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Interview: 'Overhand Sam' Snyder

Mr. October


Sam Snyder -- commonly known as "Overhand Sam," for his unorthodox guitar-playing style -- never tries to set expectations. He just imagines that each show, in its own way, will be a great time. The multifaceted, Rochester-based musician is on a roll right now: fronting his own band Overhand Sam (OHS) and working on the forthcoming record "Bad Weapons"; being an active member of the New York City-based band Maybird, which is now signed to Columbia Records;playing guitar in Rochester's Anamon; and serving as sound engineer and producer of a few albums put out by local bands.

As if this weren't enough, Sam is about to begin a month-long residency at Three Heads Brewing. Throughout the month of October, Snyder will be joined by a rotating cast of musicians to perform an entirely new set of material from week to week. Starting with a Velvet Underground tribute on October 4 and ending with what Snyder describes as perhaps "the most ambitious thing I've ever done, but potentially the best night of my life," a full performance of "The White Album" by The Beatles on October 25. In an email interview, Snyder talked about his seemingly endless projects and how he juggles them all. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

CITY: You're based out of Rochester, but I know that you have a lot of ties to Brooklyn, especially with some members of Maybird currently living there. How does it work long-distance?

Sam Snyder: We don't get to work quite as much as we would like to together, but fortunately we are hyper-productive when we are together. The little breaks we have here and there turn into really good opportunities for me to finish projects. I find myself involved in producing, mixing, or pick up work here and there.

Do you see a move in your future?

I love Rochester, but it has crossed my mind pretty frequently and often that leaving could be in my future. It's a great central hub, six hours from a lot of things, and my friends and family are here. But it's getting more expensive, and I often worry about the music scene here and I wonder. Nothing is set in stone, but adventure could be afoot.

You also have been doing some producing for some Rochester artists. How does playing the role of producer vary from playing in your different projects?

I'm fortunate to oftentimes be able to be trusted with other people's art. I try to pick everyone's brains for the music they like to listen to and play off those influences mixed with what I think is cool.

So for your residency, you chose to do a couple of tributes, with one night devoted to The Velvet Underground. How did you land on that?

The Velvet Underground is one is of my favorite bands. I just always really liked the vibe of all those songs. They could define all types of people, and they represented being cool and the heyday of rock and roll. It felt like a no-brainer to do a bunch of their tunes. And the band had done that before where we, unannounced, played a whole set of Velvet Underground covers instead of doing a "normal" set. I think someone in the audience cried. It was a great time.

And you'll be covering "The White Album" by The Beatles.

"The White Album" is one of those records that has always been there for me. My mom made me a mixtape with "Rocky Raccoon" on it when I was a kid, and I would listen to that tape a lot. That record has had a really huge impact on the sound I wanted my own records to have. It really feels like two records — one from Paul and one from John, with a few George tunes and Ringo's number — all smashed together in this way that feels so satisfying. It just seemed like a perfect set list.

Does playing cover shows fill a different hole for you than playing your original music does?

During my residency I sort of left out my solo stuff. Not for any particular reason. It was kind of an accident, and I ran out of weeks. I just figured, "Do something different and special that we'll only do this one time." My band will be the one performing "The White Album," featuring some of my best friends. I just want every set of mine for the rest of time to be memorable for the crowd. My last solo show I made up a song on the fly with audience participation, and it was pretty good.

So writing your own music is still very important to you, I take it.

Most of my songs are reflections in how I'm feeling. Usually I don't really know what the song is about for a year or so after I write it. The song "Confusion" was my answer to the Hendrix song "Love or Confusion," after I referenced some of the lyrics from the Hendrix song in the title track to "Longer Legs."

You seem pleased with the way your latest record turned out.

This new record "Bad Weapons" is cool. Having Benton [Sillick] and Dennis [Mariano's] playing adds a lot of personality and reminds me of if Ray Davies was playing songs written by Can, with Serge Gainsbourg's rhythm section from the Melody Nelson record. And I was trying to do an impression of Lou Reed, while pretending to play guitar like Hendrix. Or at least that's sort of how I hear it.

What's next for you?

I know we're all looking forward to learning and internalizing some of these songs on a deeper level, and hopefully helping out the music scene here in Rochester by way of having a cool hang every Thursday. Anamon will be out of town for a week promoting their new record, and I'll be with them playing guitar. I recorded and played on Anamon's "Purple, Green, and Yellow," which just came out. It's gotten some blog buzz and it's pressed to vinyl, which is always cool and exciting.

Besides that, I would really like to have the rest of my next solo record "Bad Weapons" out, so I'll be maybe spending some time at home with Benton and Dennis on that. Maybird's first full-length "Things I Remember From Earth," is coming out soon, too. You'll have to follow me on Instagram to know where I'm playing, though. I'm pretty bad at the promoting thing.

You can follow Sam Snyder on Instagram here: @overhandsam.