Songs and Their Stories
Andy Sneed would love to sing you one of his songs. He would also love to tell you the story behind that song. Because just like each one of us, every song has a unique story. Just hang on a second while he gets his guitar. While you're waiting, feel free to look around the place: hit the music player at the bottom of the page for some tunes, read some lyrics on the Words page, check out his Bio, find out about upcoming Shows, and more!
I remember when the song “Hey Nineteen” was the “new” Steely Dan. Which is funny, because it’s a song about feeling your age. It’s about a guy who’s with a much younger woman who can’t relate to the things he thinks are cool, who doesn’t get his pop culture references. “That’s ‘Retha Franklin / She don’t remember the Queen of Soul / It’s hard times befallen the sole survivors / She thinks I’m crazy, but I’m just growing old.”
Donald Fagen was 32 years old at the time. Which, admittedly, is old if you’re dating a nineteen-year-old. But as we enter 2019, I just turned 49 - this is my 50th year. My father died at age 49 + 31 days, so this is a big one for me.
Apparently the name has been given to a restaurant in Torrance, California...
There are a good many Steely Dan songs that deal with time. Take “Reeling in the Years”: “Your everlasting summer, you can see it fading fast / So you grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last / Well you wouldn’t even know a diamond if you held it in your hand / The things you are precious I can’t understand.” Or the much later song “What a Shame about Me”: “I’m still working on that novel, but I’m just about to quit / ‘Cause I’m worrying about the future now, or maybe this is it / It’s not all that I thought it would be / What a shame about me.”
I didn’t intend this to be a meditation on Steely Dan lyrics, it was just supposed to be a clever title. But I guess I am feeling the passage of time (I must be!). A couple of years I wrote a song called “First Day of the Rest of My Life,” which contains some of my favorite lines that I’ve written: “I’m in line, the coffee shop / I guess I always knew this day would come / It’s not that I got old / It’s that the crowd got young.”
...And (of course) a Steely Dan tribute band.
As I start my 50th year, I’m glad to say my thoughts about it are mostly positive, thankful for what the past 49 have given me. A 27-years-so-far marriage to an awesome, beautiful person; a brilliant daughter who age-wise is somewhere between “don’t remember the Queen of Soul” and “just growing old”; some really good friends; relationships with my siblings that keep growing closer; having come through a terrible depression and out the other side (2017 was NOT good) – just to name a few things.
And there are things I want to do this year with music. I’m planning to record and release a for-real EP (possibly LP), play plenty of shows at venues new and familiar, write new songs (I’m partway through one now), stretch myself both in my writing and playing, and make some new musical friends. And I hope to see you this year.
At a recent appointment with my doctor, he observed that my blood pressure is higher than it should be. He proposed some meds for it, but I really didn't like the idea of getting on a medication that I then have to take forever. So I did some internet research, and for the past several months I've been drinking lots of hibiscus tea, eating plenty of kale and arugula, and I've been much more diligent about walking or going to the gym several mornings a week. And as I've been checking my blood pressure on the machine at the grocery store, I can see that it's really making a difference. Turns out, sometimes the threat of something bad can be more effective for changing behavior than the promise of something good.
Back in January, I made some New Year's musical resolutions. And I don't know that it was driven by the threat of something bad - "if I don't do these things, I will stagnate or even regress as a musician" - but I suppose that is true to a certain extent I need to engage in certain regular practices because my musical life depends on it.
