Seth Glier

Q&A with Grammy-nominated singer on inspiration, activism behind ‘Birds’ album

By EMILY REILY
Special to the Union Leader
September 27. 2017 12:59PM
The song “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” one of the songs on Seth Glier’s new “Birds” release, was inspired by his severely autistic brother, Jamie, who died in the fall of 2015. 
If you go...
WHO: Seth Glier

WHERE/WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, the Music Hall Loft, 131 Congress St., Portsmouth AND 8 p.m. Saturday, Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 So. Main St., Concord

TICKETS: $14/Portsmouth; $22/Concord

INFO: themusichall.org, 436-2400; ccanh.com, 225-1111

Musician Seth Glier has lived in hardened entertainment hubs like New York City and Los Angeles, but is most comfortable where he’s originally from — western Massachusetts.

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter’s multifaceted album “Birds” reflects both that home-spun heart and wandering soul. On the heels of his pop-oriented album, 2015’s “If I Could Change One Thing,” this year’s “Birds” continues a new direction. The album sways from contemplative acoustic-piano ballads like “I’m Still Looking” to the angry clash of “Water on Fire,” about corporate greed.

Glier also is an activist, and his songs about politics and the environment (such as the practice of fracking for oil and gas) echo those views. “Birds” also digs deep on the personal “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” a song inspired by his severely autistic brother, Jamie, who died in the fall of 2015.

When Union Leader caught up with Glier to discuss music and activism, he was at his favorite fishing hole in Easthampton, Mass.

It’s getting toward that nice time of year.

Yeah, it’s been chilly, but I love it. There’s something about coming to New England that’s really ... it’s a recharge for me. I love being around just different kinds of green, as cliche as that sounds.

The video for your song “I’m Still Looking” shows you in quite a peaceful place.

Yeah, that’s where I am right now, at my fishing spot. It’s a really wonderful corner of the lake that’s quiet. I love it, I think in part because ... I’ll usually just come here in the afternoon and throw a worm in the water. And whether I catch something or not, it just reminds me that if you just sit in one place for long enough, whatever you went out to go see, whether it’s a bird or a beaver or whatever, it just finds you. 

What do you like to catch?

I like to catch anything that bites the hook. I have an affinity for trout. I have learned this year (that) there are only so many ways you can cook a trout, as my girlfriend has definitely gotten sick of tacos.

What was your first gig?

It was really sexy. It was probably at, like, the public library, and it was in Greenfield (Mass.), and I got paid $20. I had written two or three songs. I was very precocious, so I thought that I was actually ready to play a show of two or three songs. The only cover song I knew was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which I played at least eight to 10 times in that hour that I had to fill. Yeah. Poor readers. I was probably 13 or 14.

Why did you name your album ‘Birds?’ It seems like you are really into nature.

I don’t like camping. And I don’t like bugs. I think if you’re into nature, you gotta be into it a little bit more than I’m into it. But I can’t wear that badge.

But the title for the album came from a couple places. My brother’s nickname was Bird. It was sort of what my family called him. He passed away right before I started writing.

Actually there’s a lot of living in loss. There’s a lot of life that comes to the surface. 

Can you tell us more?

As I was writing and recording this record from my apartment in western Mass. — I live in this old mill building, this old factory building that has since been renovated — and out my window is this smokestack that has been dormant since the factory shut down. But it‘s become home to a dozen or so birds and swallows and pigeons.

Almost every morning, as I was either writing or recording, a couple of these birds would fly out from the top of the smokestack, and they would sort of perch along my windowsill.

They became my co-writers. After a little while, I just started talking to them and asking them a lot of the questions that I probably should have been asking a therapist. But you know, it didn’t feel so far-fetched. I think I was probably trying to talk to my brother. I was trying to have some resolution there, and then also just as a writer, I figured they’re singing songs all the time so maybe they can help me with my own.

I’m sorry to hear about your brother.

Thanks. But you know, looking back, I’m really grateful. I was his care provider. Right about 14, I would wake up before catching the bus to school, and I’d get my brother showered and dressed and get him breakfast in the morning.

When I look back on it now, I miss him, but I don’t feel disconnected from him. And I’m thinking (that) in a large part he kind of taught me, he taught me language. He taught me how to communicate to someone without words. I find him a lot in the creative process.

What causes are you involved with?

Well, I have done a variety of things, working with Autism Speaks, working with different children’s organizations. We’re doing a couple shows that are benefits for Amnesty International. We’re doing a couple shows that are community efforts for regional nonprofits.

There’s no shortage of people that can use attention. That is probably the other biggest thing my brother sort of instilled in me — the sense of advocacy.

I find myself very fortunate to be given a microphone 200 days out of the year.

Part of that comes with the responsibility to use the microphone to amplify other efforts that are happening within communities, especially, my God, especially now.


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