BWW Interview: Singer Seth Glier's Newest Album BIRDS
When Seth Glier was a young boy, music seemed to be a big part of his life. He loved entertaining family members and writing his own music. Early influences included Jackson Browne, Randy Newman and Carole King. Over the years, Glier has had the opportunity to perform all over the world his original music that seems to speak to his countless followers. Today, as Glier's songwriting has matured, so have the musical influences in his life. American Composer Harry Partch, Shel Silverstein (Known for his Beatnik style) and Singer/Songwriter Harry Nilsson are some examples of Glier's musical influences. Glier's music also tends to reflect the current situations in his personal life that somehow translates in to the lives of his fans as they listen and relate to it as well. Glier's latest album is called BIRDS and is a true reflection of some difficult moments in Glier's life over the past two years including the loss of his brother, as well as watching all of the life-changing events occurring throughout the world. BWW sat down With Seth Glier to discuss with him the new album BIRDS and to find out about his own personal life lessons.
I've noticed that a lot of the songs on the new album are a real reflection of what has been going on in your life over the past couple of years. Tell us a little more about how this album came to be as a result of that.
The process of making the album started around the time when my life was turning a different and unexpected corner. When my brother passed away, then the thing that I had to grieve was that I completely lost all track of time dealing with my brother's death. At the time, when he passed, I was his guardian so it made some of the logistical aspects a bit more complicated. So, I did that TED Talk and after doing that, it anchored me into this whole new place in my writing. I think maybe the writing started grieving my brother but it ended up grieving the very world I so desperately wanted him to return to. There's a level of urgency and maybe a bit of anger on the record as it tiptoes its way to peace. I feel like I'm in a really good place now. Listening back to the album from my own experience, I thank that perhaps is why there's this marriage between the political and personal throughout a lot of it.
The song, "Hasn't Hit Me Yet" is about your brother and your own grief in losing him. But, it also makes me think of others who have lost loved ones who may feel a connection to that song. Did you think of how it would resonate with others while you were writing it or was it more personal at the time?
I don't think I was consciously aware of my audience this time around making it. The process of making it was one where at no point am I going to take these songs and record a record. I was writing these songs and recording them in my apartment and I ended up bumping into this guy, who ended up being the co-producer, at a funeral of all places. I was sharing with him some songs. They were the demos. They were the recordings that I was making in my apartment just moments after finishing writing the songs. So, they were oftentimes my very first snapshot. Maybe I was a little bit more raw in having written the song and I was less performing the song. I would say about 80% of this record was that. We just decided to be done with the demos. We added some things there. We added strings and drums. But, the general structure and even the vocal performance was pretty much the rough recordings. The other thing that I would like to add to that was that it's not like I was entirely unconscious of my audience and my aspect of writing for this record is just that raw has such a great deal of life to it and it brings the surface so much life and nature that in dealing with my brother's loss, I got lost myself in my work, in the way that I was interacting with my environment whether it was the birds outside my window or the leaves changing color in the fall. All of that is why I live in New England. I just got lost deeper into that because I kept finding my brother in all of these places.
And the song "Birds" as you mentioned. What do they think of us?
I can't imagine what they think of us. We're the only species that cuts down birdhouses to build birdhouses. Just think about that. That's insane.
The song, "Sunshine," I almost feel like there is some sort of sarcasm in it. Am I right?
It's interesting. It may. I can't say that you're wrong. I don't even know. If you hear sarcasm, that's wonderful. Who am I to tell you that's not what I meant? That's wonderful. That may be there but again, this may sound silly but I really am a poor judge of the character of these songs. Even though I'm writing them, they end up saying something to me sometimes years after I do them that I anticipate. So, I try my hardest to not say this is about that thing.
"Justice for All." I love how you brought back "Sunshine" at the end with the strings. That song, along with "Water on Fire" and your take on Buffalo Springfield's "For What it's Worth" show a real political point of view.
