Bob Schneider is what you might call a multi-disciplinary talent. He spends the majority of his time making music but still manages to create fascinating collages between gigs on the tour bus or from his home studio in Austin, Texas. He began his career as a fine artist and successfully transitioned to an award-winning musician and songwriter. Yet throughout his music career, he has maintained his creative mojo by producing new art in different media (check out his blog for proof) as well as exhibiting in galleries and museums. Presently, Schneider is working on several new collage works and has recently entered the studio to record his next album, King Kong.
Thanks for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to talk to us. Could you give us a brief rundown of where you’re from and how you found out you had the creative gene?
I’m from Ypsilanti, Michigan originally. It’s a pretty run-down place, but that’s where my parents were going to college. We moved to Germany when I was two though, and I pretty much grew up overseas, even attending an American University in Munich, Germany for two years before returning to the States. When I was 6 or so, my parents had a party and I drew a portrait of one of their guests. My dad found the drawing the next day and was calling around later to see who had made the drawing. I told him I had done it, and he flipped. I guess that’s when I had an idea that I might be good at this thing. Art was definitely my big escape from the real world. I spent hours everyday drawing as a kid. I liked the idea that I was in control of this alternative world and that whatever I wanted to happen would and could happen.
As a talented young artist, you had your sights set on a career as a fine artist and even were accepted into the rather intensive art program at the University of Texas. But something changed once you were there. How did you make the decision to go the music route instead?
When I got to college, I was taking mostly fine art classes and was planning on becoming a full-time artist. I had played guitar and piano my whole life though (my dad taught guitar and voice and was a professional opera singer to boot) and I had performed throughout my childhood. It just wasn’t ever something I thought I’d do. It’s what my dad did. I did perform in a few talent shows though, and the excitement and attention I got, especially from the ladies, really got me hooked and since I wasn’t doing very well in school at the time, I dropped out and moved to Austin, where I heard there was a pretty cool music scene. I figured I’d give it a year or two and see how things went and if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to art. I’ve been making music for a living ever since.
Judging by your website, you’re constantly playing live shows and touring. It would appear that you rarely have time to make new work – yet you maintain a steady flow of new ideas that seem to find their way to becoming new artwork. When do you find the time to make art?
Writing and performing music takes up most of my creative energy and for years that’s mainly what I focused on. I think of the visual side of things like a big barrel that fills up inside of me, very slowly over the course of months or even years sometimes and when it fills up, I have to make some art. I’m going through a period now where I’m spending a lot of time making art, and I don’t know why. I’m sure I’ll empty the bucket at some point, but right now I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from creating the work. That’s really what it comes down to. Since I don’t need to make the art to support myself, I really only do it for my own satisfaction, and if that’s happening, then the work keeps coming out.
The new works from your art and writing blog are very interesting. Is there a connected narrative to these collage works, or are they monologues or stories unto themselves?
I think the work I’m doing now is very similar to the complicated and dense pen and ink and intaglio print work that I was doing a few years ago. It’s a mishmash of anything and everything that I can think of or lay my hands on. After a while, the actual images become so dense that they begin to fade into a whole, creating the overall idea of a figure or personality. I think of people as an amalgamation of everything that they experience combined with the personality that they are born with and I guess that’s what these figures represent to me. They are similar yet unique and they change as I work on them. They never really seem to be completed either – but at some point, because they are a snapshot of this one moment, you have to I guess. The pieces I have at home though, do continue to change over time. I’ll come up with an idea or see something new and make the change. Obviously, once it’s out the door, that’s pretty much it.
So while we’ve been chatting back and forth the past couple months you’ve started recording a new album. How did you come up with title of King Kong? Is the process for writing music different or similar to making your artworks?
My process for writing music is similar to my visual art in that I come at both from a very intuitive starting place. I don’t have any real preconceived agenda for what the song or image is going to be when I start. I just start playing piano or guitar or start playing the marimba or whatever is lying about and making sounds. Eventually as I do this, the song starts revealing itself to me. The same happens with the art. It’s like an excavation where more and more of the song or artwork is discovered. Sometimes it’s all there, and sometimes I have to make some of it up myself. The less I make up, though, the better the song is. Once the songs are written, and I write a lot of songs, at least 50 a year at this point (at one point I was writing 150 a year) then I can go through and figure out, what I want to put on an album.
With this record, I wanted to record my favorite songs I haven’t recorded yet, and so it’s really all over the map stylistically. Those are the records I enjoy the most though – a record like The Beatles’ White Album, where you don’t know what you’re going to get from one song to the next. As for the title of the record, I wrote a song called King Kong that I’ve included on the album. The song is really sad but I love it as a title, because I know people are going to make up stories about what the title means, and that’s the part that I find very interesting. How the viewer interacts with the art. It’s like the more you leave to the imagination, the more the viewer can fill in the blanks from their own unique experience making so much more personal and hopefully interesting.