Todd Snider reflects on life and loss in ‘First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder’

Todd Snider is known as a musician, lyricist and an alright guy, but most of all, Snider is a troubadour.

Snider’s new tour, “Return of the Storyteller,” pays tribute to his ‘touring, busking, troubadour act,” featuring tales of folk run-ins, bashful admissions and life after the pandemic. His latest tour stop is tonight at the Paradise Performing Arts Center at 6:30 p.m.

“I don’t think I’ve been in one town for longer than three weeks or a month since the early 90s, so it was odd to sit in one place,” Snider said. “I never really got to watch the cycle of a particular set of trees change like I did this year.”

To adjust to his new lifestyle, Snider and his team began live streaming from their makeshift recording studio, the Purple Building in Nashville. The Sunday shows slowly evolved from spontaneous acoustic jam sessions, to spiritual sermons for Snider and his fans to cope with the unpredictable nature of COVID-19.

The pandemic proved to have a tremendous impact on the constantly moving Snider. Not only did he lose his freedom to tour at will, but he lost lifelong musical idols that radically influenced his music.

“Sometimes I think that tragedy is good for performers. It forced me to play in front of people and face the grief.” Snider said. “It helped me to sing John [Prine] songs and by the time I got done singing his songs, I was comfortable sitting in front of the camera and I was all of a sudden used to it. I made a record sitting in that same chair, I just kept going even when we were off of the air.”

Snider channeled his grief into recording music, writing songs like “Handsome John” and “Sail on, my Friend,” for his new album, “First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder.” Both songs were odes to John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker and other musicians in the Nashville folk scene that passed away in recent years.

The album is formatted to explore the experience of life and death, in the setting of a church sermon. The first track strikes listeners with a funk inspired beat, drawing influence from progressive soul artists like James Brown and Sly Stone.

“I’ve been getting into funk for the past five years, studying it and seeing how I can apply it to what I do and when we got the pandemic it was almost like an excuse to start recording,” Snider said. “I didn’t have any songs planned, it was a blast.”

As the album progresses, the tempo of the album introduces slower hymn-like songs, preaching about the human experience, particularly through the lens of today’s political and social climate.

“I think more than anything our country does, the way we treat Black men is what offends me the most and the notion that a musician would kill themselves hurts me the most.” Snider said. “It makes me want to sing more. If they boo me I don’t care.”

With Snider familiarizing himself with new music and material, “First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder” proves to be one of his most experimental and fluid albums, highlighting the highs and lows of humanity.

To memorialize Snider’s first tour back since COVID-19, every show on the tour is recorded live, including new anecdotes, boos and all.

 

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