This is partly why Woody Guthrie's presence is so prominent in my life and why I always gravitate towards Oklahoma because there's something for me about going to the Woody Guthrie Festival. As a writer, it feels a little bit like visiting the chiropractor. It keeps my spine straight throughout the year. No one wants to be preached at but in general if I'm sitting down and writing a political song, it's not a conscious effort to say this is going to be a political song. In general, they come from the same place that any of the other songs; whether it's "Sunshine" or "Hasn't Hit Me Yet" or "I'm Still Looking;" they come from a state of crisis. That to me has always been the wow that the creativity pours from. "Justice for All" is one where I was leaving the gym one morning and it was the same week that Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot and followed by the five police officers in Dallas that were shot. I don't have a television so the only time I watch TV is when I'm at the gym. It keeps me running. I remember watching all this unfold and thinking about my own experience with law enforcement, thinking about how when I was arrested, it played out very differently for me than I think many people of color who I shared a cell with that evening. I wanted to write a song and it was a little bit about that. It was also about this experience that I had in Ft. Smith, Arkansas about a year and a half ago. I was playing a show and I was walking around town. In Ft. Smith they still have one of the gallows on display. Outside the gallows, they have this sign that says, "Please respect this as an Instrument of Justice. Do not climb on this structure." I thought it was a little odd but I didn't think too much about it. Then, as I'm turning back around on my run, I stop because I see that there's a school trip that is that is led out in front of the gallows. They're doing a little tour and telling the kids about some of the history. The tour guide at one point was explaining how the gallows worked and then said to this group of eight, nine and ten year olds. "Now who wants to come up here and pull the lever?" The lever would make the floor come out. Of course, you had a bunch of ten year olds that raised their hands because that's an exciting thing to do without the context of what it actually does. I thought a lot about the death penalty and about the justice system and the duality of justice. That's where that song came from. Obviously, I am against the death penalty but in addition to that, that's just a good place to start. There's so much reform that needs to take place. It didn't come as a political statement. It came out of, "What the $%^* is going on here?" It's beyond the president. We are our culture. And beyond any president, there's a lot a president can't change about these kinds of things. Part of why I record these songs is because, at least in my own, way I'm taking responsibility for the aspects of my culture that I think could use some updating. It doesn't necessarily have to be right or wrong, but, it's honest. If someone else sees that and looks at it in a different way, that's a positive for me.
The song "Too Much Water," what frame of mind were you in when you wrote that one? What does it mean to you? Were you sort of speaking to a higher power?
That song came when I woke up one morning and there was a sad feeling that was in the room. It was like an emotion that got left behind and it couldn't find its way out of the room. It's similar to when you check into a hotel room and there can be a weight in the room as if something had happened the night before. Some feelings that got left behind and they weren't able to find a way out of the room. That was that feeling that was in my apartment. All I remember is walking over to the piano and writing that song within three or four hours. By the time I looked at the clock, I realized I was finished up and I realized, there went the day. It was one of those wonderful moments when creativity surpassed itself. By the end of writing the song, the feeling was no longer in the room. It almost sterilized the apartment. And to answer if it's writing to a higher power or not, I don't really know. I think that every song acts as a mediator between a spiritual world and a sensual world. I don't necessarily know where the songs come from and quite often when I'm tapping into the place that I was when I wrote that song, I'm not really involved in the process. I'm separate from it. It wasn't a feeling that I was particularly feeling. When I wrote it, it was a feeling that I was experiencing outside of myself. It wasn't like I was in a funk and therefore I went to the piano to try to make sense of what's going on. Sometimes that's the case. In this case, I was waking up in my apartment and there was this feeling that got left behind.
Get your copy of Seth Glier's latest album by going to his website or iTunes. Check out his concert schedule and see if he's coming to a venue near you soon. Glier's album and shows are bound to entertain all ages.
PHOTO CREDIT: GMD Three