Interview with Zeb Snyder

Today we’re talking with Zeb Snyder. Zeb, tell us who you are, what you do and where you’re located.

I was born and raised in Lexington, NC. Still live there today, 24 years later. I currently play guitar with the Appalachian Road Show. I also teach guitar, mandolin, dobro, and bass both over Skype and in person.

ACOUSTICULT: Tell us a little bit about your beginnings. Your origin story, so to speak. How did you get into music, and what made you choose this path over others?

My parents initially had the idea for me to start taking guitar lessons when I was seven years old. They weren’t musicians themselves at that time, but they were avid music fans, and they wanted their kids to be educated in music. They put my younger sister Samantha in a classical violin program called Suzuki when she was three years old, and I started Suzuki guitar not long after she started violin. I treated Suzuki guitar more as a school subject that I enjoyed than as a real interest of my own. In the meantime, I was listening to lots of different music aside from classical. Bluegrass started to stand out as something I really enjoyed. My parents bought great bluegrass albums and took us to bluegrass shows in North Carolina and Virginia the whole time I was playing classical. My sister and I started to try out some bluegrass material after about four years of playing classical. When I started playing bluegrass, I took off. I had found something that my ear latched on to, and I spent as much time as possible trying to chase that sound that I loved. From that point on, I’ve been hooked on music, and I’ve always operated in the same way. My whole approach is based on listening and inspiration. I hear things that make a significant impression on me, and react by either learning how to play that sound, or creating something based off of that inspiration. It’s the deepest and most important thing in my life, and that’s why I almost have no choice but to try to play music for a living. It’s not an easy path to follow, but I ultimately wouldn’t have it any other way.

As my sister and I developed as bluegrass musicians, we quickly formed a family band. I taught my Dad how to play bass from scratch, going off of what I knew from guitar and learning how to play bass myself. We ended up playing together for eleven years, recording six albums, touring all around the country, and basically having our most significant formative life experiences through music.

ACOUSTICULT: What are your favorite 5 albums, and do they influence your work? If so, in what ways?

Native American – Tony Rice: I have to include a Tony Rice album is this list, and I believe this one is my favorite, although it’s hard to choose. Tony was one of my first major influences. As I grew up, he influenced me first through guitar playing specifically, then through overall artistry. I think this album may represent his artistry most fully. There is pure acoustic tone, a broad selection of material that somehow still sounds unified, tasteful improvisation, and perhaps some of the best dynamics ever recorded.

A Decade of Hits 1969-1979 – The Allman Brothers Band: I’m not normally a fan of compilation albums, but this was my introduction to a band that’s one of my biggest musical influences by far. I found this in my dad’s music collection as I was expanding into rock after having explored bluegrass for a while. Countless rock bands have influenced me, but the ABB stood head and shoulders above all others. I was already a fan of extended instrumental jams through listening to various newgrass bands, but listening to the ABB helped me really develop that skill. In particular, I learned a lot about restraint, building the solo to a climax, and really speaking through the instrument, rather than seeing these jams as just a sequence of licks in the correct key. Dickey Betts’ playing stood out to me in particular, even though I enjoyed Duane Allman’s playing immensely. Dickey remains one of my top favorite guitar players in any genre.

ACOUSTICULT: I have this album too.

Shine On Rainy Day – Brent Cobb: Brent Cobb is one of the most honest, relatable, and down to earth singers and songwriters I’ve heard. This album does a tremendous job of capturing a lot of what I feel about the rural Southern culture that I grew up in and love so much. I also love how the actual studio recording sounds. I reminds me tonally of outlaw country albums from the 70s. All the tones are pure and real, and there’s a lot of air and space in the mix. The music can breathe, and all the instruments are distinct. Makes me hopeful that I can one day record music that captures Southern culture and sounds this good.

The Whippoorwill – Blackberry Smoke: Simply put, this is my favorite album by my favorite band. I can say a lot of the same things about this album as I did about Shine On Rainy Day when it comes to Southern culture, tones, and recording quality. Blackberry Smoke delivers those vibes more as full on badass southern rock and less as country, although there’s still plenty of country present. Charlie Starr is pretty much perfect when it comes to tone and taste on both guitar and vocals. When I play electric guitar, I use his inspiration much more directly, but when I play acoustic, I often find ways to make my playing feel like what he does, rather than sound like it. There’s a lot of gritty restraint and punchy phrasing in his playing. When I find myself overplaying, which is common as a flatpicker, thinking about Charlie’s playing often helps me put my sound back where I want it.

