With the release of his latest album Burden of Proof, Bob Schneider continues to break new ground, crafting his most ambitious and artistically complex album to date.
Every track on Burden of Proof features string arrangements composed by Schneider himself. The album showcases Schneider's decades-long partnership with the Tosca String Quartet and serves as a bold progression in his musical career.
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.
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."
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.
It's not much of a leap, then, to his recent show at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater. Billed as Bob Schneider and the Moonlight Orchestra, a tuxedo-clad Schneider brought the Tosca String Quartet onstage to perform richly textured, swoon-inducing versions of his own hits and some of the classics that inspired him in his youth.
Tosca, who recently celebrated their 15th anniversary, has an eclectic career to match Schneider's. Nationally renowned for their score for Richard Linklater's indie hit Waking Life, the quartet welcomes collaborations outside of the traditional realm of classical music.
Ready to take his music in a new direction, and eager for a creative challenge, Schneider crafted string arrangements for many of his songs, then rehearsed with Tosca to narrow down the songs that would ultimately become Burden of Proof.
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.
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. 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 showtune, raw and unguarded.
Schneider's songs thrive on the element of surprise, and the tracks on Burden of Proof are no exception. Amidst the hope-tinged despair of "Wish the Wind Would Blow Me" Schneider tosses out what amounts 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."
Exploring loss, lust, love, dark desires, and skeptical optimism, the songs prove to be both lyrically and musically some of Schneider's most moving and sophisticated works to date.
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. Each will be gifted with one song from the album to use as the soundtrack to a short film. 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 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. His first solo album Lonelyland is the all-time bestselling album at Waterloo Records, Austin's legendary music store. And he's won more Austin Music Awards than any other artist.
Always reinventing himself, Schneider currently has at least four musical side projects—he can be found some nights deep in the heart of Texas music with his Texas Bluegrass Massacre. On other nights he's fronting the bawdy, riotous funk-and-horns party band The Scabs. His collaborative shows with guitarist Mitch Watkins are soulful and crisp. And he's recently launched Hot Command to showcase his electronic music.
Bob Schneider sells out venues coast to coast. But no matter how far he travels, almost every Monday night you'll find him onstage at The Saxon Pub in Austin, his weekly residency for nearly fifteen years.
Each week he packs the small club to capacity. These sessions are playful and raw, the band wrestling with new material, reinvigorating classics. Schneider sits onstage, commanding the room. He's charismatic and friendly, bantering with his bandmates and heckling the audience. But he launches into each song with his whole being, and the crowd is instantly transported, tumbling through the dark recesses of his imagination.
Each show is full of surprises—audience requests slam into impromptu jam sessions that dance up against spontaneous riffs on whatever topics are floating around Schneider's mind that night.
Schneider satisfies his hungry fan base by recording all of his live shows and releasing them as "Frunk"— audiences can leave with a copy of the show in hand or can purchase and download entire shows off of his website.
Long-distance Schneider fans have recently found solace in his livestreamed shows via Stageit.com. Schneider sets up his laptop in his house and plays while fans toss out requests, compliments, and often raunchy solicitations via a chat window. For an hour, everyone's welcome to hang out in Bob's living room.
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. Recently, the Atomic Lobster Barn Gallery hosted a public exhibition of his paintings, sculptures, and multimedia collages. And his etchings and prints are often on display at Flatbed Press.
But in the end, the crowds beg for his music. And Bob Schneider delivers with Burden of Proof, a much-heralded explosive addition to his already expansive artistic canon, a work of sophisticated craftsmanship and a wild ride to boot.