Bob Schneider has reigned as a de facto prince 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.
Born in Michigan and raised mostly in Munich by his opera-singer father and teacher mother, Schneider initially wanted to be a visual artist, and ended up at the University of Texas at El Paso pursuing an art degree. In 1988, he decided to give up the art game and hi-tailed it to Austin to join the music scene, motivated in no small part by the reputed attractiveness of rock n’ rollers to the fairer sex.
He started burning up stages in Austin and elsewhere leading bands such as Joe Rockhead, The Scabs, The Ugly Americans and Texas Bluegrass Massacre. Around 1998 he began to focus more on forming a solo identity, and has since recorded numerous “Bob Schneider” records, including 2001’s breakout Lonelyland, his first major label release. He continues to perform and record Lonelyland, the band, which is made up of a number of very special Austin musicians, especially Oliver Steck on keyboards and accordion, Conrad Choucroun on drums and Danny Levin on cello.
Schneider continues to be a prolific and utterly unpredictable songwriter, and spreads his seed solo and through his diverse side projects. Along the way he has survived risks of all kinds, including a few bad dependencies and a relationship with Sandra Bullock.
To behold Bob Schneider in concert, particularly in a small venue, is to enter into an alternative universe solely of his making. You might be enthralled with a particularly lovely song, Bob softly playing his guitar with one hand and the keyboard with the other, and suddenly you are launched into a completely improvised piece of soaring, and likely disturbing, performance art that challenges your very notion of reality. In fact, there is a persistent rumor that Schneider is nothing more than a puppet apparition, an empty flesh vessel channeling the random dreams and thoughts of the ghosts of Salvador Dali, Lenny Bruce, Phyllis Diller and John Lennon.
Three things to know about Bob Schneider (1) he ultimately resumed his talents for visual art and now generates drawings and paintings that match his music in beauty and fascinating strangeness, (2) he has long enjoyed creative associations with Austin Songwriter favorites Jeff Plankenhorn and Bruce Hughes, and (3) during his early school years, Catholic nuns identified him as a left-handed heretic, and he now writes with his right hand. He is still a heretic.