Here's the Don Wilcock Folkwax interview with Seth Glier:
"Typically, I'm writing to figure out what I'm writing about."
At age twenty, Seth Glier is pressing his fingerprint into the psyche of Americana listeners everywhere. In my area, New York's Capital Region, he's enjoying airplay on every college radio station from Skidmore's WSPN to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's WRPI. He's on iTunes Top 100 albums with his first release The Trouble with People out for three months, and a video of him performing on the National Mall in Washington DC has enjoyed tens of thousands of hits on YouTube.
Glier's family acts as a buffer between himself and his own emotions, whether it's his autistic brother, his demented ninety-nine-year-old grandmother, or his eccentric father. It's almost as though he channels the souls of those he encounters, both real and imaginary. In our interview he says, "What I've learned from all those Randy Newman tunes is that he's a humanist and how much I learn about myself emotionally when I'm not writing about myself, the more truth seems to elbow its way in when I'm unconscious of it."
His overnight success is no fluke. This young artist writes and performs with the talent of a seasoned icon. His voice has a range from a James Taylor high tenor to a Neil Sedaka falsetto. His piano playing has the feathered touch of a Mose Allison or Billy Joel. And his songs offer glimpses into an Alice in Wonderland world that shows a breathtaking maturity.
A native of Shelburn Falls, Massachusetts, Glier dropped out of Berkeley School of Music because he wanted to play for people, not for grades. "To me songwriting is like the agony and ecstasy of all those details and, yeah, (there are) no unimportant moments. There's always something going on. I had to learn that the hard way just growing up in a small town which appears to be absolutely nothing going on, but there's an incredible amount of magic out there."
Don Wilcock for FolkWax: How did you line up three shows at the famous Café Lena in Saratoga? What was on Manager Sarah Craig's mind?
SG: Oh, man. Well, I've played there a couple of times before. I think I was opening for - the last time I was there, it might have been a co-bill, but ever since I was fourteen and started kind of looking at places to play, I think I first played Caffe Lena when I was sixteen, and I've just tried to play there once a year and just kind of build a little bit of a following and some radio stuff happening out there.
FW: Well, yeah, I see where you're getting radio play on all of the college radio stations in our market.
SG: Oh, is that true?
FW: Yeah, you're on WCDB which is at State University of Albany, WRUC which is at Union College in Schenectady, WSPN which is at Skidmore in Saratoga and WRPI which is at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.
FW: You've scored right straight across the board.
SG: Well, that's cool. That's great.
FW: Yeah, that is great.
SG: That's great. Thanks for telling me.
FW: What I really want to know the most is I'm very curious about your relationships with your older brother.
FW: His name is Jamie, right?
SG: Yeah, his name is Jamie.
FW: And you've said in other interview that you learned to communicate in words better by having to communicate with him without using words.
FW: I'm really interested in your thought process and how that struggle to communicate in different ways has helped you as a songwriter.
SG: Okay, my brother is twenty-four years old, and he's nonverbal, and he's autistic. So, I grew up in this kind of rural town in Western Massachusetts. There's a thousand people in the town, and very close family, but I was the middle child, and was always kind of like struggling for my parents' attention because they had a new born and also a person that required an incredible amount of aid and assistance. For a while I was kind of angry, and I was upset. I wanted a brother who could play basketball with me.
FW: Just being the middle kid is problematic anyway, even when things are not unusual circumstances.
SG: Yeah, yeah, and it wasn't until I was sixteen that I started waking up my brother every morning. I would wake up before the bus would pick me up for school, and I'd get him showered and dressed. I would give him breakfast, and it was maybe an extra hour in the morning that I would do that. It was through that process of doing that for several years that I started to develop a relationship with my brother. At this time I really didn't know how to communicate with him. I knew he was my brother, and I knew he needed assistance, and I just figured how I should be assisting him.
Through that process I realized it wasn't about saying anything to him, it was about listening, and someone told me like what not saying says, and it's an incredibly spiritual relationship communicating with someone without words, but during that time I was also really fascinated with songwriting, and I was really big into Randy Newman, and what I appreciated about Randy Newman is that he could take on characters other than himself. He would write about other people from their perspective. So, my relationship with my brother communicating with him without words so much of the relationship is about reading into one's needs and emotions and feelings. It really was - it kind of opened the whole door into songwriting for me and more the psychological aspect of it.
FW: You must be intuitive from that experience.
SG: Must be intuitive, how so?
