Songwriter Seth Glier says pandemic has pushed him beyond songs that tell a story
HOLYOKE – The last year has changed the way Seth Glier approaches songwriting. For his upcoming sixth album, he decided to be more than just a storyteller – he wanted to share his vision for a better future.
“I would say the pandemic, more than anything, has changed my perspective on what my job is,” Glier said in a recent interview at his home in Holyoke.
For the past 15 years he has said he has emulated folk heroes like Woody Guthrie who told stories through their songs about contemporary events.
“Throughout the pandemic, documenting the problems around the world was not enough,” Glier said. “I felt like my work had become much more focused on imagining the world we are trying to build.”
Glier’s new album, “The Coronation”, the sixth on MPress Records, is a 13-track album that doesn’t shy away from complicated topics. While it offers hope and optimism in songs like the title track, “The Coronation”, the album also touches on topics like dealing with trauma in “Stages”, being ignited in personal relationships in “A Gift” and the capture of feelings of uncertainty at the start of the pandemic in “Til Further Notice”.
The songs on the album show Glier’s ability to take a single phrase or idea and let it turn into a song in its own right. The “stages” began when a friend remarked, “trauma happens in stages”. For “A Gift,” he knew he had written the focal line the moment he entered the studio to record the music, “Someone taught you that, you learned that from them.” Even “Til Further Notice” takes its name and refrains from actual notices last year.
Glier is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who grew up in Shelburne Falls. He participated in a cultural diplomacy tour sponsored by the US State Department as an international ambassador. The intercultural program took Glier to Ukraine, Mongolia and China to share his music and experience the music of other nations.
In the months leading up to March 2020, when lockdowns began shutting down businesses and live shows, Glier had already started work on his new album. A tour Glier had planned for Mexico was suddenly canceled. Instead of performing live shows to hundreds of fans, Glier ended up renovating the house in Holyoke that he moved into with his wife last February.
“I went home and wrote ‘Until further notice’ during the first two weeks after I got home in the basement,” Glier said. “We had started unpacking the boxes in the basement and I wrote a few songs there.”
Parallels began to emerge for Glier while writing songs for the album and working to fix the house. Between remodeling the stairs and patching the drywall, Glier would sit down and try to write.
“The house was really an anchor for me,” said Glier. “Working on something as basic as the attic or the bathroom was a way to contain much larger questions that I also asked in my musical creation. ”
He compared tearing down walls and figuring out which parts of the house were worth saving to what the company itself began to think about in the early months of the lockdown. People were asking lots of questions about what kind of world they wanted to live in after the pandemic, and Glier wanted to create music that reflected a new kind of world.
“It will be the art and artists working in communities that will help us imagine this new world,” said Glier.
In the song “The Coronation”, Glier sings, “When this storm is over / And there is no risk of exposure / Will we still be where we were / Will we be back as usual? / Or can we build a more beautiful world / That we never thought?”
“We were seeing people fundamentally questioning their attachment to capitalism in a new way,” Glier said at the start of the pandemic. Through his music, Glier hopes to provide glimpses of compassion for people who have lived through a year like no other.
“There are so many casualties in this country and around the world,” Glier said. “Music – more than any other art form – has the ability to get other people to stop their cars, both literally and metaphorically. Three and a half minutes changes everything.
He says that while he’s not sure there will be a monumental shift in collective consciousness, he hopes to reach listeners at the individual level.
“Part of my job is to create a moment of mourning for people because this hasn’t happened and no one has led this charge,” he said. “It really didn’t happen in this country. It’s business as usual.