Nick Snyder of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based band Ferdinand the Bull caught up with us to discuss the band’s origins and what they have in store for this year. The band is also sharing an exclusive performance as well as a brand new, live-shot music video titled “Texas Cigarette,” filmed at Toll Gate Revival. Take a look!
5 Questions with Nick Snyder of Ferdinand the Bull by Sam Shansky
1) When and where did Ferdinand the Bull form and how did the members first meet?
Since I was a kid, I have been very expressive. I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember – I remember listening to James Taylor in the car constantly, he was my favorite. All those old singer-songwriters really made me feel – though I do have many memories running in circles listening to the Beach Boys. Eventually, I started making and performing music myself. My friends and I would hang out and write songs together, and kind of figure out our own personal writing processes. I started writing songs when I was about 14 and started recording them when I was 16. I wasn’t really ever proud enough of anything I’d written until I was in college though.
I was 18 in 2013 when I released my first EP. I wanted to start playing the songs live, and I felt that the songs needed to be played with the full arrangement I had intended. Thankfully I kept up the habit of singing and creating with my friends in college, so I had some very close friends and collaborators who helped me bring these songs to life in a live setting. I never wanted this band to be a solo project, even though I wanted to use it as a means to follow my own artistic ambition, so I decided to have a moniker/band name – eventually the name Ferdinand the Bull was decided, and I’ve been writing, touring, and living under that name for almost 10 years now.
I’m very lucky to have had a long list of friends and collaborators make this music with me and my shifting vision. Pete Peters (drums) and Jon Leff (guitar and bass) have been the band for a while now, and I’ve been very happy with the progress that we’ve made together – and I can’t wait to see what comes next for us.
Bonus: Could you describe how Pittsburgh’s music scene has grown since you’ve been a part of it and recommend any artists from the Burgh that readers should know?
When I had started playing live in Pittsburgh, there weren’t really a whole lot of opportunities to play acoustic music. If you were just starting out there weren’t venues that would book you, so everyone started out playing in local basements and DIY shows. Since there weren’t really any other folk/acoustic bands, we would be sharing a bill with bands that were screamo, emo, shoegaze, and whatever else you can think of in the DIY scene.
Eventually though we made our own little folk scene in the city, and I’m thankful that I still have a lot of friends in it. I feel very lucky to have been there at the time when the scene was just starting up, so I could see it grow!
Enjoy an exclusive performance from Ferdinand the Bull!
2) What’s at the heart of Ferdinand the Bull’s sound?
Since I started the group, I always loved the camaraderie that comes with making and playing music with people. It’s my favorite way to cut through all the BS and get right to the heart of sincere human interaction. Because of this, I based all of our songs around that notion of pure humanist expression, so our songs can be taken down to just the voices and the guitar.
There’s some unattainable feeling in sharing this feeling, whether it’s singing around a campfire with your friends or singing along with your favorite artists at a concert. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve made by singing along together, it’s that shared human experience that makes me believe the world exists, we exist, I exist.
3) Who are some of your biggest influences, and could you pinpoint some examples in your songs where you were drawing on those influences?
Oh wow, I’ve got so many musical influences! Tallest Man on Earth, James Taylor, the Avett Brothers, Bon Iver, anything by Conor Oberst, Elliott Smith, the Lumineers, Phoebe Bridgers, Alvvays, Hozier, Laura Marling, Arcade Fire, Airborne Toxic Event, Sufjan Stevens, Middle Kids, the list goes on and on and on.
I was listening to a lot of Avett Brothers and older folk and bluegrass around the time I was writing our first album, Days We Forgot. I think you can definitely hear that on songs like “Just Like Summertime” and “Days We Forgot,” but there are still songs in there that don’t necessarily fit into that genre like “Daisy” and “Flowerbed.”
For the second record, I had expanded my taste to include much fuller arrangements like Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, and you can hear that exploration in songs like “Wooden Fire Escape,” “4:30am,” and “Crossing Stars.” Though I retained a lot of my minimalist fascination in songs like “Walls of Fabric” which was very influenced by Tallest Man on Earth and Hozier.
4) Where and when did you film this performance of “Texas Cigarette” and who all was involved in the production?
We filmed this video at the height of the pandemic in November 2020, and I had to distance myself from friends and family afterward. We chose a very cool shop called Toll Gate Revival in the historic town of Braddock just outside of the city – it’s got a lot of interesting pieces including old furniture, flags, and stadium seats among other things.
Our friends Sarah Bizanovich and Alex Byers did the filming, while Sarah then did all of the editing and our drummer Pete handled all of the audio engineering. We sent the songs off to be mixed by Craig Alvin (Kacey Musgraves, Brittany Howard, etc.) and mastered by Greg Reely who did our second record.
5) Is this video single release the sign of bigger things to come this year?
This is gearing up to be our best year yet! After this video and song, we will be playing our first ticketed headlining hometown concert, and we can’t wait to get back in front of our crowd again. Afterward, we’ll be heading down south to play an Official Showcase at South By Southwest, and we’ll be touring all over for the rest of the year playing many other festivals and clubs around the country.
We’re also working on our next full-length studio album, and I’m crazy excited about it. I’ve been working on this set of songs for so long and they really mean so much to me. I’m ecstatic about the future, and I can’t wait to see how this year plays out!