Liquor and religion are staples of Joey Kneiser’s songs. Not that he can ever seem to point to either one as the answer.
His band, Glossary, has been together in one incarnation or another for 10 years. They play at times languid, at times skronky, literate rock. You could say Allman Brothers meets Dinosaur Jr., but the songs aren’t dumb enough for the former or noisy enough for the latter.
“We always get lumped in with alt-country, which I never really understood. I mean, I guess it’s because we’re from Tennessee and once you put a pedal steel in a song you’re alt-country,” Kneiser, a serious, engaging type, says from his Murfreesboro home. “The term alt-country leads people to think (country) is the main influence of your band. We’re obviously not that. We’re a rock and roll band. That’s our foundation. Country is an influence.”
“We’re just five kids who grew up liking music and we started a band … there’s no real restrictions on what we’re trying to do. We just let it go, for better or for worse. We’re all really into punk rock and indie rock, but we all love country music and rhythm and blues and old time music. Just anything American.”
Pretty much sums up their most recent album, “For What I Don’t Become.”
Kneiser plays guitar and sings. Glossary is also Bingham Barnes, bass; Todd Beene, guitar, Eric Giles, drums and Kneiser’s wife Kelly on vocals. If anything sets them apart form their (sorry!) alt-country colleagues, it’s the harmonies between husband and wife. That and the mid-’90ish guitar squeals.
“Become” starts out with the rolling snare of “Shaking Like a Flame” that implies the open road and its temptations of “Blisters on my fingers / Alcohol on my breath / On the kind of night? Too easy to forget.” Then “Poor Boy” with a bass line more Detroit than Dixie. “Time Rolling” starts out as a plaintive ballad until the end of the first chorus when a Sonic Youth quality wail charges into it. “Days Go By” is a hip shaker that belies its lyrics about faith or lack of it. “Headstones and Dead Leaves” is bittersweet, midtempo and more about living than its title suggests.
And those aren’t all the high points. It’s an album that fits together in ways that most don’t in these days of “shuffle” as a menu option. Something Kneiser, a decade into his songwriting career, made a point of doing.
“I was writing all the songs at the same time. I’d work on some of one then on to another one,” he says. “I wanted a song about loss. I wanted a song about love. I wanted a song about being the poor boy. I wanted a song about religion. I wanted all of it to have all of it to have a religiousy feel.”
“We live in the South. I am knee deep in religion all the time. When you live in the South you think like a Christian no matter how progressive or liberal you are. But at the same time I’m working like five feet from people who believe we’re in the end times. So it’s a constant push on me of constantly trying to figure out what I think about it all.”
“That difference between Saturday night and Sunday morning. That ‘I don’t know if (heaven) exists, but I don’t want to push it too hard.’ There’s that moral foundation. You can be in more liberal places and you can play rock and roll and feel good about it. But in the South you do something stupid and you come back home and you feel horrible about it. You go out and party and get stupid and get drunk, you’re Johnny Cash … and you have to live with the guilt.”
That manifests itself in “Poor Boy’ as “Honey, call the preacher / Call all your friends / The night ain't over / ‘Til everybody sins.” Or “Days Go By” with “But I’ve got a bible, baby / With the shape of a whiskey bottle cut out / A whole lot of living left in me / One foot in heaven and a dirty mouth.”
All this might be a little heavy if the music didn’t counterbalance it. One hundred gigs a year has made them a tight, fun live act. “I wish we could do it more. I’d love to be in a position where we could play 200 shows a year and the money would make sense,” Kneiser half-grumbles. It’s equal parts drive and the band actually liking being out on the road with each other.
“We play as much as we can. We just like to play. We just enjoy that and being together. When we’re at home aside from practicing once or twice a week we don’t really see each other. When we get out on the road and the only thing we have to think about (is playing) we’re just so excited and happy to do it,” he says.
The band hopes to have a new album, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” (a quote from Lincoln’s first inaugural address — Kneiser can’t be accused of not thinking big) out later in the year.
For more on Glossary, go to http://www.glossary.us/.