Seth Glier’s music compelled by feeling

  • Singer-songwriter Seth Glier in his Easthampton studio apartment. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Singer songwriter Seth Glier in his Easthampton studio apartment. December 8, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Singer songwriter Seth Glier in his Easthampton studio apartment. December 8, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Singer songwriter Seth Glier in his Easthampton studio apartment. December 8, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Singer songwriter Seth Glier in his Easthampton studio apartment. December 8, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

In a well-lit corner of his studio apartment, Seth Glier pulls his leather bench up to his grand piano. His fingers set to work pressing the keys to create alternating delicate and strong tempos in tune with his voice.

“I don’t want you to slow down,” he begins. “I don’t want you to change.”

By the time he reaches the line, “My heart is a boat that takes on too much water,” the piano’s melody grows loud, filling the apartment, from the corner shelf holding a bird cage with a blue model bird to the wall of awards over his computer workstation.

The song is one from Glier’s newest — and fifth — album, “Birds,” titled “Too Much Water.” When asked how the song came to him, Glier explains that he believes it came from somewhere within the 1925 piano.

No, the remark wasn’t meant as sarcasm. Rather, Glier explains how even though he was in a good mood on the day he wrote the song, his apartment felt as if it was filled with sadness, like a feeling left behind by someone else, perhaps through the piano.

“I personally think pianos are more like dreamcatchers than anything else,” says 29-year-old Glier. “Something that’s been around since 1925 has done more listening than I have.”

Compelled by the feeling, Glier says he wrote “Too Much Water” in only four hours.

“Too Much Water” is one of 11 songs on the new album. Though he wrote for “Birds” in his Easthampton apartment, the Grammy- nominated singer-songwriter is originally from Shelburne Falls.

A born entertainer

In Glier’s mind, he’s been doing the same thing since he was 7 years old: putting shows together in a way that would keep attention. After being given an assignment through the Cub Scouts to learn the words to the National Anthem, Glier sang it before a Little League game, then at several Springfield Falcons’ hockey games.

Glier remembers music being “a bit of a filing cabinet for all (his) compulsiveness.” The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which happened when Glier was a seventh-grader at Mohawk Trail Regional School, served as the catalyst for him to write his first song.

“It was the first time in my life adults didn’t have answers for what was going on,” he says. “It forced me to make sense out of it and not to take their answers so seriously.”

Glier says Shelburne Falls, a big arts community, “offered a wonderful place to experiment and kind of transform myself.”

At 15, Glier was named the Valley Idol, a local version of the hit television show “American Idol,” from among the top 100 applicants ages 12 and up.

Glier eventually left Mohawk to attend the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, and “got lucky” enough to tour with national artists like Jonathan Edwards and Ellis Paul when he was 17.

Though he got into the Berklee School of Music, Glier soon dropped out to tour the country, playing 325 shows per year.

“Whenever I wasn’t playing, I was driving,” he says, adding how his travels helped him make important connections. “It’s just literally one fan at a time. It was very much a grassroots effort.”

The creative process

Following his other records, “The Trouble With People,” “The Next Right Thing,” “Things I Should Let You Know” and “If I Could Change One Thing,” the new album “Birds” mainly explores the October 2015 death of Glier’s older brother, Jamie.

Glier was highly involved in caring for his brother, who was autistic and also had a serious seizure disorder. He has said he learned more about communication from Jamie — who was nonverbal — than from anyone else.

“My brother passing away was a huge component of where I was and what I was looking for,” Glier explains on his website. “In particular, I was looking for meanings, wanting his life to mean more than just being over.”

Glier says he feels his brother’s death transformed him.

“I think it’s allowed me to ask better questions,” he says. “I still don’t have the answers.”

In fact, Glier says that’s what he hopes his listeners take away from his songs too: a willingness to wonder.

“In some way, I want people to ask questions in their own lives,” he says. “All these rules are meant to be challenged and feathers are meant to be ruffled.”

Many of Glier’s songs are inspired by politics, current events or social justice, like “Justice for All,” which he says he wrote after the Philando Castile shooting — it also explores the death penalty. Glier says Woody Guthrie is one of his heroes for taking politics and putting them into the lives of others.

“A song makes you feel a thought,” he explains.

When it comes to finding ideas, Glier explains that his day is “just waking up and playing,” and that sometimes he’ll come across something that needs to be developed.

“There’s some piece of dirt that gets in your oyster shell, and then you build and build onto that thing to make it valuable to other people,” he says, with a goal of getting “as close to the dirt as possible.”

What’s next?

Glier says talking about what he’s working on isn’t an easy task.

“Asking me what I’m working on now is sort of like looking for shadows with flashlights,” he said. Glier notes that his agents and managers often send him interesting projects, so he doesn’t have to actively search.

Still, he has plenty to occupy his time, like writing a song about bond and bail and setting a poem by his friend’s grandfather to music for an art gallery next spring, which is a first for Glier.

He also has a lot of traveling to do — first, he will be involved with the seven-week American Voices cultural diplomacy program that will take him to Ukraine, Mongolia and China to share his music. Glier is excited about his trip, saying, “One of our greatest exports is music.”

But for now, Glier is going on tour, with dates confirmed through August. During the couple of weeks before his tour, Glier says he’s reinventing his sound and trying to “capture different textures,” which he explains, “either make you lean into what’s going on or step back from what’s going on.”

“I’m sort of changing everything for better or for worse,” he says. “The perk of being able to record from home is having a lot of choices and many layers.”

However, Glier says there is a point where he is officially done with a song.

“That is also the same point where the song does not belong to me anymore,” he says. “My meaning of a song is really quite irrelevant from the job of a song, which is to make someone feel less alone in the world.”

Based on what his fans have told him, Glier’s songs have done just that. He recounts how a few weeks ago, a fan told him she was contemplating suicide when she heard one of his songs come on Pandora, and she looked up the lyrics. Glier says that though he wouldn’t say the song saved her life, it broke her thought pattern long enough for her to believe everything would be alright.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” he says.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

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