Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Seth Glier Let Us Know: The Sole Purpose of Any Good Song is Make the Listener Feel a Little Less Alone.

CAW: Seth, one of my readers had enjoyed the honor of hosting you for a house concert. She has asked, BESIDES Spring Lake at Seven Steps Up, what was your favorite city and venue to perform at and why do you make that choice?

SG: I do love being in a Ann Arbor & playing The Ark for the same reason I love spring lake & seven steps up. My audience in both cities feel like family.  They're so supportive, loyal, and therapeutic to be in front of.

CAW: If one looks closely at photographs of you, one notices that a tattoo on your inner arm is from the Book of Changes, Hexagram 30, often called "The Radiance". It is often connected to the Phoenix, the bird who arises from its ashes. It has the same diagram for the inner aspect and the outer aspect, the diagram of fire. Seth, why this hexagram for such a prominent tattoo? How did you chose it?

SG: Well it's actually an I-Ching hexagram. It represents the clinging fire or the idea that fire clings to its fuel source/smothering what gives it life. I've done I- Ching a few times in my life at particular cross roads & have always drawn this sign. To me it reminds me that my passion is my resilience but it's imperative for me to always let other things into my life or I can burn up my fuel source.

CAW: Seth, let's turn to what might be called the girlfriend songs. Avery leaves the singer stranded in a hotel in Wisconsin, and that's from Things I Should Let You Know. The songwriter delivers plenty of ideas for Avery to know. Naia sounds like a break-up song, and that comes from The Trouble With People, so that makes sense. Lauralee and Walk Katie Home are both hopelessly romantic, two women that the singer is driven to see even for a mere chance to take a walk. These come from, appropriately, the The Next Right Thing. Are we getting an insight into your love life here?

SG: Maybe a little bit. I didn't write "Avery". A friend of mine named Liz Longley wrote that and I just loved it so much that I decided to cover it.

Katie, Lauralee, & NAIA are all real people. I think I've learned how to protect the innocent a little better as my writing has progressed. In all of them, there is some truth and some imagination. For instance, the story behind walk Katie home is something I imagined doing to the girl I had a crush on. It didn't really happen. And she didn't find out the song existed until years after I started playing it live.

CAW: I have learned that you have mastered most of the roles in the production of an album. In good humor, I suggest that "The Trouble with People" didn't have to be produced with too many people beside yourself, although the photographic documentation suggests more help than one might think. It was The Next Right Thing that won the Grammy for musical engineering, too. Although the tracks were recorded in your basement, expert help moved the album through the post-process. It is not unusual for an artist to learn up in order to manage all aspects of a media production. Donny Osmond and family were famous for their know-how in the studio. In fact, in cinematography, this kind of all encompassing knowledge usually makes the filmmaker an auteur, and Robert Rodriguez, who broke out with Spy Kids, is one of the most famous of these jack-of-all-trades filmmakers. What is your drive to master the technological side of your field, and what can we expect next from you?

SG: Well to be honest I didn't learn how to produce and engineer my own records because I wanted to. I learned because I had to. Records are expensive to make and in the beginning of my career I had no budget to record in a studio. I did discover over time that I had a knack for it but that was just happenstance rather than a goal.

Also, I am far from a master of engineering in the studio. My process is just different than most. I'm not afraid to make a mistake and I make them all the time. Sometimes I have to record a song several times because I either didn't like where I put the mic on the guitar or a vocal performance vibe. It's painstaking for anyone to be in the studio with me.

The one good thing that has come out of my ability to record my own stuff without a tradition studio or producer is that it allowed me to create at anytime & explore new things outside of my comfort zone without being "on the clock"

CAW: I consider The Trouble With People, your first major album, to be the album you wrote for your family, not just to get their attention but to requite their love for you. Am I close?

SG: I wouldn't say that. If it's anything it's a breakup record. It's a true snapshot of where I was at that point in my life after dropping out of college and moving back in with my parents.

