Bob Schneider's B-Day Bash

Bob Schneider

With the release of his latest album Burden of Proof, Bob Schneider breaks new ground. Exploring loss, lust, love, dark desires and skeptical optimism, Schneider has crafted lyrically and musically, his most ambitious and sophisticated album to date.

Born in Michigan and raised in Germany, Schneider was playing music and creating art from the time he was four years old. “I was left-handed, but the nuns at my Catholic school forced me to write with my right hand,” Schneider reflects. “But I still like to think of myself as left-handed. I’ve always thought of myself as a round
peg in a square hole sort of person, like I just didn't quite fit in. I was socially awkward and I think that led me to finding solace in imaginary worlds that I would create in my art and music.”

At age ten, Schneider’s father, an opera singer by trade, dressed him in a leisure suit and took him along to gigs where they’d perform jazz standards and other hits from the 1940s-70s. Schneider spent his college years as a fine arts major, but dropped out to move to Austin and pursue a music career after taking to heart the words of singer-songwriter Terry Allen. “I remember him saying ‘If you’re going to do art, drop out of school and start doing your art and living your life ‘cause your degree’s not going to make a difference.”

So Bob Schneider blazed into Austin and has been packing houses and winning over audiences ever since, firmly claiming his place as one of the most sought-after entertainers in the live music capital. Schneider sells out venues coast to coast from New York, Chicago Minneapolis and Baltimore to LA, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. His live shows are playful and raw, while on stage Schneider commands the room. He’s charismatic and friendly, bantering with his bandmates and heckling the crowd. As he launches into each song with his whole being, the audience is instantly transported, tumbling through the dark recesses of his imagination. Much like Jack White and Ryan Adams, Bob Schneider has mastered the art of keeping his audience on their toes, never knowing what will come next. Schneider dances to the tune of his own drum and the beat changes from album to album. With Burden of Proof, he has elevated his game once again, creating a brilliant and elegant album. “Some folks might think that I'm taking a big risk musically by getting away from the more easily accessible pop songs of the earlier records,” said Schneider. “But to me it seems like a natural progression that is more subconscious than conscious really.”

Schneider’s songs and albums thrive on the element of surprise, and the tracks on Burden of Proof are no exception, sure to be a crowd favorite. “Unpromised Land”—the first single off the album—packs all the energy of a Schneider performance into one fierce, rocking anthem. An instant stand out, “Swimming In The Sea,” captures the out-of-body, spine tingling magic of falling in love. Schneider adds, “I love love songs that go against the grain of what it means to be in love and how that's supposed to feel. It's rarely a walk in the park for me and ‘Swimming in the Sea' (which is something that I'm deathly
afraid of) sort of captures the wonder and terror of being in love and not having any control over it all.”

Other highlights include the Leonard Cohen-esque “Digging for Icicles” highlights Schneider’s vast vocal range, his voice dropping as the song descends into mournful meditations. “The Effect,” gospel-inflected and danceable, evokes Graceland-era Paul Simon. With the deceptively simple “Tomorrow,” the album’s only cover, Schneider offers a stunning re-vision of the classic show tune, raw and unguarded. Amidst the hope-tinged despair of “Wish the Wind Would Blow Me” Schneider tosses out whatamounts to a playground insult, “I wish your mom was ugly/ And your dad was ugly too,” but then deftly twirls it into a disarmingly charming love note, “Then they couldn’t have had a girl/ To be as beautiful as you.”

Nearly every track on Burden of Proof features string arrangements composed by Schneider himself. The album also showcases Schneider’s decades-long creative relationship with the Tosca String Quartet. Schneider first paired with the quartet on “Love is Everywhere,” the hidden track off of his award-winning album I’m Good Now.

At the time, Schneider wrote a string arrangement for the beautifully devastating “Weed Out the Weak.” That fan favorite has finally found a home on Burden of Proof, positioned amongst sensual charmers, danceable bursts of fire and bounce, and contemplative sojourns. Longtime fans will recognize Schneider’s trademark fusion of eclectic musical styles, innovative compositions, and intricate, emotion-filled lyrics. Schneider croons, drawing listeners in with the promise of romance. Then the energy shifts, the strings swell, and the songs turn seductively tangy, twisted.
Veering away from the traditional music video model, Schneider is instead honoring the cinematic feel of Burden of Proof by engaging the talents and artistic vision of twelve film directors. Directors include internationally renowned filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who shot the video for Schneider’s AAA Radio hit “40 Dogs (Like Romeo and Juliet)” from his 2009 album Lovely Creatures, and award-winning photographer and director Dan Winters, whose photograph and drawings grace Burden of Proof’s cover and liner notes.

Schneider’s artistic exploration is not limited to the stage or the studio. He is also a celebrated sculptor, painter, and poet with two published books of poetry and art and another one forthcoming. With Burden of Proof, Bob Schneider delivers a much-heralded explosive addition to his already expansive artistic canon, a work of sophisticated craftsmanship and a wild ride to boot.

Gabriel Kelley

'If you want something done right, do it yourself.'
That line of advice tends to get stated with a lot more frequency than it's actually followed. In Gabriel Kelley's case, though, it's something he's never needed to think about: It's the way he's always done things.

The talented 27-year-old raised most of the funds for his debut album with a Kickstarter campaign, but his manner of conducting his life and music runs deeper. The saga of how IT DON'T COME EASY came to be is one of steadfast determination and self-sufficiency and a commitment to doing the right thing—often against challenging odds. And, as Kelley himself notes, there's a corollary: Even when the creative process isn't a walk in the park, it's worth the effort when the work is honest.

