole record around it. For this record, it was ‘Hop On the World.’ And then it was deciding what songs would compliment that and create a 12-song experience.”
One of those songs was Schneider’s cover of “Tomorrow,” the opening number from the musical “Annie.”
It was something of an unexpected addition as he rarely includes covers. Schneider said it simply fit too well to not include. But where the classic version is about a young girl’s hopefulness for a brand new day, Schneider said his takes on a slightly different tone born from having a different station in life.
“It was just such a beautiful arrangement, and it made sense putting it at the end of the record, because it has this really beautiful, innocent, hopefulness to it that I love. But the way I do it, it’s still pretty melancholy, but the message and vibe is still innocent and hopeful, and I like juxtaposing those things together,” he said. “There’s a difference between Annie singing it, who’s just a tiny, little orphan girl, who doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with the world, so, she is trying to convince herself the sun is coming out tomorrow. Whereas, I’ve seen the sun come out a bunch, and I know it’s coming out tomorrow, and I’ve been through a lot of (stuff). Annie’s been through a lot of (stuff) too, and she’s like six or seven, but it’s a different perspective on that song.”
When it comes to writing his own material, though, Schneider said he prefers to try and have some distance from the incident or emotion that has provided inspiration, as it provides a bit of “emotional objectivity.”
“Writing songs for 20 years, you get an idea of how it all works. I love writing songs when I’m emotionally intoxicated. It definitely gives you something to work with in terms of energy and how you’re going to approach things,” Schneider said. “But when you’re deep in the middle of something, whether falling in love or getting your heart broken, you can say something like ‘Oh, my heart is breaking and it’s raining a lot’ and that really means (a lot) to you when you’re in the middle of it. It’s so real and powerful. Then a couple months later you’re like, ‘That’s really weak songwriting right there.’ It wasn’t clever. It’s not inspired. You’re just describing a feeling. There’s not much to it, even though at the time that you wrote it, you think it’s the best song ever written, just because you’re in the middle of it, and you can relate to it.”
Having that sort of distance, he said, allows him to write songs that are “beautiful and interesting and real, but in a more profound way.”
“I’ll be in the middle of a heartbreak and be writing a song about it. And when I’m falling in love, I’ll write songs about falling love, but I write a lot of songs. I’m not the type of person who writes 10 or 15 songs a year, I’ll write anywhere from 50 to 150 songs year,” he said. “So at the end of the year and you only have room for 12 songs on a record, you figure out pretty quickly which are the better songs to work with, and I’ve found the ones that are better are the ones that you have some distance from.”
Schneider said it’s not uncommon to watch as a song he’s written takes on a life of its own beyond anything he intended or envisioned when writing it. Though it’s not just with his fans, Schneider said he’s discovered connections to a song that didn’t exist when writing it.
“I’ve gone to a hospice and played at old folks’ homes, I’ve had the opportunity where people who were fans were dying of cancer, and I’ve played for them days or weeks before they die. And when you play a song for someone who is dying like that, the song can take on all kinds of meaning that I never even realized were in the song, because of the context and the setting you’re playing in,” he said. “And if I’m going through a breakup, my songs will resonate in different ways depending on how I’m feeling. Or I’ll write silly songs that make me laugh, and I’ll play them 10 times, and they don’t make me laugh anymore. Which is why I never put joke songs on any of my albums.”
Schneider will take the stage at Liberty Hall in downtown Tyler tonight at 8. For more information call 903-595-7274. For ticket information, visit www.outhousetickets.com .