I made five resolutions back in January: (1) pick up the guitar every day, (2) open myself to new musical and lyrical ideas, (3) explore new music and new artists, (4) get back to some songwriter events, and (5) book shows in new venues. And I thought it would be good to check in on my progress so far. So how am I doing? 1. Guitar: I have NOT been picking it up every day...but I have been doing it more regularly. We got a decorative wall hanger for the front room so that there's always a guitar right at hand. I also got some new gear, and that's inspired some playing around as well. After one of my shows this past spring, I was aware of having crossed over a kind of invisible mental barrier from being self-conscious in my playing to just simply PLAYING, and that seems significant. Self-Score: 50%
2. New musical and lyrical ideas: I've been paying more attention to those unique experiences and those moments when a line suddenly comes to mind, and I've been taking time to work with them. It's resulted in a couple of new songs that I really like. One of them grew out of a pretty weird conversation I had, and I had to work it for a while to find what it needed to be. The other one developed from a line that came to me during a walk on the beach and it took shape rather quickly; the lyrical style is different for me, reminding me some of Bruce Cockburn. Then there's this other song that I've been working and working on, and frankly it might never be anything more than a really good first line. As an aside, recently I picked up a portable multitrack recorder so I can record some of these new efforts; if the results sound decent, I'll post them here on the site. Self-Score: 75%
3. New music/artists: I haven't been pursuing this one nearly as much as I wanted to, but I think just having it as an intention has made a difference. A couple of resulting discoveries are the Australian band Gang of Youths (found on a list of "underappreciated" 2017 albums) and the Canadian band The Tragically Hip (who's been around for years, but I really got to know and appreciate their music through the documentary "Long Time Running"). Self-Score: 30%
4. Songwriter Events: Well, this one just hasn't happened at all - deadlines, blablabla - except that I did enter a song in the NPR Tiny Desk Contest, which I haven't done before. The performance wasn't great and the video quality was shite, but I'm still glad I did it. Afterward I thought, "OK, next time what I need to do is..." which means some progress. Self-Score: 15%
5. New venues for gigs: I've done really well with this one, if I do say so myself. Having it as an intention meant that I was really looking for new places to play and making a point to talk to the owners/managers there. So far this year I've done at least three shows at venues I hadn't played before, including Public House on High in Maryville (actually performing there again later this month) and the Daily Grind & Wine in Murphy, NC (see photo above - fantastic crowd). I also submitted my name to a nearby summer concert series - I didn't get the gig, but this resolution got me to expand my efforts. Self-Score: 90%
The great thing about having resolutions is that every bit of progress further motivates me, encourages me to go another step further. Having these resolutions has also made me more aware of different aspects of my playing and performing. Like, I always play a few cover songs along with my own tunes in my shows, and recently I thought, "I've been playing the same cover songs for way too long." So I've spent some time lately working on a new batch of interesting covers to season the stew. So I'm excited about the rest of 2018 and I hope you are too. In the meantime, if you come to one of my shows, you'll hear some new songs!
There's this website I love, setlist.fm, where fans post the set lists from shows they've seen. What I'm talking about is the list and ordering of songs an artist plays in a particular show. Especially when a band I love is touring, I'll go to setlist.fm and check out the postings from recent shows to see which songs they're playing what they're opening with, what they're playing off the new album, how deep into their back catalog they're digging, what they're playing as encores, whether they're changing things up much from night to night - that sort of ubernerdy music-fan stuff.
I don't know how they go about putting their set lists together, but as a non-professional musician, I try not to take it too seriously. At most of my shows, most of my songs will be unfamiliar to most of the people there, so it's really not the same as for professional touring bands. I usually make it up shortly before the show, sitting at a table with a list of the songs I play, writing the evening's set list out on a piece of paper torn from my journal. Susan has all these photos of me doing this at various coffeehouses, pubs, and cafes - like this one:
About my only "rules" in creating the set list are (1) to start with a song that I'm not likely to mess up (yes, really, and it doesn't always work), and (2) I usually end with my song "Good Things Are Gonna Happen for You," which is sort of my parting word of hope and blessing. In between, I just feel my way along, ordering the songs in such a way that, hopefully, both I and the people listening are able to have a good time and stay engaged. That means, roughly speaking, alternating among my "catchier" tunes - those that tend to grab people the quickest - and songs that require closer listening, or that maybe have a darker or more intense feel. The majority of my songs are in major keys, but there are several that are minor-key, and I also try to pepper those throughout the show so that the major and minor tunes can act as "counterpoints" to each other. And I try not to "bunch up" songs that are thematically similar.
One time I very deliberately ordered the songs so as to create a sort of single narrative - which actually worked pretty well but isn't the kind of thing you can do all the time. Or I guess I could, but I just find it more fun to approach it anew every show. And here's the thing: if someone who comes to a show can really connect with just one song, I'm happy. So I hope to see you at one of my upcoming gigs - if you come early, you'll probably see me sitting at a table scribbling song titles on a piece of journal paper...
PS: Susan says that what I do is come up with the set list days ahead of time, and then change it all around on the night of the show - which may be partly true.