And it is. IT DON'T COME EASY is an uncompromising and heartfelt debut that, if it requires a category, would fit comfortably under "singer-songwriter." In the best sense of that tradition, it doesn't trifle with extraneous anythings: no wasted lines or unnecessary instrumental flourishes, just a communal effort from Kelley and his fellow musicians to, as he puts it, "serve the songs."

The album was a long time coming—Kelley reckons "I waited six years to make my first album"—largely because its ten songs express a pretty expansive range of life experience. That includes a rural, working-class boyhood in Georgia, a total immersion living-abroad adolescence and an early adulthood spent—and subsequently walked away from—as a professional songwriter on Nashville's Music Row.

"The first music I remember," says the affable Kelley, "is what my folks played at home: Neil Young, John Prine, Cat Stevens, even early Santana and Leon Russell. I soaked all that up. And my folks were members of a community about 20 miles north of Athens, where people played old-time, pre-bluegrass music. I learned to play guitar at these pickings, in a big circle around a fire." (The man who taught Kelley to play, Pat Shields, wrote the powerful lament "These Old Green Hills" on IT DON'T COME EASY.)

"I literally grew up in a log cabin," says Kelley, who chopped wood to keep the house warm in winter. "We lived off the land, raised our own food, my folks were vegetarians. Man, I didn't taste refined sugar till I was like 13 or 14." He also recalls performing at open-mic nights in Athens, palling around with the Widespread Panic crew and attending a rural school that taught "the poorest white kids and the poorest black kids in Madison County."

At 16, Kelley got the chance to study in Sweden. "It was straight-up immersion," he says, in the language and culture of a strange land, which didn't come easy: "There was a lot of solitude and isolation." There was also an inspiring music teacher, in whose class Kelley's future path became clear: "I thought, 'OK, this is it. Music's what I'm gonna do with my life.'" Returning to Georgia, Kelley completed his senior year, then did a few months at the University of Georgia before lighting out, once again, on his own.

He bought a Chevy Astro van, built a bed frame in the back and took off across the country, trading his music for a place to stay ("If I had money to get to the next town, I'd put it in the gas tank; if I didn't, I'd stay in the town until I did"). After two years of vagabonding, he returned to Athens and formed a band. Kelley's material got around, and before long he was signed as a staff writer for a Nashville country music publishing company.

That opportunity, which might have appeared golden to other young musicians, didn't suit Kelley's style. "Nashville was kinda like cowboy hats and belt buckles, and I was more the long-haired granola kid," he says. "The routine was 'OK, it's 10:30: Let's grab some coffee and go into a room with somebody I've never met and write a song.'" The experience, though, pointed directly toward IT DON'T COME EASY.

"It got to the point where I couldn't sleep at night," says Kelley. "If I had to write a song called 'Trick My Tractor' that's an R&B/country mash-up because that's the demographic that's happening now, I was gonna kill myself. I would come off a session, go home and write another song on my own, just to feel good about myself." Kelley finally decided to chuck it all. He walked out of the publishing gig and traveled to Guatemala, where he helped raise funds and created a music education program for orphans, before returning to the States. In short order, he traded his suburban digs for a 1977 Dodge Mobile Traveler RV ("It had the orange shag and wood paneling everywhere, man!") and sat down to write. "Once I left publishing," he explains, "my life went from comfort in the physical and material to just bare-bones. My food and nourishment became what I was creating in this music. In a way, I'd jumped off a cliff; my overhead for a month was probably 50 bucks, but it bought me freedom."

Woodshedding, Kelley began, as he says, "digging in": writing, refining and shaping songs from the considerable experience he'd amassed in his 20-something years. And, miraculously, the musicians who would help him put it all into the grooves came forward, three generations of them. They include engineer/producer Neal Cappellino, whose credits include a Grammy® for engineering on Alison Krauss' 2011 album Paper Airplane and work with Joan Osborne and Del McCoury; legendary Memphis picker Reggie Young (Elvis, Dusty Springfield); background vocalist Bekka Bramlett (Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac); Brad Pemberton (The Cardinals, Brendan Benson); Jon Graboff (The Cardinals, Noel Gallagher); Dave Jacques (John Prine, Emmylou Harris) and fellow recording artist Gabe Dixon (Paul McCartney, Supertramp). Kelley supplies guitar and harmonica.

"We tracked all the songs in about four or five days," recalls Kelley, "all together in a room. At most, we did five takes of a song, sometimes two." Over the next several months, he and Cappellino brought in select musicians to add strings and various other instrumentation to augment and support the basic tracks captured live in the studio on such cuts as "How Come," the stark ballad "When Is Enough," the genuinely funky "Only Thing to Do" and the slightly Van Morrison-ish "Faith."

IT DON'T COME EASY has now arrived, and it's an authentic representation—and the logical culmination—of what Gabriel Kelley set out to do, on his own terms. Its organic feel proceeds directly from the autobiographical nature of the songs that comprise it and from Kelley and Cappellino's observation that "There's no point in writing or recording unless you mean what you're saying." Kelley's close-to-the-land Georgia background and affinity for telling it like it is, simply and directly, inform both the music and sentiments throughout, especially on tunes like "See Ya Comin'" and "Goodbye Jesse." The songs are all Kelley's, with the sole exception of "These Old Green Hills": "I was home a couple of years ago," he says, "and Pat [Shields] played it for me, and I said, 'I'm gonna put that on the record.' I never did anyone else's song before, but I did that as kind of a tribute to Pat, because of his influence on me."

Like its dramatic cover (by award-winning designer Buddy Jackson), the album reflects hard work and time well spent. "The whole idea of that one guy plowing that big-ass field," says Kelley, "is about energy and intention and focus. The field is so open, and it's actually yielding something, and there's all this sense of possibility…"

$20.00 adv/$25.00 dos


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