Glamour And Grits – Sam Bush: Sam is without question my favorite mandolin player, but again, his influence on me has just as much to do with overall artistry. Hearing him bring rock, soul, and reggae into acoustic music blew my mind when I was a kid. It’s often hard to bring those influences into acoustic music effectively without sounding corny or thin, and Sam is a shining example of how to do it right. He also has a sense of groove that is unmatched. While you can apply that directly to mandolin playing, it really helps with any instrument in any genre. In addition to everything I’ve mentioned so far, Sam also casually lays down some of the best rhythm guitar ever recorded on “The Ballad of Spider John.”

ACOUSTICULT: Which part of your music career do you enjoy the most – live performance, recording, writing, etc.?

Live performance by far. To me, that’s what everything leads up to. When I write a song, I’m thinking about how I want it to make an audience feel. Then I perform it and get to see what happens. When I record, it’s because I want an audience to be blown away by a live performance and to buy the recording in order to try to take that feeling home with them. There are so many unique, almost supernatural things that happen during a live performance. You’re sending out, riding, and receiving vibes from the audience and the other musicians. It’s a very inthemoment thing, and it really can’t be recreated any other way.

ACOUSTICULT: What are three musicians today do you think are underrated?

I almost hate to use the word “underrated,” because all of these musicians are respected by anyone who has heard them, but here are some folks that I really want to hear more from.

Jacob Burleson, who currently plays guitar for Volume Five, is probably one of the best musicians I know. My sister and I kind of grew up jamming with him, because we often wound up at the same festivals. We ended up learning stuff off of albums like Bela Fleck’s Drive and Strength in Numbers’ Telluride Sessions and jamming those tunes when we got together. Anybody that sees Jacob play will be impressed, but what they may not know is that what he does at a V5 show is just a fraction of what he’s capable of overall. He can play so many different instruments in so many different genres, and he’s very intuitive about all of it. I really hope to see him put out some creative material of his own soon.

Abby Hartley is a great multi-instrumentalist from Arkansas.

ACOUSTICULT: My people – she was our first interview!

I’ve mostly heard her playing guitar and mandolin. She’s spent some time in the family band world like me, and I believe she’s currently playing bass with the Purple Hulls, who are also really talented folks. She’s just got a great natural feel to her picking. Always makes tasteful choices. I hope to hear a lot more from her in the near future.

Kameron Keller is a tremendous bass player and a good friend of mine. I got to play with him when I was with the Darrell Webb Band in 2018. Impeccable groove and tone. Just the real deal when it comes to bass playing. I think he’s already becoming one of those people that will often be listed as an influence for other bass players.

ACOUSTICULT: Tell us a little bit about your current rig – what does your “rig” consist of?

It’s pretty simple these days. A Wayne Henderson sunburst D18 (#522), a BlueChip TAD1R 60 flatpick, an Elliot McKinney capo, and a Levy’s leather guitar strap I’ve had since I was a teenager. I’ve been playing Wayne’s guitars since I won an OM18 he made (#399) at a youth guitar competition. I still play that guitar too. I feel very fortunate to have those guitars and to have Wayne as a friend. I’ve never played anything else that fits my style so well. I always go straight into a mic onstage. I think that’s something I picked up from people like Tony Rice. I feel like that’s the most pure way to bring across the tone of the guitar, so I always go with that, even if a pickup might give me advantages in other areas.

ACOUSTICULT: If you were given $100,000 to spend on an album production, what would it look like?

I don’t really have specifics, because I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to recording. I would just focus on hiring the right kind of people to go for that pure vintage sound like I mentioned earlier. Something like how 70s outlaw country records sounded or how any of Tony Rice’s classic recordings sounded. Even if that means going analog and possibly making things more difficult, I’m going to chase that sound.

ACOUSTICULT: What is your favorite album or recording so far that you’ve made?

The Snyder Family Band made two albums that I felt like completed our sound: Wherever I Wander and The Life We Know. Those albums were the point at which we finally made our material varied, but unified. They’re not perfect, but they’re what I’m most proud of so far. I also have to mention playing on Adam Steffey’s album New Primitive. I was blown away that he asked me to play on that album when he could have gotten anybody in the business. Playing against his mandolin chop caused me to be inspired and to play some of the best stuff I was capable of at the time.

ACOUSTICULT: What are you currently working on?

I can’t give away too much at this time, but ever since the Snyder Family Band finished recording The Life We Know in 2016, I haven’t done much with my own creativity. I’ve mainly been working hard to play for the Darrell Webb Band and then the Appalachian Road Show. I’ve really enjoyed every bit of that, but lately I’ve been working on some material that will be launched soon as a new project where I can be creative again. Really looking forward to getting that going when the time is right.

ACOUSTICULT: We are really looking forward to your next release Zeb! Thanks for joining us!