FW: Well, one of the things I've tried to learn in doing these interview for forty years is to plug into somebody before I've even talked to them so that we're on some kind of plane right from the get go, and to do that, you almost have to make some assumptions and to make those assumptions, you have to take in information from sources that most people don't think are important.
FW: And I sense that you do that in your songwriting.
SG: That's what songwriting is. To me, it's like this agony and the ecstasy of all those details, and yeah, I don't really think there are unimportant moments. There's always something going on even when it seems - and I had to learn that the hard way just growing up in a small town which appears to be absolutely nothing going on but there's an incredible amount of magic out there, and I think my relationship with my brother in a lot of ways parallels my relationship with music in the sense where sometimes you just don't understand it, but it's constant. It's always there, and it keeps coming back.
"Songwriting is the agony and the ecstasy
of all those details.
There are no unimportant moments."
FW: I'm a news junky, and there was news this week. I think it was on Good Morning America they were talking about some woman who had an autistic child, and she just worked and worked and worked with this child until it got to the point where the child was an amazing intellect, and I think there's more going on probably in your brothers' head than most people have any idea.
SG: Yeah, I always had an issue with the term disability. I like to refer to it as ability, and I know there's a friend of mine who refers to it as different ability. They play on words, but in a lot of ways I would say my brother is more in tune with the world around him than we tend to be. We live in a world that has so many distractions in it.
FW: Yeah, we're flooded with messages that re irrelevant.
SG: Yeah, and autism is so funny because it has kind of been categorized as social disorder where you're kind of outside of it which I can see, but I also see a component of my brother where he's at another level communicating with himself and with everyday things. He has an incredible sense of humor.
FW: How does that reach you? How do you know that? How does he communicate that?
SG: Well, I would say you have to have a sense of humor when living in my house. In addition to my brother, my father is one of the nicest bunch of people you'd ever want to meet, and my grandmother lives with us as well and she's ninety-nine years old, and she is a megalomaniac and is kind of like Bill O'Reilly's soul. For instance, at two o'clock this morning she's having a conversation with herself about how she's been going out late at night having cocktails with Marilyn Monroe.
Senility has just totally set in, and you can hear my brother laughing hysterically from the room next door. So, you have to have a sense of humor. I think I've learned an incredible amount from my brother simply about being flexible. My brother is someone who wakes up, and he can't really do anything. His motor skills - he can't cook himself breakfast. He can't even really feed himself breakfast. On any given day he's going out with a new person that's taking him out into the community. So the amount of trust and understanding that he has to carry is something that's far greater. I know I don't have the capability to do that. So there's an incredible amount I still have to learn from Jamie.
FW: I took a weekend course with a psychic. My wife and I did this, twelve of us.
FW: In that course, we learned to use our psychic abilities with other people. We would take objects like a piece of jewelry or a photograph and just give back what we saw from those objects, and incredibly more than fifty percent of the time we were all right which absolutely blew my mind. I sense that you have that ability which absolutely blew my mind. I sense that you have that ability to take things in from the outside world and maybe push away the glitz of contemporary society the way we communicate on a day-to-day basis which really kind of dampers down and dulls those abilities, and you have an ability to tap into something that's much more primal than that. Am I on the right course with you on that?
SG: Uhm - I - uh -sure!
FW: You like that!
SG: Yeah, I think there's uh - I - I - I- yes, sure. It's something I think I could be a little more tapped into, but....
FW: At twenty, you're pretty far along in that course. The stuff that you're writing is from the perspective of somebody that's more like your ninety-nine year-old grandmother than it is your autistic brother.
SG: [chuckes] Uhm-hm.
FW: And I don't mean that in a disparaging way.
SG: Yeah, no, no, no, no. I mean I let go of trying to figure out where that is coming from in regards to inspiration and songs. It's kind of like the lightning rod taking credit for the lightning.
FW: Yes, write that down. That's good.
SG: You know that's kind of the mystic in it, the magic in it. Yeah, people inspire me, and sometimes it's a phrase. Sometimes it's a story, but I can't remember the last time I sat down to write and knew what I was writing about. Typically, I'm writing to figure out what I'm writing about.
FW: One of the things I always say to musicians I mentor is give yourself permission to do things like that because our society is set up in such a way that, if you're not doing something with great underlying purpose, then most people think it's worthless.
SG: Oh, yeah.
FW: Just the opposite.
