Seth Glier brings his unique sound to Canal Street Tavern
By Alan Sculley
On many days when singer/keyboardist Seth Glier is on tour, he and guitarist Ryan Hommel will go to a veterans’ hospital, children’s hospital or some other health facility to play for patients.
“Mostly we’ll go for an hour or an hour and a half and basically walk from room to room, pushing a keyboard on a stretcher,” said Glier in recent interview. “And Ryan has an acoustic guitar, and we walk from room to room, sometimes playing our songs, sometimes it’s cover songs. But basically I feel really fortunate to be able to do music and make a living out of it somehow, and this is the least I can do to use that gift and try to shed some light in places that really don’t have any music and really need it.”
But Glier gets more than just a warm feeling from playing at these facilities. He has learned how to play to an audience of one — something Glier finds much harder than playing to a large concert crowd. He has also learned not to be overly possessive of their meanings from his hospital visits. As an example, he cited the song “I Don’t Need You,” which he wrote about an ex-girlfriend.
“We went to an HIV clinic,” Glier said. “I was playing in a room and I saw this guy’s left arm. I knew why he was there and realized in the middle of the song that this song wasn’t about a relationship with a woman for him. It was very different thing. It was the same words, but the experience that he had was different from my experience.
“At first I think I pulled back. I pulled my song back in sort of a ‘this is mine’ kind of way. This is what I want you to get out of it. That’s not what I meant, almost like you were being misunderstood,” he said. “But that wasn’t the case at all. That’s the beauty in music and in communication is that no matter how you slice it, it’s its own living and breathing thing. It’s going to grow and change and ebb and flow as you grow and change too.”
There’s a strong emphasis on the lyrics in Glier’s songs. On his new CD The Next Right Thing (in stores January 11), each song indeed has something to say that’s worth noticing, as Glier strings together phrases and words that are both poetic and filled with emotion and meaning.
The aforementioned “I Don’t Need You” finds Glier realizing it’s time to move on after breaking up with a girlfriend and regain his belief in himself and the future. On the sweetly romantic “Walk Katie Home,” the depth of his yearning is captured in some of the CD’s finest prose: “I may be over my head I may be out of my mind/There may be skin I can shed there may be something divine/’Cause the wind is singing out to the fog and the rain is sounding like applause/Urging me to drive through the day just to walk Katie home.”
The music on The Next Right Thing — which is Glier’s fourth CD — is also plenty compelling. Although he is often labeled a folk artist, the CD defies that notion. Yes, there is a folk influence in the playing and largely acoustic sound. But the CD opens with the title song, whose stomping beat and a cappella vocals evoke gospel-blues. “Walk Katie Home” matches its sweet lyrics with a pretty and delicate melody. “Down With This Ship” strikes a balance between soul and pop that might remind listeners of an artist like Marc Cohn. “Beauty In The Breakdown” is a lush, orchestrated pop track.
Glier, when asked about being labeled folk, sought to set the record straight on how he views his sound.
“Musically I’m not a folk artist. It’s pop music,” he said. “But pop music can be lyrically challenging and questioning. It can sort of augment the human condition, in the same way that folk music does. So I don’t know; I’m a pop songwriter/storyteller, a pop storyteller, if that makes any sense.”
Glier has been on tour throughout the year, telling his stories in song on stage. Fans, though, can expect his songs to take on different forms live since Glier travels only with one other musician, guitarist Hommel.
“I literally will travel with just a digital keyboard and I’ll use just a piano sound. Or if there’s a piano there, I’ll use that,” Glier said. “Sometimes we expand the sound. Both Ryan and I have different items strapped to our legs. I have pig hoofs, like when I stomp them, like on ‘The Next Right Thing’ song, that’s that earthier rhythm. And then Ryan plays electric and acoustic guitar, and he has those hoofs strapped to his right foot, as well as his volume pedals for his electric guitar. And then on his left foot, he has a tambourine. So there are little things we can do to just to [augment] the sections and stuff like that.”
Seth Glier will perform Friday, September 16 at Canal Street Tavern in Dayton. Doors open at 8 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.canalstreettavern.com or www.sethglier.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.