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Todd Snider’s The Devil You Know


Todd Snider and engineer/studio owner Eric McConnell (at the console)

Singer/songwriter Todd Snider has perfected an easy, conversational sound in concert and on the albums he records in his friend Eric McConnell’s (unnamed) home studio. With deadpan humor and a Southern drawl, he comfortably imparts some of the most incisive indictments of modern society you’ll hear on record. “He’s such a performer,” McConnell says. “When he goes out there, he doesn’t need a band.”

Snider does like to record with a band, however, including co-producer/guitarist Will Kimbrough; songwriter/guitarist Tommy Womack; steel guitarist Lloyd Green; drummers Craig Wright, Paul Griffith and Paul Buchignani; keyboard player David Zollo; and others.

According to McConnell, the vibe is very casual — a group of friends making music, mostly live — recording to his trusty 8-track Otari tape machines. The studio is built into his 100-plus-year-old Victorian home. He’s done no acoustical treating, but uses different rooms to get different sounds. “The front room is real live,” McConnell says. “If we want something real slappy, we’ll put it in the kitchen. The living room is the drum room.”

Likewise, McConnell’s studio is not long on gear. He has a Sound Workshop console and an assortment of microphones; he rents other gear needed for a given project, logically reasoning that, “In Nashville, any piece of gear you want, you can get it in about 45 minutes. If you want 400 microphones and a reverb, it’s all here.” He does have a lot of musical instruments on hand — pianos, organ, bass, guitars, drums — and musicians know they will find what they need: “Lots of times, a drummer will come over and not even bring sticks,” observes McConnell.

On Snider’s albums, regardless of the song arrangement, Snider’s vocal is the key element because his fans actually listen to the lyrics. But once again, the importance of equipment is downplayed, as Snider’s voice is miked with what McConnell calls “a podium mic with a switch on it. It was like 10 bucks. We just started using it, and it sounded good.”

McConnell has been making a living recording at home for five years, and the key seems to be a warm atmosphere where the players are enjoying themselves and feeling so relaxed that people who drop by end up staying. “My friend [engineer] Joshua Muncey came in to calibrate the tape machines,” McConnell recalls, “and he ended up mixing the whole record with me. He got along good with Todd.”

Similarly, Jack White and Loretta Lynn dropped into McConnell’s place a few years ago to do some pre-production and ended up tracking the Grammy-winning album Van Lear Rose. “They came over and recorded seven songs one weekend, and everybody was digging it, so we got back together and recorded seven more,” McConnell says. “I get a lot of that, where people just show up and we record something.”