Songs of sound and fury
Glossary’s narrative songwriting influenced by Southern literature and romanticized rock.
Joey Kneiser doesn’t hide his rock ‘n’ roll heart. The songwriter empties it in the tunes of the Murfreesboro, Tenn., rock ‘n’ roll band he fronts: Glossary.
“When trouble comes around, don’t you be afraid. This world can take your life, but it can’t take the love you’ve shown away,” he sings late in the rolling, blacktop-boogie R&B of “Trouble Won’t Last Always” from Glossary’s 2011 release Long Live All of Us.
Elsewhere on the album, during the scattering guitar and horn groove of “A Shoulder To Cry On,” Kneiser notes,” I don’t want to live forever, but I don’t want to die tonight.”
But Kneiser’s songs aren’t just lines of words tied together by choruses. He writes narratives, short stories with a rock ‘n’ roll beat supplied by the band of Bingham Barnes on bass, Eric Giles on drums, Kneiser’s ex-wife Kelly Kneiser on vocals and percussion, and Todd Beene on pedal steel, guitar and vocals. (Beene is also a member of Glossary’s Tennessee rock ‘n’ roll brethren Lucero.)
Kneiser writes songs cinematically, painting scenes with his words that he and his bandmates buttress with music. In “Gasoline Soaked Heart,” a track from the band’s 2007 album The Better Angels Of Our Nature, Kneiser’s words are one of a narrator following rock ‘n’ roll dreams while his cynical friends are camped out in the suburbs. “From a bar stool, I was shouting out Bible verses to a ghost who’d been following me for awhile. And I couldn’t find the energy I needed to make myself smile.”
William Gay. Flannery O’Connor. William Faulkner. Cormac McCarthy. Some of the big ones of Southern Gothic literature are Kneiser’s influences when writing.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Southern literature,” he says. “Dark, kind of Southern Gothic fiction. That plays a huge role in what I write. But a lot of it also is the mythology of rock ‘n’ roll. There are the car-crash songs and the weird, ghostlike side of rock ‘n’ roll that also always attracted me as well.”
Glossary has existed for more than a decade, releasing their debut This Is All We’ve Learned About Living back in 2000. But much like their friends Lucero, the music world outside of the small bars where Glossary often plays and die-hard fans has taken more notice of Glossary in the last few years. Releasing a string of albums filled with remarkable Southern rock ‘n’ roll as great as The Better Angels Of Our Nature, 2010’s Feral Fire and Long Live All of Us (all available on Little Rock’s Last Chance Records) only helps garner attention.
Calling the sound of Glossary Southern rock ‘n’ roll is easy. But with Long Live All of Us, the band’s seventh full-length album, Glossary opened their sound up a bit. The idea was let’s make a positive record. Songs of mercy, redemption, salvation. And while recording in rural Rockvale, Tenn., the band also tossed in piano, pedal steel and horns into their romanticized rock ‘n’ roll sound.
The house Glossary recorded Long Live All of Us in was located between a church and a condemned meth lab, and the album reflects those two extremes. The record is glorious, rollicking hodgepodge of sounds: the aforementioned R&B and horn-powered grooves (with horns by Jim Spake and Nahshon Benford), but also kicking-up-grit, full-on rock, and piano and pedal steel tunes straight out of the gloaming.
Beyond Glossary, Kneiser also released in December his second solo effort, a five-track recording titled Moonlight For The Graveyard Heart. (Kneiser released his solo debut, The All Night Bedroom Revival, in January 2010.) The tunes of Moonlight are darker in their tone versus Long Live All of Us, though not necessarily the music. “Goodbye Iris” bumps along lively enough with a piano-propelled rhythm, but Kneiser notes that “we’re all only here waiting to say goodbye.”
“I just wanted to write something a little bit darker,” he says. “I wanted to write these narrative, short story kind of songs about kind of downtrodden characters. I’d been listening to a lot of early Tom Waits records, and he has a lot of narratives about those kind of down-and-out characters. Even though they are kind of dark, there’s still some kind of silver lining in them somehow.”
The Glossary songwriter and frontman recorded the bittersweet ballads at his home in Murfreesboro by himself — writing the tunes, playing every instrument, singing each word and doubling his voice for harmonies, and engineering the complete EP. Moonlight was a solitary effort, but Kneiser says he couldn’t avoid it. He writes when the inspiration strikes.
“I’m constantly writing things,” he says. “I’m much more a batch songwriter at this point. Most of the time I’m writing a song based off of an idea. Long Live All of Us — I knew I had the title and I wanted the songs to be positive so I went into it writing all the songs together as opposed to individual songs throughout the year. I seem to work better when I have an idea to work under.”
Kneiser is already working on tunes for a Long Live All of Us follow-up, although it’ll be summer before Glossary starts seriously working on its new record. The songs will be rock ‘n’ roll, but perhaps with a twist or two. “We always try to push ourselves to do something different and get out of our comfort zone,” he says.
Glossary’s upcoming tour, which kicks off next Tuesday night at White Water Tavern, is a long haul, reaching across the empty middle of the country and hitting towns and cities along the West Coast and even into Alaska. So once more Kneiser and group head out under that big American sky, singing songs about shoulders you can cry on and reminding listeners that troubles won’t last always, and all the while searching for some eternal spark.
SEE THE SHOW
Glossary plays White Water Tavern on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Also on the bill is Fort Worth, Texas-based band Telegraph Canyon, an outfit that blends epic Americana-flavored rock ‘n’ roll with gentle, violin- and mandolin-powered folk. The music starts at 10 p.m. with a $5 cover.