Musician sticks to iconoclastic vision

by Jordan Green

What recommends the little house with vinyl siding and a snug, screened-in porch in Winston-Salem’s Ardmore neighborhood is affordability, Snüzz says. That and location: He and his wife can easily ride their bicycles to the local Harris Teeter. As a recording studio, he readily admits, it’s not exactly ideal.

He gestures inside the back room to a visitor. Two 16-track recorders set alongside each other, a drum kit is stuffed into one corner and a keyboard occupies some space in front of the closet next to a trunkful of effects pedals. Scuffed rugs hang over the windows and one canopies from the ceiling. The 42-year-old Snüzz, who grew up in Fayetteville as Britt Harper Uzzell before the nickname claimed him, recorded, produced and mastered the 16 tracks of his new album Big Potatoes in this room.

Snüzz continuously studies acoustics, always trying to improve the way the different sounds mesh, although he knows the space comes with inherent limitations. For starters, the room is so tiny that he has to record with an amplifier in the bedroom to isolate the sound of the guitar.

“It’s not the most conducive for music,” he says. “I know I must drive the neighbors crazy when I’m in here pounding on the drums and playing the same four measures over and over again.”

A Fayetteville kid who made his start playing in hard-core punk bands in Greensboro and Raleigh, played guitar in the semi-legendary local band Bus Stop, toured with Ben Folds, and has nourished a solo career throughout, Snüzz has remained a prickly iconoclast and a proud original with eclectic tastes that range from country and pop to punk and soul.

With Big Potatoes Snüzz proves himself to be a creative island, writing all the songs except the MDC cover “I Hate Work,” and playing all instruments except for bass and drums on a handful of songs. Most of the guest drumming is handled by Bus Stop alum Eddie Walker. Former bandmates Django Haskins, Robert Sledge and Jason Fagg from the short-lived International Orange also appear.

Though the album feels overproduced in certain places, it bristles with pop energy, mixing sparkling melodic hooks with romping guitar riffs and lyrics that are by turns, caustic, humorous and tender. That bundle includes the conciliatory homage to the songwriter’s hometown, “Fayetteville”; the feverish rumination on tangled affections of “Eddie”; and “Love of the Game,” which poignantly spells out the meaning of his labor: “It’s the end of the season/ I’m 0 and 9/ Not good looking/ I don’t march in line/ There’s no chance for fortune and fame/ So good thing I play for the love of the game.”

Explaining his childless status and his decision to make art his priority, Snüzz observes that the ranks of his fellow players are thinning as he ages.

“I see a lot of my music friends that have kids, and that does inhibit their playing,” he says. “The future, I have to admit, is quite bleak in terms of financial riches. I’m pretty far below the poverty line, and I don’t expect that to change.”

Snüzz expects one particular track on the new album to trouble his prospects, slim as they may be, for commercial success. “The World Can’t Wait” recalls his days with Resist, and draws directly from the sloganeering of the national anti-war organization of the same name. The bracing power pop composition declares, “We’re gonna drive out the Bush regime,” and remarks, “They said a breach in the levee could not be foreseen.” A second couplet includes the lines, “And then we’ll drive out the Christian right” and “Paul had turned to Saul and I have seen the light.”

“I expect problems,” Snüzz says. “I sent [the CD] off to other reviewers. Someone that is really pro-Bush and agrees with his policies” some people don’t want musicians to spout off about politics. They want you to be a good little monkey. I’m as qualified as the next American to speak out, which I guess is not very qualified. I have a right to express my opinion. I love my country, and I am not blindly obedient.”

He’s been participating in political protests lately, although he’s only played the new protest song in public once – to an appreciative audience at an art gallery in Raleigh. He recently used his MySpace blog to encourage fans to attend an impromptu protest in Greensboro against the Bush troop surge in Greensboro that prominently featured the World Can’t Wait and culminated in nine arrests. Snüzz ended up pulling a muscle in his back and staying home.

“It’s funny how life comes full circle,” he says. “At age forty-two there’s no reason to write songs about holding someone’s hand or wanting to kiss someone. The next album is probably going to be a lot of music about world issues.”

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