I've been trying not to start these off on too much of a personal note, but I had to say something. This was definitely one of my favorite interviews. Much like the interview I recently did with Michael Shaw, this was so in depth. There's nothing I love more than talking about the process of writing in detail. It really gives myself, and the readers, greater insight into the world of songwriting, particularly when it comes to the world of pop music, a world that doesn't always indulge too many of its secrets when it comes to songwriting.
To me, this interview felt so natural. I may even share the audio from it in a podcast format when the podcast launches in the next week, but in the meantime, check out the in-depth interview I had the pleasure of conducting with pop musician, Seth Glier. We talked about his songwriting process, whether or not it's really tough to write a love song, and the biggest differences between preparing to play a festival or a club.
It’s great to speak with you. It looks like you’ve got a lot of festival shows coming up this summer. For you, is there a massive difference when preparing to play a festival show in comparison to playing a club/theater venue?
Yeah! Great question. I think each show is different. When I’m not tired and I’m really on my game, I look at every club show as a totally different experience, and I look for a way to somehow personalize that show. Like, if we’re in San Jose, I’d look for a way to make it a special San Jose show. But in regards to festivals, they’re a totally different animal. I think the main thing is that you don’t generally know the audience. At a club show, I’ve got a pretty good idea of whose in the room, and at least the kind of person that’s in the room.
At a festival, if I’m playing…one time at a festival, I played a set right before Brett Michaels, and I have to say that was a great example, that my audience is very different from Brett Michaels’ audience. Going in and knowing that allows you to kind of find a thread, a common denominator. Also, in regards to festivals, if you’re playing during the day, I tend to have a little more of an up-tempo set as opposed to when I’m playing at night, where you can actually go for a ballad. Sometimes, you can’t do that at festivals.
Definitely. It all depends on the festival. Every one of them is kind of a different monster.
I think for me, festivals are a little more show-oriented. I’m doing a fifty-minute set, and at a festival, I’ve pretty much calculated every single moment. There’s not a lot of room for spontaneity. It’s been pretty worked out. Even it’s spontaneous, it’s been worked out. Whereas at a show, there are moments in a club show when I have moments kind of planned in where anything could happen. You can roll with it.
You’ve been touring off of “If I Could Change One Thing” for a few months now. When playing a live show, you’re essentially bringing the songs to life onstage. When you were in the studio writing and recording these songs, were you thinking about how those songs would play out in a live concert atmosphere, or did that come later on in the process?
With this record, I had so many songs. That’s kind of a roundabout way of answering your question, but I had about a hundred songs written, just for this album. So a lot of them, maybe out of that hundred, I had been road-testing twenty of them. So, just going into making the record, I’d say at least half of it, maybe two-thirds of it, were songs that I knew were going to go on the record because they had been working so good live. The other half were songs like “Electricity”. They were songs that I hadn’t done live, and they required a little bit more production.
I think [live show and album] are two different conversations. I think the live show is a conversation you’re having with the audience that’s in front of you. Often times, it’s about taking care of your audience. You have to serve your audience. I think a record can be similar, but it’s a different conversation. I think making a great record has less to do with serving an audience, and more about a really, really authentic performance. Something that’s just undeniably true. Hopefully, you get that in the songwriting beforehand, but even in the production, in capturing the right performance, I’ll make something powerful to listen to over and over again. It isn’t how perfect it is or how good it feels, but how true it is. I think that for the live aspect of things, I try not to let it dictate or steer what I’m gonna do in the studio, and vice versa.
There are some songs that I’ve done in the studio where I’ll scratch my head and go, “how am I gonna do that live?” That’s because I don’t tour with a drummer! On some songs, I’m just like, “Damn! I could really use a backbeat right now!” (laughs) But at the same time, it’s a great challenge, and I think I’m better for having it because the songs that I have had to reinterpret in order to reinvent the live setting, it gives it that much more authenticity. Obviously, I’m doing “Electricity” now, live. It’s very different than it is on the record, but there’s still two very true versions and performances of the song.
Before you entered the studio, did you know exactly what you wanted to do for this album, or did it take some time for the songs to develop?
I had an idea, but that was a very broad conceptual stroke. And that stroke was that I wanted it to be a pop record that had integrity, and still told stories. I was also deliberately going after radio airplay. I wanted it to be a viable part of my career, and I wanted it to be up until that point. Of course, there were some things that were deliberate. We knew we needed a single. There’s a certain pedigree that goes into those albums.
However, at the beginning and end of every day, it always came down, and still comes down to, songs. I will always record something that moves me and that’s powerful as opposed to something that would sell or something that is commercial. I was certainly dancing with that marriage this time around. But often times, I’d do all the songs that I’d written, the producer would know all the songs, and we’d go in each day. We’d start the day, and just say “what song do you feel like singing?” And that’s how a lot of it came to be, up until the very last song, where there were a couple that we had to choose from. But for the most part, we just kind of went with our gut. We didn’t overanalyze it too much. We had a good sense of what felt right each day. It kept it moving forward.
As a lyricist, was there a particular song on this record that was the most challenging for you to write lyrics to? While love songs can be extremely therapeutic, they can also be the hardest tracks in the world to write.
I think I’ve said this before, but I’ve always said that I hate writing songs. (laughs) I like having written songs. I know some people who genuinely do love writing! As a lyricist, there are a couple songs on this record that I’m really, really proud of. I did a lot of co-writing on this record, and I was really lucky to have this individual by the name of Steve Seskin. Steve has this long history, he’s an amazing songwriter, and he’s actually out of the Berkeley area!
He had done the Nashville circuit for years. He wrote number one song after number one song for Kenney Chesney and Tim McGraw. He’s a brilliant writer. We met and hit it off. We wrote our first song together at his place right outside of San Francisco, and then just started flying to one another, meeting in various places around the country, whenever we had a day off, to write songs.
As an artist, I had this incredible luxury to just show up, and say what was on my heart that day. Obviously, we were writing the songs together, but he’s such a talented writer, that I could just talk to him and he could make sure that that integrity wasn’t going to get lost.
So some of my favorite moments on the record weren’t necessarily where I was writing, but they were moments where I was feeling really honest or really vulnerable. “Lift You Up” was a song that I wrote with Steve, and that’s one of my favorite songs on the record. “Love Is A Language” was probably the hardest to write, not because it was necessarily challenging; nobody lost an eye or anything. It just took awhile. It’s a theme about my older brother, who has special needs and is nonverbal. It was just a theme that was so close to my family, my upbringing and my identity, that it took a really long time to get true, and to get right.
First: what kind of message, if any, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I would just say that what happens to you, belongs to you, and that’s a good thing. You can’t necessarily run from what happens to you in life, but if you do the work and manage to embrace it, it ultimately makes you just a much more beautiful person in my opinion. If there are scars, if there are things that are concerning you, lean into them.
What does music mean to you?
Music to me is communication. It’s communication without any barrier. It’s not communication because two people have the same experience or they know the same language, or grew up in the same place. There is just raw communication without any boundary, or any wall.
This has been another Shameless Promotion.