I went to the gym this sub-freezing morning, did some fast walking on the treadmill and some weights. Last night I ordered the salmon instead of the cheeseburger that was beckoning. My cholesterol was a little high at this year's checkup and I really don't want to take a pill for it, so I've made these New Year's resolutions - as we often do - to exercise more and eat better. Over the holidays I had some time to reflect on life a bit, and I realized I'd been kind of neglecting my music. Maybe it was some depression at first, but then I just got out of the habit. I was picking up my guitar only occasionally and, as a result, wasn't really working on any new songs. So in addition to those usual resolutions, this year I've also made some MUSICAL RESOLUTIONS:
- To pick up my guitar every day, both to practice my usual material and also to develop new skills - and hell, just for the pure joy of playing;
- To open myself to new musical and lyrical ideas, grab them when they come along and work on them;
- To explore new music and new artists to add to my own musical stew;
- To get back to some songwriter events this year like the Richard Leigh Songwriters Festival in Abingdon, VA, and the Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival in Gatlinburg; and
- To schedule shows in some new places and venues - so let me know if there's a cool coffee house, brewery, or club near you that I should contact!
The truth is, music is a discipline and a habit, as much as getting regular exercise and eating right. If I get out of the habit, my musical muscles atrophy. By the same token, if I cultivate habits of giving myself to music, I'll be there ready when the joy and the new, unexpected ideas come.
- thankful for City Lights Cafe and the way they serve their community
- thankful for the kids' toys strewn around the stage
- thankful that I was in a good head-space that evening
- thankful for the good tone I had from my amp
- thankful that I got to play my newest song - always a good feeling
- thankful for the folks at the show who had just moved from Alaska, and getting to play "Northern Lights" for them
- thankful for the little note they left for me, pictured here, recommending a song to me (I listened to it - it's good!)
- thankful for the spectacular view across the mountains on the drive over and back
- thankful for our host, Emily, at the place where we stayed in Asheville, and her amazing homemade cookies
- thankful for the drive over to Marshall, which is this awesome little well-off-the-beaten-path railroad-and-river town
- thankful for the atmosphere of Good Stuff, which is housed in this old former appliance warehouse
- thankful for the way Good Stuff reminded me of the stock rooms of the sporting goods store where I worked as a teenager in Oxford
- thankful for the excellent burgers we had there
- thankful for the easy-to-use and good-sounding, crusty ancient PA system, marked with these really helpful labels for "House" and "Monitor"
- thankful for the excellent acoustics of the all-wood converted space
- thankful for Leonard, who stuck around and talked a bit after the show
- and mostly thankful that, when I played "Good Things Are Gonna Happen for You" and reached the chorus and the words "I don't know how I know it but I do/ For me it is a hard-wired truth" I realized that I was the one most needed to hear that song just then, having been overly anxious lately and somehow lost sight of the experience of positivity that is elemental for me.
I played at the Acoustic Coffeehouse in Johnson City this past weekend and received some unexpected gifts. It's a laid-back club, the kind of place where there seem to be a lot of regulars – people greeting each other, giving high-fives and hugs, or shaking hands.
First, when I arrived, there were a couple of guys up front playing impromptu, one with an acoustic guitar and the other with a vintage Oahu electric slide guitar. They were jamming on some classic tunes like Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" and Dylan's "Knockin' on Heavens Door." So, instead of standing around getting nervous about things that could possibly go wrong, I just got a beer, sat down and worked on my set list while listening to that soulful, singing slide guitar. It really helped put me in the mood to play, and it was completely unexpected.
The second gift came while I was playing, kind of late in the set. When I'm playing, a lot of thoughts go through my head. "What chord am I playing?... Am I going to mess up the solo?... Am I singing the right words?... What are those people talking about?" And all of a sudden this thought hit me, that "I am so fortunate to be in this place right now, playing this song for these people, and this is just good." it was a moment of real clarity that snapped me back to the present and somehow altered my whole perspective.
Feeling thankful and looking forward to the next show!
Find Andy also at...
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See Andy Live
Solo Show at City Lights Cafe (CANCELLED - WILL RESCHEDULE)
Check back to see when this show will be rescheduled after the coronavirus has run its course, and in the meantime stay healthy and well!