SG: Our teacher referred to the process of polishing the turd. Understand that you're not gonna necessarily re-invent the wheel. Anything that you're writing about as far as content has pretty much been covered, and for me it's a fingerprint. It's something distinctive. How can you say something so pure and honest? So, when someone else hears it, no more whose voice it's coming out of, they know where it originated from. It doesn't matter who covers a Joni Mitchell song, I know it's a Joni Mitchell song because there's so much of her in it. I love the kind of classic songwriting style.
FW: Obviously, yeah. And some of your words - in one line you use the words gravid and sagacious. Holy shit!
SG: Oh, did I do that? Oh, wow. Ha, ha.
FW: I had to get out my Funk and Wagnall on that one.
SG: Man, that's kind of like intellectual wanking. Sorry about that. Oh, man, I must have been listening to a little bit too much NPR that week.
FW: [laugh] That's funny.
FW: Yeah, are you getting good airplay on the Sirius/XM's Loft?
SG: I really don't know the whole radio world that well, but not the Loft but the other one. Oh, no, it is the Loft. The Village is where I'm not getting play.
FW: Yeah, you've got to be sixty years old and senile to get on that.
SG: Yeah, I'm working on that.
FW: Well, you're working on the senility part, but the 60s you got a way to go. [laugh]. Now, you said earlier that you sometimes don't know where you are when you start to write something, but you told another reviewer that the song "I Just Want to Make Daddy Proud" was from George W. Bush's perspective.
FW: So, when you started writing that, did you know that you wanted to get into his persona?
SG: Oh, yeah. That was a challenge for myself. That was a weekend I mean much like a character actor would take on a role. For me it was kind of like trying on a coat. I was in the mood to kind of get out of my comfort zone writing about love songs or heartbreak or - I was just kind of like the world doesn't need another one of those, and there was a teacher at Berkeley that encouraged me to try to write. He gave me this Randy Newman record and encouraged me to try and write in that medium. So, I pretty much just kind of like I wrote a list of people I disagreed with, and this long list. [nervous laugh]
FW: I'm with you on that one.
SG: Settled on George Bush, and then for a weekend kind of took on his character. I bought a steak and some Texas seasoning. I mean I went a little overboard on it, but I really wanted to get inside his head. What it was all about. So, I started talking like him that weekend and started saying things he would say and reading some of his interviews and stuff like that.
FW: Did you go up to Kennebunkport?
SG: No, I did not go up to Kennebunkport, but I tried to take on as much of him as I could, and then woke up on Monday morning and sat in front of the keyboard and wrote that song in maybe fifteen minutes.
SG: And the funny thing is as much as I wrote it from the perspective of George Bush I ended up writing more truthfully about my own relationship with my father than I would have had I tried to take on a topic like that in my own skin.
FW: 'Cause it was safer.
SG: Yeah, I was guarded.
FW: You had a buffer. You didn't have to own up to those emotions.
SG: Yeah, what I've kind of been learning from all those Randy Newman tunes is that he's a humanist and how much I learn about myself emotionally when I'm not writing about myself. More truth seems to elbow its way in when I'm unconscious of it.
FW: Fascinating. So, you're not guarding the entrance.
FW: Have you explained this to your father? Have you told him you felt this way?
SG: I think he knew as soon as he heard it. I remember having this conversation with him. I sent it over to him and, yeah, I think he knew and it was one of those things it's in me to be said. It was more in the quiet, "Yeah, I love you kind of thing."
FW: Does he like George Bush?
SG: No, not at all. He's more - God, who is he like? He's more like Lewis Black (a comedian who approaches his personal limits of sanity). My dad is as eccentric as they come and a handful to say the least, but he's really one of my greater influences as a person, the ability to kind of not care. You know who he's like? He's like House in that Fox show. He's brilliant, sometimes a bit misunderstood, but totally himself one hundred percent of the way.
FW: I bet my kids would say that about me.
FW: I'm not sure I'm ready to ask 'em.
SG: Yeah, how old are your kids?
FW: Thirty-six and thirty-four. And one of them is a world renowned psychic.
SG: Wow! Heavy!
FW: And both of them say I abused them as a child, and I just totally deny it.
SG: Yeah, well, it comes with being a psychic I guess. Yeah, that's amazing.
To be continued
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Thanks for roping me in Pat. I've enjoyed learning about Seth and getting to know his music since you invited him to stay at my house. I think he's got a promising future and look forward to hearing more from him.
"Nobody can dim the light which shines from within." ~ Maya Angelou
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