Seth Glier, the 26-year-old Grammy-nominated musician, released his newest album If I Could Change One Thing on April 7, premiering it first on Music Times. The Massachusetts native and activist is promoting the album on a tour up and down the East Coast through July. We spoke with Glier ahead of his performance at New York City's Rockwood Music Hall about the inspiration behind his most recent album, his live show and what's next for him. Here's what he had to say:
Music Times: First off, how did you initially get into music?
Seth Glier: Yeah, I wrote my first song on September 11. That was sort of the thing that sparked my writing process. A huge influence for me in my songwriting is my older brother, who is autistic and nonverbal, and I think that I ultimately took interest in songwriting, maybe in the origin, as a way to communicate with him and communicate for him. Now that I'm doing it for a living, I'm kind of doing my part of using a microphone to spread awareness to organizations that need it more.
MT: That's amazing. Other than you brother, what inspires your songwriting?
SG: Pretty much anything. I am a big fan of the '70s songwriters like Jackson Brown, Billy Joel and James Taylor; I was really into Randy Newman for a while. The thing that really gets my juices going is the idea that a song can last and still remain true over a generation. This is not my music, it's really my parent's music, but there's a timelessness to it. I think that's something that we don't find too much in pop music now. Again time will tell, but that's something that I'm trying to do is create music that will last.
MT: Is there a certain message you'd like to leave your listeners with on this album?
SG: I think that there's a lot of self, there's a lot of judgment, and there's certainly a lot of self-judgment. I think with this record I'm kind of dealing with a lot of that and going through it and discovering that, in a way, what happens to you belongs to you, and you can turn some of your greatest hardships into your greatest assets.
MT: What was the most difficult song on the album for you to write?
SG: Probably "Love is a Language" was the most difficult one. Just because it had been a scene that I had been the most familiar with. That's the one that really addressed my relationship with my brother. It had always been a well, but it had been really hard for me to write from that perspective without it sounding preachy. It was such a vulnerable place. So it took me a while, probably about a year and a half, to write that song and doing different versions and rewriting and stuff like that.
MT: Well the final result was great. How do you think the new album differs from your first three?
SG: I think that there are a handful of differences, starting in the preparation process. Normally how I've gone out about making records is that I'll just take the next 12 or 14 songs that I write and that I'm singing and record them. This one was something that I really kind of put on the breaks and put the agenda off to the side. I wrote about 100 songs in preparation for this record. There was a lot of; I consider that process part of pre-production. There was a lot of just getting the right songs and then once we had that, this was the first record that I worked with an outside producer, Bill Lefler.
So there's a level of production and conceptualization that it's a little bit more mainstream, it's a little bit more commercial than some of my previous stuff. But from a writing standpoint, I think it's better than I've presented before. In part, because I was working with a pretty deep well at the time and also, I think that there's a lot more storytelling in some of these songs than has maybe been on in previous records.
MT: How long did it take to put out the album?
SG: The entire process, probably about two years. The record itself was recorded in 30 days. I was writing the songs in the same way that I would go out for a couple weeks at a time and tour. I would go out for a couple weeks at a time and just write. I would travel to different writers, rather than traveling to different cities to play. I really wasn't home a lot and was always working.
MT: So you're currently on tour now. What is your live show like and what's your favorite part of performing live?
SG: My favorite part of performing live is probably just being able to share the experience with the two incredible musicians that I'm traveling with, Joe Nerney who plays saxophone with me, and Mark Seedorf who plays bass, and they both sing and are incredible. That's probably my favorite part of touring right now. They're making fun of me because they say I have to say that, which is not true. There's a lot of new stuff that we're doing in the show and then there's some old stuff. The show's pretty dynamic. I like all kinds of music; therefore I don't want anybody coming to my show expecting to just hear singer-songwriter music. There's everything from acapella to pop music to storytelling. I want people to be able to laugh and cry without skipping a beat.
MT: What tour stop are you most excited to play?
SG: I'm really excited to come to New York. I'm really excited about that show. I love Rockwood Music Hall, and it's sold out so I'm excited about the energy in that room.
MT: Now that the album is out, what's next?
SG: What's next for me is probably about a year of doing this. I will be traveling the country, we're doing some festivals this summer and just basically trying to take this new record, this new sound, to as many people as possible. That's going to be the next year, and then I'll be able to look back afterwards and see what's working and what's not working and determine the next step from there. I'm really kind of riding this one as far as I can take it. I'm really proud of this most recent body of work and want to see if I can give it some length.
MT: Definitely. Have you already started writing more music?
SG: Yeah, I'm always writing, and I write a lot for other people as well. I haven't written in the last couple weeks, but normally my time at home I write like it's a 9 to 5 job. In part because if I don't, I will just watch Family Guy truth be told, but I do well in the creative process when I have to schedule a beginning and an end to it. That's not to say that inspiration doesn't strike and lightening doesn't happen, but I'm just not one of those people that's going to wait. I'll pay attention to it when it happens, but I'm not the type of person that will wait for those things to happen.
MT: What is your relationship with your brother like when you're on the road?
SG: Well I'm his legal guardian. A lot of my relationship with my brother when I'm on the road is kind of indirect. I'm dealing with my parents, and I'm talking with his PCA workers, his personal care attendants, and social workers and just making sure basic needs are being looked after. But most of that is really kind of, there's a great team and support staff around him. That's kind of my relationship with my brother on the road, as more of a facilitator. And when I'm home, I will see him.
MT: So you only went to Berklee College of Music for a year. Why did you leave after that first year?
SG: I was a songwriting major, and I started finding myself learning a lot more people watching than I was in class. It's not a cheap school, it's a great school, but I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be doing this since I was probably 13 or 14, so having a career as a touring musician really doesn't start or end with a degree. I just knew that I wanted to play for people instead of grades, and the only way for me to find my audience was to go out and find them.
MT: So do you ever look back and wish that you stayed?
SG: I wish that I took it a little bit more seriously. I don't wish that I stayed, but now I'm 26 and there's not a week that goes by where I don't run into somebody that I was in class with. They're either an intern at the record label or they're working, they're managers, and they're sound guys at venues, and I didn't cultivate those relationships as much as I probably should have. I didn't realize that's the probably the most valuable asset that Berklee has, you're in a room full of your future colleagues, and that's pretty important to pay attention to.
MT: What are some personal milestones you're proud of so far in your career and what are some things you are still struggling with?
SG: Personal milestones -- I have a plan and that plan is still alive. You have no idea how big of a deal that is for me. That's definitely one. Things I am still struggling with, I think that patience is probably something that I have to put my back into, I have to put some effort into that. For the most part, though, I try to be as easy-going as I can. I think I have pretty high expectations of myself and those around me, and I can learn how to lighten it up every once and a while.