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Songs for Snüzz 

Caitlin Cary, Greg Humphreys & more talk their songs and Snzz

Mainstay is chiefly a nautical term, a strong rope that connects to the mast to provide core support. It's used to describe people, too—folks like Britt Harper Uzzell, who for 25 years and under the nom de tunes Snüzz, has been a wise and wiry presence costarring in a variety of bands (including Bus Stop and International Orange), side-manning for Ben Folds, and connecting music scenes in Greensboro and the Triangle.

"Working with Snüzz, it seemed like everything clicked. Not only did he readily accept my ideas, but he readily understood them," says Raleigh's Jeff Carroll who was in the Greensboro band Big Kids with Snüzz in the '80s before forming the Desmonds in the Triangle. "We could get together and soon complete half-baked ideas, and always go away feeling like we had accomplished something. Snüzz showed a lot of enthusiasm for my songs even though his writing was better than my own. He made me a better guitarist. His encouragement from that period still means a lot."

Dillon Fence and Hobex vet Greg Humphreys boils things down to this: "Snüzz is a complete original, an amazing songwriter and performer, and a great friend. He's never stopped doing what he loves, and I'll always love him for that."

On Labor Day, Carroll, Humphreys and a host of other friends in Snüzz's musical orbit are gathering to celebrate his years of mainstay efforts and his music, as well as offer some support of their own as they raise funds to apply toward Snüzz's lymphoma treatments. Part of the show is dubbed Snüzz-e-oke, with various local musicians joining the house band to perform a couple songs written by Snüzz. There will also be mini-sets by some of Snüzz's former bands, including Big Kids and International Orange. His current band, the Numbers, will also take the stage.

Inspired by the large roster for the event, Song of the Week expands to Songs of the Week and spotlights four of the participating musicians about songs, as well as Snüzz himself.

click to enlarge Jeff Carroll (far left)
  • Jeff Carroll (far left)

"PRETEND SHE'S ALRIGHT" BY JEFF CARROLL AND BRITT HARPER UZZELL

[remastered version, originally on Jeff Carroll & the Desmonds' Chocolate Box, 1994]

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What do you remember most about writing the song?

JEFF CARROLL: My excellent memory of the distant past haunts me and this song. The main guitar riff on the chorus was something that had been nagging me to be used. Musically, that riff led to the melody, which then led to everything else. Lyrically, it was inspired by the cranky woman living in the apartment next door. Her life was quite dreadful and for some reason she felt the need to include everyone. She was part Schleprock, part Cotton Hill, and had a voice not far from Karl Childers from Sling Blade. There was no love in her life, no love for life. It made me want to reach out, but I quickly found that being a friend didn't work. Every aspect of my existence somehow created a problem for her, and mere trivialities of life were blown out of proportion. The volume of my acoustic guitar somehow prevented her elderly mother from sleeping in the middle of the day. Or apparently my television's volume traveled through my door, across the hall, through her door to where it overpowered the sound of her own television. Several times a week she would bang on my wall or knock on my door to complain about something and often threatened to call the police about the "noise." I definitely was not the bad musician neighbor. "Please do, please call somebody," I begged. Eventually, I decided not to give in to her relentless and incurable disease, and I did a beautiful job of blocking out the wall-banging and the gripes, and I felt better. The lyrics are more likely to be interpreted as a story about troubled lovers, but that's OK. Really it's about people living happily in their own misery....

"Pretend She's Alright," written a couple of years post-Big Kids, has a definite Snüzz-like structure, but actually Snüzz only wrote the guitar riff coming out of the bridge. I called him one day and asked, "Hey, do you mind if I take this riff from 'Werewolf' [an old Big Kids tune] and place it in one part of this new song I have? It works perfectly." 'Werewolf' eventually resurfaced years later on Snüzz's Harper album under the name "No Time," so you can check it out and compare.

What's your favorite line or couplet?

"She knows she's headed nowhere but it takes a while."

Who would you love to hear perform the song?

Peg Leg Sam.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HOLDEN RICHARDS
  • Photo by Holden Richards

"FROM NOW ON" BY JEFF HART

[from Jeff Hart and the Ruins' Glances from a Nervous Groom, 1995]

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What do you remember most about writing the song?

JEFF HART: I remember that it was pretty much a true story, and the song almost wrote itself. I didn't labor over it very much. The names have been changed (or not used) to protect the innocent and guilty. Most of that album was focused on a tight group of friends in Raleigh at the time, the mid '90s.

What's your favorite line or couplet?

I like "colder than the backside of your pillowcase." There's even a Facebook fan page for that concept now, the cold side of the pillowcase. I also like the "the only light you see is on your radio/ fading in and out of stereo." Clearly, it was an old analog radio, one I've had since high school.

Who would you love to hear perform the song?

I'd love for Tom Petty to get a shot at this one, or Doleful Lions.

click to enlarge humphreys-web.jpg

"SO FAR AWAY" BY GREG HUMPHREYS

[from Hobex's U Ready, Man?, 2002]

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What do you remember most about writing the song?

