Bob Schneider has reigned as a de facto king of the Austin music scene for a couple of decades now, and while no one stays on top forever, the man shows no signs of decay in quality or creativity. Schneider is the city’s genius chameleon, mixing pop, hip-hop, folk and biting humor with essential melodies and bloody brilliant lyrics. His joys and heartbreaks, laid bare in song, help us understand our own.
Schneider has been a recording artist for 25 years, putting out his first record (“Party Till You’re Dead”) in 1991 as frontman for Joe Rockhead, a funk-rock combo in the vein of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That band was followed by his best-known group, Ugly Americans, which toured with the Dave Matthews Band and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Ugly Americans was a kind of alt-rock supergroup, with former members of Cracker, Poi Dog Pondering and Mojo Nixon’s band.
Schneider also fronted a full-on funk ensemble that played around Austin in the late 1990s called The Scabs, at the same time he was establishing himself as a solo artist. His first solo project, “Songs Sung and Played on Guitar at the Same Time,” came out in 1998, and he’s gone on to record an almost inconceivably diverse and eclectic array of songs since then, with his work making it onto the soundtracks of seven major motion pictures (and one indie film).
All told, Schneider has been the singer and main songwriter on nearly 30 studio albums, and he has been named Musician of the Year six times at the Austin Music Awards. Considering the renowned strength of the music scene in Austin, that’s saying something. His artistry coupled with his movie-star looks and boyish charm makes it a wonder he’s not a household name around the rest of the country the way he is in Austin.
His prodigious musical output is a result of a songwriting challenge group he started 16 years ago while touring. At first, the challenge was to write one song a day, and the people doing the writing were on the tour bus with him. They’d come up with a title each morning and at the end of the day play the songs they came up with for each other.
The pace of the songwriting challenge has eased up substantially since its beginnings, going to one song a week, but the scope of the participation in the group has widened to include a lot of widely known musicians.
“We’ve had lots of famous folks in the game from time to time, but they usually don’t last very long,” Schneider says. “The exception would be Jason Mraz, who has been in the game on and off for six or seven years and is one of the most consistent songwriters in the group. Very talented and will always turn a song in. At the end of the day, though, I really only have the group as a motivation to get me to write a song each week. Otherwise, a month might go by without writing anything and that would be a shame.”
Schneider has a fantastic website where fans can listen to all of the songs from the three five- song “King Kong Suite” EPs he released last year, with humorous commentary from Schneider himself between songs. The website also has the 10 videos he created for “King Kong” songs using public-domain found footage, including the menacing “Black Mountain” video that culls scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s directorial debut.