Todd Snider And Will Kimbrough – “If the melody is right, you can open your heart”
ND: Do you think people who have songs that are pro-military or pro-war have to address that? Does Toby Keith have people on the way back to his bus calling him a dick?
TS: I think he does. Or, metaphorically, there’s someone in his path. If somebody doesn’t like what you do, there’s a pathway to you. Now, I’m saying this as a guy who sells like 17 records a year. Toby Keith sells a lot more than 17 records.
ND: As listeners, can you hear someone’s songs with an open mind even if the singer or songwriter has a different political viewpoint? There’s a guy named Darryl Worley who wrote a song that most of the non-hawks I know detest — “Have You Forgotten?” — yet he also has written and sung some really solid, straight-up country songs. Most of my friends who live in my not-so-conservative neck of the woods won’t even entertain the notion that he might be talented.
WK: When you hear Darryl Worley, even at his best, it’ll be the same guy who played the Bin Laden song. He’s a good honky-tonk singer, but you choose what you’re going to do. And I can’t put him up there with people like Cash and Haggard, who had their own style of music that they practically invented.
ND: OK, let’s say I love George W. Bush and pull for him like I pull for the Green Bay Packers, and I make music. Is there any chance you’d like what I do?
TS: Well, I like the Packers. That’s what threw me with that question. I think I feel like — and Keith Sykes showed me this — you get your opinion and you don’t get to control it, and now you’re a folksinger, so that’s your gig. If some guy came to me and said, “I’ll give you 55 million dollars to be for this other opinion,” I would explore the ass end of it. But I got my TV and my radio and my opinion, and every night I have to work in front of these people that aren’t going to believe me if I tell them something that’s not true to me.
If I go out and sing a song about how the war is great, even if the crowd thought it was great, they’d go, “You don’t think it’s great. We can tell you don’t think it’s great. You suck.” If it would pay me to sing “The war is great,” I wouldn’t be able to do it good. You’re helpless to your opinion, and you chose your gig. You’re not a groundskeeper. You’re an opinion-sharer. If I had a big huge boat, this would sound funny saying this. But I’m saying, “Here’s my opinion. Me and my old lady, we’re hoping to have some spaghetti later.”
ND: Would you produce an album on me if I had pro-war or pro-Bush songs on it?
TS: I wouldn’t tell you not to do it, but I’d tell you to get somebody else to do it.
ND: Even if the songs were great?
WK: They couldn’t be great songs.
TS: What’s weird, though, is that in the same breath that Charlie Daniels spoke out against pot dealers and lost me wholly, I like the sound of Toby Keith’s records. And I like that Charlie Daniels isn’t lying to me, trying to read my mind and be my friend.
ND: What if Merle Haggard called you guys and asked you to play guitar for him and do “Okie From Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side Of Me” with him.
TS: Haggard? Jesus, I’d be his car washer.
ND: Will, from a songwriter’s standpoint, you’re putting out a record that is far more liberal than, say, the Dixie Chicks ever thought about being, and yet you sell songs to Toby Keith.
WK: Well, I sold a song to Jimmy Buffett [“Piece Of Work”, on Buffett’s 2004 License To Chill album]. And he asked Toby Keith to sing one of those with him, and Toby Keith isn’t going to say no to Jimmy Buffett.
TS: I would like to add that I think Toby Keith kicks ass, opens his heart and says what’s on his mind. I like him, and I like his version of Will’s song. I disagree with his shit, but he writes some songs that are kick-ass like Alan Jackson, in my opinion.
II. YOU WANT PEOPLE TO ENJOY THE STUFF AND TAP THEIR FEET AND SAY, “PEACE IS GOOD, WAR IS BAD.”
ND: Will, do you worry that the stances you’ve taken on your new record will impact your ability to get mainstream country artists to record your songs?
WK: I’ve been working with Rodney Crowell, and Rodney gets country cuts, and they’re hits. He’s on the radar of the people in the business of having hit country records, and they think his songs are hits, and they’re not going to not do them. They want to have hit songs.
I’m not on people’s radar in the country world. But it’s not like all country music is conservative, either. The song that closes my record is a tribute to Johnny Cash, because I admired his ability to communicate that the war is wrong and it’s not the 18-year-old draftee’s fault. He communicated that very clearly, to veterans with VFW hats and George Wallace buttons on. He had the same ability that Ronald Reagan had, but he had a complex message that Reagan never had.
Everybody thinks that way privately. I really believe that. I believe everybody privately has gray-area thoughts, but some people think they have to have a black-and-white opinion to speak out loud.