Posted On 29 Aug 2018
Rue released his newest album, City Living on July 27. The album is about his move to Manhattan in the mid-2000s and examines the thoughts and choices that come with living in transition (geographically, emotionally, spiritually, politically, socially). While musically, the album is upbeat and heavily influenced by 80s rock (The Smiths, R.E.M., Cyndi Lauper), the lyrics reflect love, heartbreak, injustice.
Rue has been a completely independent artist for the past six years. He spent several of those years touring the country by himself in a van, playing dive bars and coffee shops and engaging with people. Rue has built a loyal fan base one show at a time and amassed an impressive catalogue of music. He has released two records, four EPs, and six music videos, five of which he directed and edited. The video for his song “Heaven” was one of the first shot using a drone and won Best Music Video at the Sene Film Fest. His song, “Speak My Mind” was chosen as part of the political project, “1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs.”
Learn more about Rue Snider in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you now? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
Hi. It’s kind of a chilly day for August in Brooklyn. I ran out to get some groceries early this morning then listened to records by Ratt and Stryper in preparation for this interview. 80s metal usually puts me in a clear head space. After this is finished I have practicing to do for a solo show on Saturday, video footage to edit, and tour dates to sort and book. There’s a constant flow of stuff to get done when you’re a completely independent artist.
All Access Music is currently compiling a list of our artist’s favorite songs this summer so what has been your song of the summer? (It can be one of your songs!)
Funny you ask that. I released my new record City Living on July 27th and it was originally going to be called Summer Somewhere. I love summer songs a lot a lot a lot. There are two on my record with that word in the title, “Hot Summer Nights,” and “Wouldn’t Be Summer.” I was going for a party vibe and songs that could be enjoyed independent of the words because I tend to write a lot of really bummed out lyrics. “Hot Summer Nights” is really raunchy and “Wouldn’t Be Summer” is a playful song about summer romance set at Coney Island.
My favorite summer song for years and years has been “Summer Song” by Yacht. It’s fucking amazing. It came out in 2008 or 2009 and it sounds like Brooklyn to me. May or June comes around every year and I expect to hear something that I want to listen to more than that and it never happens. There are lots of others that I love too, just not as much: “Summertime Sadness” by Lana, “Constructive Summer” by The Hold Steady, “Disney Girls” by The Beach Boys. More recent stuff I love on sweltering days are songs like “Only Man” by Actual Wolf, “Bikini” by Caroline Rose, “Phoenix” by Rhye, and “Once In My Life” by The Decemberists. My favorite two songs of the year so far are “Screwed” by Janelle Monae and “American Guilt” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra so I suppose I’ve played them more often than anything else new this summer.
Overall, how do you think 2018 has been treating you and your career? What has been one goal that you have had this year and how close are you to reaching it? Or did you already reach it?
God 2018 has been tough. It’s like the darkest part of the night when you know sunrise is coming but you can’t see it yet. My career is a marathon not a sprint so I keep putting one foot in front of the other. There was a protracted breakup for a lot of this year. That spurred many many new songs. It’s always satisfying to remember that I can write but I’d prefer it not all be lonely broken-hearted songs from personal experience. I put out the best record of my career so far in July. My goal is to get the music into hundreds of thousands of ears. I am proud of City Living and there has been a tremendous amount of love from people who’ve heard it. The trick is getting it to new ears. I’m excited to continue working these songs on the road and bringing more people into the fold. I have released a lot of music and it’s encouraging to be doing that at a time when catalogue albums can connect with fans even years after they’re released because of streaming services.
Growing up, was music always a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience? Can you see yourself ever doing anything else?
My dad was an elementary school music teacher and I grew up playing lots of instruments. We had records in my house. My mom loved Elvis. Music was always present. I think the first music I ever bought were the 7″ singles for “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” To this day She’s So Unusual by Cyndi Lauper remains my favorite record. The woman I was dating recently gave me the vinyl picture disc as a present and it’s my most prized possession.
I HAVE done other stuff. I’ve done basically everything I can imagine doing. I worked in Corporate Real Estate Administration at a bank, managed an independent food business, bartended, waited tables, worked for two different media companies, managed the team that created all the credential for the Tribeca Film Festival, worked in retail, worked in HR, was an administrative assistant at a huge charitable trust and at a very prominent radio station, worked in a stock room, a video store, a film equipment rental house, worked as a background actor on movies and TV, worked in the art department on a several commercials, plus a bunch of other stuff. I came to music late. I made films first. I was very domestic and tried to live a “normal” life first. I made every effort to run away from following my dream, which was always to make records and play songs for people. Now those are the only two things I ever want to do.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
When I started doing this I thought the quality of the work counted for something. But it doesn’t. It just gets you into a very large room. The cream doesn’t rise to the top. Keeping your head down and just trudging ahead does not get you anywhere. Every step has to be strategic. I’ve had to learn a lot about intention in my personal life and that has helped me move my career forward. As an independent artist I have to be involved in aspects of my business, because that’s what making music for a living is, much more so than I’d like to be. You don’t think about that when you’re making up big, catchy hooks to attach your feelings to. I started taking song writing seriously as a means to cope with life. I was deep in the throes of alcohol abuse and thought about dying all the time. Writing songs saved my life. You never think about all the back end work involved in the business of music when you’re trying not to die. But if you want a career outside of open mics and your bedroom you have to.
