Whether in concert or interview, Todd Snider is wonderfully unfiltered. With his penchant for pot and psychedelics, the self-proclaimed troubadour has turned his agnostic hymns and stoner fables into his bread and butter. He’s a jam-band believer (“I like the culture; it’s very Taoist and free-spirited”) and a one-time teenage runaway who couch-surfed and hitchhiked his way to becoming a modern-day Utah Phillips.
Influenced by Woody Guthrie, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot — and at one point, a little too much Hunter S. Thompson, he admits — the Gen X folkie has grown into one of those artists with such a distinct flavor that you can watch a video like “Talking Reality Television Blues” and chuckle aloud: The formula itself is a nod to Guthrie, but the song is so Snider. That single off of 2019′s “Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3,” was recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio, owned and operated by John Carter Cash, Johnny’s son.
As he gets ready to play Boston and Fall River on back-to-back nights, we caught up with Snider for . . . well, let’s call it the “Talkin’ Todd Snider Couch-Surfin’ Acid-Droppin’ Johnny Cash Cabin Blues.”
Q. So how did the “Cash Cabin Sessions” get started?
A. I moved out to Hendersonville [Tenn.] where Johnny Cash lived, and I’ve known his son for a little while, because he produced Loretta Lynn, and I’ve written some songs with her. And then I started having dreams about the place. And John Carter, Johnny’s son, said Loretta thought the house was haunted, too.
Q. And you used Johnny Cash’s guitar?
A. I did. It was over 100 years old. His son whipped it out and said, “Would you like to try this?” And it sounds so good.
Q. Politics influence your songs a lot.
A. [I]t’s like I’m sorry if my opinion offends someone, but I need it for work. If people boo or get mad, I deal with it. The more stuff I can make rhyme, the better for me. I don’t share my opinions because I think they’re smart; I share ‘em ‘cause they rhyme. I’m a liberal-minded hippie, obviously, but I don’t mind Republicans.
Q. Your family was Republican.
A. Yeah, so I’ve learned to get along with [people] who disagree with me. And I think that’s how it works. I like “The View,” that show, because it shows what we’re supposed to be able to do — we’re supposed to be able to argue over coffee.
Q. When you first started writing, with songs like "Conservative, Christian . . ,” was that in rebellion?
A. For sure, that’s how it started. I grew up around football and flags and all that stuff and was just naturally drawn toward the Grateful Dead side of the cafeteria.
Q. [Laughs] You started off wanting to be a lyricist — was that inspired by the Dead [who had their own lyricist]?
A. Yeah, Robert Hunter. It seemed like something you could do. Then I saw Jerry Jeff Walker, and I thought maybe if I got a guitar I could do that.
I think I was 19. At the time I was a hitchhiker, and I thought it would be easier to get picked up hitchhiking [with] a guitar. It would be easier to have people let you crash after the party if you had a guitar. I saw it as a shortcut to rides. And that’s really all it added up to in the end. It’s amazing to get to be a troubadour.
Q. You left home at 16.
A. My parents moved from Portland [Ore.] to Houston, and I just didn’t go. Well, I went, and we were there a month, and my dad had to go back and pick some stuff up, so I rode with him, and went we got there I jumped out and ran to my friend’s and said, “That’s it. I live here now.”
After I ran away, I was on a sofa circuit. My first inclination with a guitar was you could really master the sofa circuit with it. Then I was in Memphis, got offered a record contract.
Q. The first time I saw you, you were opening for John Prine.
A. I was a runner on one of his sessions and he was nice to me. Then I got a record deal and made, like, I think three records for those guys [MCA]. I don’t think the third one did as good, and so I went over, started making them for John [on the Oh Boy label]. I’m grateful to MCA Records and Oh Boy Records; those two really took care of me. They cared about my future, and they cared about my health.
Q. And you got fired from one label?
A. In a way, I did. When I was on MCA on that third record, I did one show that was, like, clearly a mental thing. One time at a record release party, I really acted out. I think they were like, “We’ve gotta get this guy some help.” It wasn’t like they abandoned me.
A. And they could’ve. I went on stage and said to my own people to [expletive] off. Sometimes I get defensive about the music business because it was so kind to me in the face of so much unreliable behavior on my part. I’ve never been able to lock down the professional bit.
Q. “Unreliable” meaning?
A. Not always [being] where I said I’d be. Not always acting very appropriately at the thing I was supposed to be at. I’d go to the thing and then they’d wish I hadn’t. But I was so young. Sometimes I regret not having been more responsible to the people that helped me. But I was just looking for good times. I wanted to be Hunter Thompson.
Q. Were there any wild times where you thought: This has got to stop, or I’ve got to rein it in?
A. A couple of times. I’m trying to reflect on something that’s difficult, it’s kind of embarrassing. On the other hand, it’s genuine, and I’m trying, as an older person, to have some awareness. But I’m still more led by my intuition than anything else. I don’t know.
Q. No, I get it. And you’ve gone to rehab?
A. I’ve been a bunch. Not recently though. There was an article in Rolling Stone that said I kicked drugs, and I guess I did. I mean, right after my divorce, I got really thin. I took a ton of acid. I didn’t go to rehab, though. After my divorce, I worried some people. I don’t think they’re as worried now.
Q. People say you’re “stoner-rock.” Would you ever have your own brand?
A. Yeah, I should. I do smoke a lot. It’s the only [drug] I’m doing right now. I’m 53, but I smoke more weed before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.
Q. Have you always been into the whole jam-band scene?
A. Yeah, I’m Oregonian. So the Dead was a big bang, and when [Jerry Garcia] died, Widespread [Panic] and Phish was the big thing. Eventually the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and the Black Crowes. That’s my favorite songwriter, Chris Robinson. He’s my generation’s best songwriter.
Q. Interesting. And who inspires you in terms of songwriting?
A. Have you ever heard of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot?
Q. I love him.
A. Just, like, across the board, on and off stage, I aspire to be like him. Or Alan Watts. I have a few guys who got old, and I think: I could be old like that. Wavy Gravy’s good at being old.
Q. Are you working on any songs now?
A. There’s this girl, Raelyn Nelson, Willie’s granddaughter, and she comes around and helps my dog, and I made up a song about her, how she’s gonna settle for me one of these days. And I got one about how I only have one more alimony check called “Starting Now, It’s Over.” I’ve had that title for a few years now, and it just occurred to me the other day, I could use it for that.