There's something to be said for head-down perseverance. It's gotten Jon Snodgrass where he is today. You may not be impressed, but over the last two decades Snodgrass has released upward of 30 albums, either as a solo artist or with his bands Armchair Martian, Scorpios, and Drag the River.
Snodgrass got the bug from his sixth-grade neighbor and future All frontman Chad Price, who already knew how to play guitar. Price's brother also played drums. Hanging out with them planted the seed. A few years later, Snodgrass heard a local band mention they were 30, and naïvely thought, "I guess that's something one could do as a career." He hasn't looked back since.
"I'm eccentric," Snodgrass admits. "I wear the same stuff, do the same thing. You'd laugh if you saw my shoes. I actually have to wear these basic shoes right now because I wore Converse my whole life, and my doctor told me, 'That's why you have all these problems.'"
Since his start in the mid-'90s, Snodgrass' music has been characterized by its blend of alt-country twang and over-driven guitar. This too can be traced to Price, who not only taught Snodgrass his first chords, but later joined him as co-conspirator in Drag the River.
"[He] taught me a couple chords on the guitar, and he has a very distinct style of playing — and I do too because of him and the type of music we liked, which was very Midwestern," Snodgrass says. "He claims he learned this specific chord from watching Waylon Jennings, but it also turned out Bob Mould played the same chord. It's these folk chords you use when you play loud electric guitar."
Snodgrass and Price used to play acoustically during open mics at a bar where they liked to drink in the '90s, but by and large fronted bands their whole life. When Drag the River first called it quits in 2007, Snodgrass began recording acoustic solo material, and when the band reunited, Price and Snodgrass began doing some shows as a duo.
"Jay Farrar of Son Volt said to me, 'You're going to like it more,'" Snodgrass recalls. "It made it easier for us to do some things and some people prefer Drag the River, the band, but we like them both. I do like to go out with my acoustic guitar and play with people like Cory Branan, trading songs back and forth."
He confesses a little later that one reason he still plays in a duo is it gives him a chance to connect with the audience in a way he usually can't. It's not that he's shy, just sweaty.
"I don't really open my eyes when I sing. The sweat goes in my eyes and it stings," confesses Snodgrass. "Playing with someone like Cory, you get a little break. I sing with him a lot, but I can look around and I actually feel more in tune with the room when I have someone else. If you're just there driving the vehicle all the time, someone else needs to take the wheel sometimes so you can enjoy the scenery."
Of course playing with Cory Branan has its disadvantages. "It kind of sucks playing with him sometimes, because he's awesome," explains Snodgrass. "But I love playing with him, because it keeps me on my toes.
"[One day] I didn't feel well, and I just remember he's like 'woo-hoo' and just crushing it," Snodgrass laughs. "I'm sitting in a chair, and I get up like, 'Ugh. Here we go, another sad-bastard song for you.' I never know what the first song or the last songs are going to be. I just play whatever it feels like I can do."
The funny thing about following your own muse is that the culture has a tendency to sneak up behind you. Snodgrass has been wearing the same glasses since he was 19 and had to pay for his first pair. Turns out, a friend's dad owned a Kansas company that made safety glasses, and in 1992 he bought out their final seven pairs of overstock from the '50s, costing him $21. He has actually been fretting lately because he's down to his next-to-last pair. So all you hipsters eyeing his old-school frames can just move along.
"Hipsters," Snodgrass snickers. "They're either too cool to talk to me about my glasses or they want to talk to me about my glasses and look at them and they have things that are similar, but I'm like, 'See how mine are like flat on the bottom? Nah, mine are killer.'"
Snodgrass has such a quirky, oddball personality, the subject of marijuana almost naturally emerges. As it turns out, Snodgrass doesn't smoke often and generally doesn't like performing high, but he isn't above sneaking off before the encore. "There were several times I came back in that state of affairs, and this specific person we were with knew and called me out on it once. I'm like, 'Dude, don't do that,'" Snodgrass importunes. "He's a really good singer, and he goes into this Lionel Richie song ... I knew all the words too, so he got harmonies on every word. Now that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't just come from the alley."
Snodgrass has such a loose, easy manner that it's not surprising he's made a career of entertaining people. He loves his life and is looking forward to recording a new Drag the River record, but they still have to release last year's eponymous disc in Europe. It's a big market for them, but personal issues with their team delayed an overseas jaunt. They'd like to wrap that up before moving on to another domestic release. But with the way Snodgrass goes at recording, it surely can't be long. Just don't expect the same acoustic Americana Drag the River's offered in the past.
"The last shows we've done with Drag the River, we didn't even take acoustic instruments with us. We played Telecasters and Les Pauls," Snodgrass says. "It's just that it's weird for us that the music we play would be popular, so maybe we have to go and fuck that all up."