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live today?
I love New York City more than I love most people. My love for it is the longest relationship of my life. The new record is called City Living and as far as I’m concerned it can’t be separated from it’s geographic anchor. Maybe other people hear things besides New York in it. I don’t. I hear subways and homeless people and taxis speeding by and couples fighting on 14th street loudly at two in the morning. It conjures cigarettes, drugs, sex, rooftops, broken hearts, and blackouts at East Village bars. It also addresses sobriety, conscious living, tolerance and love. All of those things together in a soup bubbling over and spilling onto the sidewalk are what New York is to me. That’s the lens through which I wrote the album and I hope it comes through to the listener.
My hometown on the other hand shaped me as a person in a fundamental way. I grew up north of Pittsburgh in a tremendously right wing community and was raised in the church. There was an indoctrination that I bought into and that caused me to hold onto some ignorant and shameful beliefs for longer than I should have. Eventually I sorted all that out and my right wing, Christian youth spawned the progressive ideas and values I hold today as well as my support for social justice. My home county in Pennsylvania was named on MSNBC on election night 2016 as the county that turned PA for the current administration. My life has become a repudiation of the fears and prejudices that drive voters to act out against their neighbors in alarming ways. Large swathes of my hometown still cling to those oppressive ideas and living in that community for 20 years inspired me to go in the opposite direction.
How would you say that you have grown as an artist since you first starting making music? What has remained the same? How has being an independent musician evolved over the years for you?
When I started writing songs I couldn’t even play guitar and I didn’t understand song writing at all. I used to always write the lyrics first then get really nervous that I would make up the wrong melody and totally destroy the song, as if there is such a thing as a “correct” melody. I started writing as a way to not die. Now I know how to write and can make up a song about anything. It takes time to learn that skill and lots of practice to get good at it. The element that has been consistent throughout it all is me. I have a way of approaching ideas and feelings that is my own regardless of what those thoughts or emotions are.
Being an independent musician was, is, and will continue to be about finding the money to get everything done. It’s not possible to work a regular job full time and also have a successful music career unless you define the word “success” in very personal terms. So the biggest obstacle is always money. Currently I’m taking background work on films to keep the rent paid while I’m working on promoting the new record. Everything suffers as a result. I have friends in other countries who are paid wages by their governments as musicians so they are able to tour and make records with a 100% singular focus. America doesn’t value art like that. We have deified the free market and we force artists to beg for money on crowd funding sites unless they come from wealth or somehow have a patron. It’s totally fucked.
Let’s talk about your newest album, “City Living.” What was the inspiration for this collection of songs? How did your move to Manhattan truly inspire them?
City Living is a loose chronicle of my move to Manhattan in 2005. The 13 years I’ve spent in New York feel like several different mini lifetimes. It’s one story but it’s too complicated to tell as one piece. So the last album, Broken Window, was reflections on getting sober. This new record is a collection of songs about the time before I was ready to accept that sobriety was the only reasonable choice if I wanted to stay alive. I wanted to use the sounds of songs I grew up with during the 80s to illustrate a time that that was more innocent. In some of the songs the narrator isn’t even lost yet. There are lots of other people’s stories I used to make the emotional connections I was aiming for in the lyrics. I started writing with my only objective being to write a summer record but it very quickly shifted to a summer record about New York City as the songs came to life. Then it shifted again to be a summer record about the thoughts and feelings I experienced pre-sobriety when I first moved to New York. I like to set an intention when I write a song or an album as a starting point but then I try to get out of the way and let the songs go where they want to go. Otherwise they come off as contrived and dishonest.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for you? What has been a favorite performance of yours so far? Do you have any upcoming shows the rest of this summer and into the fall? What’s next up for you musically?
Any show where the people are there to hear the songs as opposed to being there for beer, hooking up, playing bingo, eating dinner, talking to friends, studying, or whatever other reasons people end up at the venues I’m performing at are, is a good show. I’ve had great shows in living rooms, in bars with two people, and at real venues that are packed. It’s all about the energy and the give and take between you and the other people in the room. Playing as background in a dive bar in Arkansas fucking sucks. But that same bar with one woman sitting up front who heard the record on the internet and came to the show with intention changes everything.
There will be tour dates in the not too distant future but I’m not ready to announce them yet. We have more music recorded and ready to go that I’m really excited about but the record just came out so that won’t see the light of day for a bit. I have enough new material for three new records already and I’m still writing. There are a ton of covers I’d like to record too. I’d make a covers record next week if I could get the money to do it.
I would love to hear more about your video for “Heaven” and how it was one of the first videos shot using a drone and it won Best Music Video at the Sene Film Fest?! Did you know at the time that that was something revolutionary? Who originally came up with idea to film it that way?