GREG HUMPHREYS: We had just started playing the festival circuit around this time. I was inspired to write a paean to that experience. I wrote a basic demo on my four-track, and we arranged this version at our band house on Lakeview Dr. The arrangement ended up being music-as-lyrical metaphor; it starts out as a tight A/B funk tune and then opens up into a layered improvisational soundscape. On this recording, Dustin Clifford and Andy Ware are monolithic. Kai Alexander exploded on keys, and Robert Sledge put together a great mix.

What's your favorite line or couplet?

"I know a field where we can yield under the stars, we'll be for real." [It] pretty much sums up the appeal of the music festival for many of us.

Who would you love to hear perform the song?

Maybe Prince? My falsetto vocal approach is pretty Prince-y on this one. Really, I'd like to hear Curtis Mayfield do this track (and the rest of the catalog). His album Live at the Bitter End was a huge inspiration for me.

click to enlarge caitlin-web.jpg

"DESIRE" BY CAITLIN CARY

[from Tres Chicas' Sweetwater, 2004]

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What do you remember most about writing the song?

CAITLIN CARY: While I consider this to be my most "clever" song—perhaps even my most English-major-y (if I may coin a phrase) song—what I really remember most about writing it was thinking about how dumb I'd felt trying to understand deep philosophical/ psychoanalytic treatises on desire, particularly by a theoretician named Lacan, who I was expected to digest and, to extend the metaphor, to regurgitate, in grad school. I don't think I understood a lick of it. If you'd care to try to sympathize, check this out: http://nosubject.com/Desire.

What I did seem to understand a little better was the Buddhist concept, in which desire is kind of the root of all evil—the one thing which, when eliminated, more or less guarantees happiness. If you don't want, then what you don't want can't hurt you. And that put me in mind of casting "Desire" as the "other woman," seen from the point of view of the person being cheated on. Because there's the thing about cheating or being cheated on: What you don't know can't hurt you, what you don't want can't haunt you, and yet isn't all but the most perfect love fueled mostly by desire? Giving "her" the name "Desire" seemed to immediately cast a very interesting character, as if love triangles aren't interesting enough. After that, the song pretty much wrote itself. I can only imagine what someone really clever could've done with it.

What's your favorite line or couplet?

Oh, just because of the fun of being a little dirty, I always love singing the lines, "I asked Desire to consider a threesome; she told me she'd give it a try. I can't think of anything better than you holding Desire and I." That last bit is fun, too, since it really plays with the double entendre and kind of sums up the whole, er, complication of the song, doesn't it?

Who would you love to hear perform the song?

What a great question. I think I might be sort of pit-bullishly protective of my songs if you want to know the truth of it. When I try to hear it in someone else's voice, it doesn't sound right. I wonder if other songwriters would say that? I mean, I can think of lots of people I'd be honored to be covered by. And, thinking about it another way, if Taylor Swift wants to cover it, I'll skip to the mailbox. But I might not like hearing it.

click to enlarge Snüzz (far left)
  • Snüzz (far left)

"THE SINGER WITH NOTHING TO SAY" BY BRITT HARPER UZZELL

[from International Orange's Spoon Box, 2004]

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What do you remember most about writing the song?

SNÜZZ: Obviously this song was born out of some frustration. Let's face it: people are cattle. They buy and eat what's put in front of them without putting much thought into it. It reflects in other aspects of life, too: politics, food choices, etc. I'm not going to name names, but what I remember most about the writing of the song was thinking of my subject and how his music really sucked. People were drinking it like vintage wine, yet I just couldn't find any value in there. Songs have to be about something, not just designed to generate income. I don't write a song until I'm inspired to do so, and it has to have something to say. I can't stand singers with nothing to say. It doesn't have to be political or monumental, but it has to be genuine.

What's your favorite line or couplet?

"They stare at your ass, while you sing the words." Need I say more?

Who would you love to hear perform the song?

Wow, do you mean around here? North Carolina artists? Anyone with purpose in song would do.... I'm a big fan of Django Haskins, Tom Maxwell, Bruce Piephoff, Rick Miller and tons of N.C. bands. Sunfold, Tiger Bear Wolf, Hammer No More the Fingers. There are many more wonderful, sincere songwriters around here than there are hacks, and this is a very rich region. I could more easily pinpoint those I wouldn't want to hear perform the song. I'm no great singer, that's for sure. Delivery men are much more interesting to me than the pristine performers.

Snüzzfest takes place at Local 506 on Monday, Sept. 7. In addition to the International Orange and Big Kids reunions, there'll be appearances by members of Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jeff Hart and the Ruins, Tres Chicas, Hobex, The Old Ceremony, The Desmonds and others. Showtime is 8 p.m., and the suggested donation is $10.

sq-snuzz.jpg
  • Caitlin Cary, Greg Humphreys & more talk their songs and Snüzz

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