CAW: By the way, I keep listening to this album, and it has so much depth to it. I am guessing this is the one the theater troupe from New York City is turning into a musical. By the way, who are they?

SG: Actually a small group in NYC is trying to adapt "things I should let you know" into a musical but I think it's in the very early development stages.

CAW: Seth, I am finding more and more this unity in the tracks of your album, "Things I Should Let You Know". I hear it as a set of declarations, and it is a way of explaining yourself as your life progresses from the world of adolescence into the world of a man come of age. The title track is a communication to an intimate partner, a person who perhaps sleeps with the one singing. In one interview, you revealed the depth of your insomnia, so this is heard as autobiographical. Thus, the intimate partner is instructed how to help deal with the nightmares. In Plastic Soldiers, it seems the lyrics fulfill a promise made to Ani DiFranco, to write the songs that have to be sung and to make them heard by those who must hear. Does the unity of the album run that deeply? That is, am I on to something?

SG: I never really looked at it entirely in that way. I think you are right that each track is very important to me as a person trying to navigate my own life. In that regards each song is a bit of a declaration. It's record I am proud of and one that I know takes many listens to fully see the whole thing come into picture. At the same time as this record is personal, I did a lot of writing from character viewpoint. I wanted this record to be above all emotional honest. Success to me isn't when a listener discover where I am at from but rather when the listener discovers where they are at.

CAW: In one interview, you share how your mother advocated for causes, and she lobbied in the legislative houses of your state, thinking Massachusetts. She brought you along for support and to show you how to directly access power, a genuine theme of your musical career. Starting early, you began performing a stunning number of engagements a year, as many as 250 a year. Do you credit your mother for your drive to tour and for your ability to invent your own paths to success?

SG: Both my parents instilled that in me. They have always been advocating for the needs of my brother and I learned at an early age that fighting for the rights of someone who needs them is truly fighting for the rights of everybody. The work ethic comes from the same place. How can I expect to have a large audience of people who find peace in my music if I don't find them myself.

CAW: According to one interview, to get attention, you stood up on the family kitchen table to sing Ricky Martin's Shake Your Bon Bon. I'm guessing the year was 1999, making you nine or ten. That maybe went over as well as playing guitar in the hallway of your high school, which led to a suspension. This attention seeking could be explained by understanding your father, who you want to make proud, who suffered from alcoholism. Do you consider yourself an adult child of an alcoholic parent, seeking to champion an inner child, still craving attention although fame is quickly arriving?

SG: I never wanted to be famous I always wanted to do good & leave a piece of this world better than when I found it. Fame is just tool. It has nothing to do with the important nature of ones purpose.

Regarding craving attention; I don't think that's a big part of my personality anymore. I think maybe some of that stuff with my dad is still there but I've worked through a lot of that with music. Music has always been my confidant, my security blanket, & my way out of a world that typically tells us to "straighten up & fly right". Getting approval starts from within and I'm incredibly proud I myself and what I've accomplished.

I believe more of my insubordination had more to do with the fact that I was such a social butterfly than a deeply depressed kid with daddy issues.

I don't view my father as an alcoholic father but rather a great father who has overcome many things and lives with a horrible disease. His continued sobriety has taught me what real hard work on yourself can do.

CAW: The Berklee Groove is a student newspaper at the famous Berklee College of Music. In a recent interview, the school paper honored you for a Grammy nomination for The Next Right Thing, your second big album. It's really your fourth, winning an award related to audio engineering. The paper described you as an alumni. It's as if a musical school student could claim a degree by achieving recognition on the professional level of an unimpeachable distinction. Another sign of distinction is you have come home to perform at Berklee, which actually could be described as the hero's return from Joseph Campbell's mythology. Here's the irony. Like Bill Gates who dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft, you wrapped up studies after a year or so at Berklee. Let's not compare you to Gates, however. Let's compare you to Erik Satie. Satie dropped out of the Paris Conservatoire not once but twice. Then, he astounded the musical world with his most famous works, the GymnopĂ©dies, which are eternal classics. Pretty much all of ambient music takes inspiration from these works, including the theme from Jeopardy and most game shows. Then, Satie enrolls, more successfully in the Schola Cantorum de Paris, to polish off his skills in composition, earning a diploma in 1908. Seth, what do you think? And no, no one in your family put me up to this.

