My earliest and most profound songwriting influence comes in the form of my older brother, Jamie. Jamie is non-verbal and diagnosed with a severe form of autism. As I got older my responsibilities around the house were to help my parents with my brother’s daily tasks such as showering, getting him dressed in the morning, and giving him breakfast. To be honest, before this I sort of avoided my brother. I didn’t understand why he was different and certainly felt jealous that he had so much of my parents’ attention…. To this day, he still gets all the cute 20-something PCA workers, which just doesn’t seem fair. My relationship with Jamie and the lessons he’s taught me hold more value to me than any Grammy nomination or songwriting award I hang on a wall. Jamie taught me about what listening means and how to truly hear someone even when no words are being said.
I was always a fiercely independent middle child who didn’t really get the idea of working with others, including teachers, until much later in life. I was focused, tenacious, and knew exactly what I wanted to do. In 10th grade I got suspended for playing guitar during study hall, decided to write a protest song to the principal about “suppressing my freedom of expression” and then took it upon myself to play the song over and over again in the front lobby of the school during study hall. I was expelled by the end of the week. This stands out as a pivotal moment that instilled a sense of advocacy and social justice in my music that is still there today. Sometimes music (or any art in its highest form) isn’t just there to comfort the afflicted, but sometimes its purpose is to afflict the comfortable too.
I attended Berklee College of music for a year and soon I was performing anywhere I could. I moved back in with my parents and made a record in their basement for about $5,000 with used equipment I purchased from eBay. I bought a yoga teacher’s ‘89 Toyota Camry with 250,000 miles on it and drove around the country for 3 years with my friend Ryan playing every open mic, dive bar, bar mitzvah, club, and concert experience imaginable. I booked 300 plus shows a year from the passenger seat of my car. There was no team of agents or managers, and nobody telling me what I needed to do or how to do it. I had no plan B, just the maniacally focused voice of my six year old self that kept saying “don’t you stop now.”
It has been, and continues to be, the journey of a lifetime. I’ve had amazing mentors along the way, been around the world, become an international spokesperson for Child Fund International (an organization helping end economic disparity), put out four albums on a great record label, flirted with Katy Perry, walked the red carpet at the Grammys, and gotten to wake up and do what I love every day. My life has changed a lot, but my goals and influences haven’t drifted too far from the kitchen table where I would give my brother breakfast. Connection is why I do this. When a song connects with someone it reminds us that we are not alone in the world. There’s a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s good work. It’s noble work.
My brother taught me early on that learning comes in from all different shapes and forms. One of my greatest teachers in recent years is my traveling companion Joe Nerney. Joe plays saxophone on tour with me. He’s 62 years old and has been blind since he was 3 days old. Joe “sees” more joy in one day than many do in their entire lives. The connection we have with each other on and off stage is one of compassion, respect, and it helps that we both have the sense of humor of a twelve year old. I’m so grateful that I get to watch him fulfill his life’s purpose night after night, to play music and show the world that we have more similarities than differences. He’s a man that embodies the philosophy of “it’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.”
This new album is so special to me because I feel like it’s the most authentic album I’ve ever made. A great album has less to do with a great performance as it does a human one. I set out to make an album of genuine moments where I’m sitting inside of the stuff, not getting out in front of it. I took an acting class, learned Shakespeare, and I wrote about 100 songs in total for this record. Bill Lefler (Ingrid Michaelson, Joshua Radin, Dashboard Confessional) was the perfect producer who gave me a safe place to quiet my mind, trust my intuition, and have way too much fun.
Well there you go, that’s my story so far. It truly is such an honor to make music that people care about and to be a part of a community that supports all of my idiosyncrasies. In all seriousness, it’s nice to look back on how far things have come since I was a 6-year-old… even more inspiring to imagine where it is going.
Download: Seth Glier