I had almost nothing to do with that video. It’s spectacular and I’m really proud to be associated with it but it was fully a work by Daniel Feighery who directed and edited it. He saw the potential of drones really early on and offered to make that video. I’m really glad he did. All the awards and notoriety it achieved are his and he deserves all the credit. I basically showed up and smiled, got made fun of by a model, and rode rides at Coney Island.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period or is your music an escape from all that? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate?
I can’t speak for other people. I don’t hear enough new political music in my opinion. City Living ends with “Don’t Lose Heart,” which is about American oligarchs, police brutality, and women’s rights. I made an EP last year called Speak My Mind that included two very outspoken political tracks. I released an EP in December of 2015 titled The New New Colossus that called out the rampant racism on social media directed towards Obama and Syrian refugees. My first full length record has a song called “Snowfall” about income inequality. There’s a song on my second record called “73 Seconds of Truth” about the Challenger explosion that dips into the politics of that tragedy. Nina Simone said, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times,” and I agree with her. I’m still relatively unknown so I try to limit the directly political material in order to build an audience and a platform. Audiences have been responsive to political songs but streaming services and the media have not been. Eventually Spotify got behind the single “Speak My Mind” but initially they wouldn’t promote it at all. Nobody reviewed the EP when I first put it out. It’s frustrating. There’s a goddamn white supremacist in the White House and lots of taste makers and blogs who had previously embraced my work refused to engage when I released songs that pointed that out. I’d try to talk about Bernie Sanders and income inequality during radio interviews and the hosts would often literally pretend I hadn’t said anything and changed the topic.I will continue to speak up and write songs that reflect the times as best as I can. I am grateful for all of the outlets that are not afraid to cover music that has things to say.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
I fucking despise social media. I think it’s a cancer and I wish it didn’t exist. It’s a curse that you have to participate in as an artist building your audience. I like the possibility of fan engagement and interaction. I like the ability to share music and ideas instantly. I do not like the expectations that are set by social media. I don’t like that it’s so fucking corporate. I don’t like the ridiculous amount of time it takes every day. Most of the platforms have a positive side to them but they are also deeply toxic. If I wasn’t making music I would delete all of my social media and never look back. I got rid of my personal Facebook in October and it felt like a weight was lifted.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I want Greg Calbi to master one of my records more than I want just about anything. That’s a goal that I plan to achieve at some point as long as he keeps working. I’d really like to work with Jack Antonoff because the last Lorde record and the last St. Vincent record are both so spectacular. I heard the episode of Song Exploder where Lorde talks about making “Sober” with Jack and it took them a goddamn year. I cannot imagine working on a song for a year. But still I’d really like to see what he would do with my songs. I’d love to work with Aaron Dessner from the National, or Nika Roza Danilova who performs as Zola Jesus. Her records make my jaw drop and she co-produces them. Her music is so different than mine and I’d love to see what we came up with together. There’s a photographer in Brooklyn named Catalina Kulczar whose work I love and I look forward to her taking pictures of me at some point. What she does is very inspiring. I’d love to tour with David Bazan, I guess now it’s Pedro The Lion. I love and respect him so fucking much. I’d also love to open for Phoebe Bridgers, The National, Ryan Adams, Beach House, Cat Power. There are so many. I would absolutely DIE if I got to work with Lana Del Rey in any capacity. John Moreland’s records push me to work harder. He’s the best songwriter working today as far as I’m concerned. Shovels and Rope and Margo Price both mean so much to me. I’ve tried to consciously move away from the Americana label but I would work with either of them in a heartbeat. Just yes. No question about it. I continue to be inspired by Paul McCartney, Jack White, Cyndi Lauper, Trent Reznor, Bruce Springsteen, and so many others. I could talk about bands and how much I love them for days. This doesn’t even scratch the surface.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you and why?
A guitar seems like the obvious choice but I don’t know what I would do for new strings once I broke them.
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
Creatively speaking my favorite thing ever would be to have a melody used in Westworld on the player piano. It’s the coolest show going and the way they use current songs and make them sound the way they do on that piano is fucking outstanding. I would be honored forever to have a song used in any project the Duplass brothers are associated with. I have mad respect for those guys and I love all the work they do. I would of course love for any TV show or movie to license my music. I guess the one mainstream show that I’d pick if it were up to me would be This Is Us because it really seems to connect with a lot of people in a very emotional way. My mom loves NCIS a LOT so if they ever used one of my songs I would be really excited because that would make her happier than the paycheck would make me, and I’d LOVE that paycheck.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I’m speaking as authentically as possible and even when the stories in the songs aren’t about me the emotions are very real. They’re something I’ve felt or experienced. I hope that people connect with those emotions even when they don’t relate to the narrative of a particular song. I hope people are uplifted and encouraged. I hope that they’re inspired to find their own voice, or use their own voice if they’ve already found it to speak their truth and to speak truth to power. I hope the songs make people have a good time and they become a part of their lives in the same way my favorite music has become a part of mine.
(ALL PHOTOGRAPHY PROVIDED BY AMANDA BROWN)