SG: I'm not touching that one with a 10 foot stick. The hell if I know. With all do respect, I don't sit at home prophesying what it all adds up to . I start with a blank piece of paper each day. As long as I can be equally terrified & excited by that thought I believe I'm doing my job.

CAW: If one reads your ideas on the subject of songwriting, one finds you takes it very seriously. Let's see if I am on track. The songwriter is always in a dynamic relationship with the songs written and performed. You have songwriters you deeply respect, such as Randy Newman and Righteous Babe Ani DiFranco.  There's a mention of the Newman school of songwriting. DiFranco is a close, personal friend. From Newman, you gained insight that songs must speak for the people who can't. This is perhaps key for you because your older brother has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and cannot speak. From DiFranco you derive a social consciousness that there are songs that not only must be written, but also there are songs that must be heard.  You take the writing of a set list seriously too because it is the same as constructing a play. It is a way to create an emotional effect for an audience to feel while going home. An album is a permanent set list, and the same care is given. So what is the Seth Glier school of songwriting?

SG: I believe that the sole purpose of any good song is make the listener feel a little less alone.

CAW: What have you learned from the Ricky Martin school of songwriting and performance?

SG: How to dance like a white boy :)

CAW: Seth, the song that made me a fan arrived to my ears while listening to Pandora, called the Best Side of You. Instead of asking how a man of less than thirty years old could write that song, tell us about the circumstances of its composition. Can I also ask for an explanation of your theory of metaphor? Any reason why I find myself thinking of John Donne the poet every time I hear it? That is, the lyrics are clearly a metaphysical poem. I am reminded of a Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by Donne.

SG: I wrote that song after having lunch with an older friend of my mine who's wife had passed away a few years earlier. He was telling me that he still can't change her voice off the answering machine after 3 years and it just struck me as a good place to start. Much of the rest of the story I made up but I hope it's emotionally accurate. Man, I haven't thought about that song in years.

CAW: Seth , why do I have the distinct impression that you are channeling Freddie Mercury. It's not just the beautiful falsetto tone of yours when the lyrics call for it. A series of your songs take a driving, almost strident tone and cadence that bring, "We Will Rock You" to mind. If that doesn't fit, why does your one song that alludes to Auld Lang Syne also remind me of Jackson Browne's, "Oh, Won't You Stay"?

SG: I don't know. Never really listened to much to Freddie Mercury though I do love what I've heard.

CAW: Seth, you are already a songwriter's songwriter. I have a picture of you in November 2013, where you served on the songwriting faculty of John D. Lamb's Annual Retreat for Songwriters in Harbor Spring, Michigan. I think you were on the way to the retreat when you visited with the Hanks family and performed a house concert for the Amanda Shunta family. At the songwriter's retreat, everybody writes a song. In fact, it is customary to send Lamb a YouTube video of the song being performed in public. Faculty is given little exception. So I have to ask you, Seth, to share about your experience as faculty. Can we learn the location of your assignment video?

SG: At the moment such video doesn't exist. I do still have the tune but haven't Played it out yet . I'm editing it a lot. It needed a lot of work when I left the retreat.

Sometimes that's how the process is for me. I find myself a pretty bad songwriter but my strength is that I'm a great editor. Sometimes I spent months ironing out my bad ideas into something special. I refer to this process as polishing the turd

CAW: Seth Glier plays three concerts this weekend at Seven Steps Up. Although two of the concerts are currently sold out,
call the concert hall to see if tickets might still be available.

Sat, Jan 18
Spring Lake, MI
Two Shows - SOLD OUT

Sun, Jan 19
Spring Lake, MI
8:00 pm
Seven Steps Up
116 S. Jackson Street, 616-678-3618

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