Artist Interview: Rue Snider
by Polly Hember
New York singer/songwriter Rue Snider is releasing his new album City Living later this year. He describes it as a “musical prequel” to his 2016 album Broken Window, which details the struggles of addiction and getting sober in the city. Rue’s new single ‘Vamonos’ is poignant, bittersweet and speaks back to reckless time that captures the carefree magic of dancing on rooftops way into the night, but with the sobering notions of reality and responsibility about to dawn, peeking over the horizon with the sunrise that comes with the morning after. Reflective yet uplifting, ‘Vamonos’ is strikingly honest. It’s full of reflective lyrics and offers colourful freedom in the hazy soundscape of synth and buoyant guitar. OTB talks Rue about making City Living, about song writing and about the importance of living every day with intention.
First off, congratulations on the new release! I absolutely adore your single ‘Vamonos’; it’s beautiful track. How did the song come about?
I made this record called City Living, and it’s about living in New York in the early 2000s and being overwhelmed. Being in this magical place with all of the highs and lows and how they all come together and form a quilt… the positive experiences and bad experiences, that all come together to form this picture. So ‘Vamonos’ is a sobering moment on the second side of the record… [It’s about] a person saying goodbye to someone, but not being extraordinarily honest. They’re keeping a stiff upper lip, otherwise they’re going to fall to pieces. The record, it’s like… love comes and goes, but you’re still dancing on rooftops. ‘Vamonos’ is that sobering moment, but also it’s a little disingenuous as it’s just about trying not to fall apart.
I’ve read that you view City Living as a prequel to Broken Window?
The last record Broken Window was sort of like me going through the process of alcohol recovery, it was written as an awareness that I have tendencies towards substance abuse. So I wrote City Living as a sort of a prequel, detailing all of the experiences that led to that moment of awareness: “oh my god, I have a problem”.
It’s about that moment where your life changes… for me, one of the biggest rites of passage was becoming aware… I think [the speaker in ‘Vamonos’] realises he doesn’t take accountability, there’s just a lot of reacting. I think a lot of people go through life not taking responsibility.
What was the impact of New York on the album?
To clarify, I moved to New York in 2005. I view [the impact of] New York City in my life and in my music is as real as any human being. The relationship I have with this place is tangible to me, and has shaped so much of my personality and thinking.
"Song writing is scary. You get up every day, you write a new song… It’s like a first date, every day."
I love how those relationships form between a city and a person. How do you think your music has changed since living in New York?
I think it’s more my attitude that's changed than anything else. I think the style changes are more organic. I think that when I started making music, I had a lot inside of me, but my skill set as a musician was very poor. I was controlled by a lot of limited thinking, so my abilities were limited, I was limited across the board so the sound that was coming out was the sound that I was capable of creating. As I grew and as I toured and met more people, and figured out there’s no top to what can be created. It’s a dream [that] there are people to collaborate with, and ideas that I hadn’t considered about myself before as I grew.
It’s like a parallel path, to grow as a human being. Opening up my consciousness to personal growth means my music has been able to go in different direction, like it’s boundless… like we can put synthesizers on this, I can find people to work with that taught me more than I could imagine.
Who have you enjoyed working with most?
This record was made with Andrija Tokic. He recorded and produced the first Alabama Shakes record, and he made the Spirit Moves with Langhorne Slim. I was excited to go to his studio and see what was happening, and we hit it off. All the initial tracks were recorded to tape and with him, you do the take then you keep it, or you don’t. There's a lot of really positive energy working with him: it’s fantastic. Jon Estes – a musician that can play everything. He played almost everything on the record. It’s really exciting to be around guys who can see your music as bigger than you see it.
There’s a woman who sang harmonies for half of the album, called Molly Parden. We were trying to find a way for her into the songs. She usually sings in a different style, but I really liked her voice. The first song on the new record is called ‘Run Away With You’, and she said it reminded her of REM, as they went for a lot of counter point lyrics. I was like oh my god, and I went away and wrote a whole other part for her. Once you open yourself up to the possibility that other people can make what you’re doing better and you suppress your ego; the music becomes so much better.
It’s taken me a long time to learn that as a person, and also for my music, but the results are so much better.
Sounds like a fantastic process. REM is the first band that came to mind listening to ‘Vamonos’ – do you ever have any other musical influences for this album?
I really love She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper - I think it’s so fucking good, I just love that album so, so much. Also, The Smiths, it’s hard to deny [their influence] on this record. We recorded all the guitars with a JC 120 amp to get that Johnny Marr sound. I love the 80s; The Smiths, The Cure, REM, early U2, and all of those New York Bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie…
I was trying to take these albums that I love from the 80s and reflect a time in the early 2000s to speak to who I am now. Like refraction. [...] There’s a movie out called Annihalation. It’s got this idea called refraction, and I was watching it the other day and I was like “oh shit, this is what happened with this album”. All parts are all influencing each other so something new can grow out of it.
So what’s been the most enjoyable aspect of creating City Living?
For me the most exciting part is mixing the record and being in the studio. Seeing the record come together is my favourite thing.
Song writing is scary. You get up every day, you write a new song… It’s like a first date, every day. You’re not sure whether you’re behaving properly, if you’ve said the right thing and it takes a while to get into perspective. For me, that’s what’s song writing is like. Sometimes you think the greatest thing ever is like garbage. Sometimes you overshare, and you’re embarrassed and it’s gross.
So song writing is something I do every day, but it’s like constant first dates, it’s weird.
Is there a date that we can expect to see City Living?
It’s going to be summer time, we’re putting out another single first. The music video is out next week after south by south west…
Are you planning to tour with this album?
I’m booking a May tour. I’ve been touring since 2014, doing over one hundred shows a year, and I’ve been booking everything myself. It fucking sucks, it’s a lot of work, it’s so difficult. At this point we don’t have another option. We’re trying to find a booking agent, and get on some tours with some more established folks. I’ve played every bar and coffee shop in America. That’s great, and I love it, but it pulls on your soul, you know?
It’s a lot of work I imagine, and that’s a lot of shows. Anything I can do to convince you to come to the UK to gig?
That’s top of the list! I so want to do that.
For our last question, is there any advice you’d give to aspiring musicians?
I think this applies to every field: the most important thing a human can do is to live with intention. So, figure out how to live life intentionally.
People working in any field have to try, try again and make their own mistakes. They’ve got to be confident that what they’re doing is what they want to be doing. Waking up every morning and moving forward with intention, that’s just the best thing you can do. I think it’s the most important thing for any kind of success.
Had I realised this in my 20s, my life would be different. But we all figure out things as we go and figure out things when we’re ready.
For me, personal growth and living with intention, finding a purpose for each day is so much more important than success, satisfaction or anything else.
City Living is due to be released in the Summer and look out for tour dates on Rue’s website.
NOTE: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.