Sam Snyder is just as thoughtful and curious as his music. He's widely known in Rochester for his overhand style of guitar-playing as well as for his multi-instrumental capacities and involvement in various bands — including Thunder Body and Maybird. Snyder has recorded two EPs as Overhand Sam (OHS), his solo project, which were released on CD, and also has a cassette tape of material he left off the previous releases. He used the cassette medium to achieve more of the intimate lo-fi aesthetic he wanted. In his style, his voice searches in low intimate tones over sentimental lyrics and vivid guitar lines. It's raw, confessional and honest.
When I met Snyder at Boulder Coffee on Alexander, he seemed energized despite having worked all day and it being after 9 p.m. His energy was especially notable given that two nights before — when we first met at Boulder for an interview — Snyder had doubled over in pain only 10 minutes into our conversation. Holding his side, Snyder mumbled something about his spleen and wondered if he should go to the hospital. Even while his girlfriend was on the way to pick him up, Snyder still offered to continue the interview. That wasn't going to happen, so we postponed. But an hour later, Snyder assured me that he was fine, and we rescheduled.
This time, we sit at a different table to avoid the curse from the other night. Snyder sips a Yerba Mate tea as he talks about learning to play guitar in an overhand style, recording to tape, and stretching genres in different bands. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
City: You're known by the name Overhand Sam. Why did you start playing guitar overhand?
Sam Snyder: I broke my arm when I was 13 and was in a cast for like 12 or 13 weeks. The cast went up to my shoulder, so i couldn't move my arm at all. I was home a lot and bored 'cause I couldn't do as many things. My brother had a guitar he didn't really play so I put his guitar on my lap and used my cast as a slide, and thought it was cool how it sounded. So I just started playing guitar this way.
Who are your major music influences?
They've changed a lot over the years, but Jimi Hendrix live at the BBC is a top. You can hear how much fun they're having. It speaks to me about what music should really be for everybody.
More recently, Grizzly Bear — I just love them. I remember loving Moby when I was younger. Remember him? It was this different atmospheric stuff, and I was so counter-culture at the time. I like the MC5. But then I've gone through intense jazz periods — really so much influences me.
As a multi-instrumentalist, what's your writing process like?
It's really different every time. Some songs I make a point of writing the lyrics first and then putting them to chords. Sometimes I write a chord progression or a melody first — depends on what I'm listening to. I was listening to Kurt Vile and I think the way he writes is that he writes his lyrics first and then plays to them. So when I was listening to him a lot I wanted to write more like that.
When you get in a music rut, how do you get out of it?
I kind of have a method. Because I don't try to write anything, I try to not allow for ruts. Sometimes I run into issues with lyrics and all I do is — instead of writing lyrics, I'll journal about how I'm feeling. If I don't think I can journal, then I'll draw or do something else that's creative. I never felt a time I wasn't able to pick up on something by doing something else.
Musically, I'll pick up a different instrument. I play on a really cheap nylon string guitar. At my old apartment, my roommate had a guitar that only had four strings and I wrote probably more songs on that than any other guitar.
Aside from your solo work, you're also in Thunder Body and Maybird. What's it like being in three quite different musical projects at the same?
It's very fulfilling. I love it. I look at Thunder Body as a soul band where we use reggae as the medium to play more soul-sounding music. Because I love so many different types of music, I get an opportunity to exploit that and work with so many different artists.
You released a cassette tape of your music recently. Tell me about that.
I worked with [local musician] Kurt Johnson on that project. He's on side A [of the cassette] — his music as The Wallboards [Johnson's solo project]. I actually played clarinet on that which I don't really know how to play. That was fun. I'm on side B, which are all songs that are only available on tape. It comes with a digital download, but there are bonus tracks that are only on the tape. Kurt and I also hand-painted each of the tapes.
Why record on tape?
In this time where you can stream everything immediately, you lose that moment of clarity and some sort of commitment. I really wanted to make the tape sort of reflect this artistry that I think doesn't necessarily get talked about. I remember making mix tapes as a kid and thinking that was so fun. I feel like I'm sort of keeping that part of my own childhood relevant.
So what's next?
This summer, a full-length record is coming. I'm working with a filmmaker-artist in New York City on a video. It will be fun.
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.