After 16 years, Tennessee's Glossary is ready for its big break

Matt Sullivan
Tara Kneiser

This is my fourth winter in Alaska. I grew up in Tennessee and spent my college years in a town called Murfreesboro, about a 40-minute drive southeast of Nashville and home to a monument marking the geographic center of the state and what's claimed to be the world's largest cedar bucket. That's the town Glossary is from, and this weekend will be the band's first taste of winter in Alaska.

Well, not everyone in the band. Guitarist Todd Beene also plays in the Memphis-based group Lucero, which played Girdwood a couple times in late 2011 and early 2012. I showed up at that first show wearing a Glossary shirt, knowing those guys would recognize the logo because they used to play the same coffee shop and dive bar scene in the early 2000s. I didn't know that Beene was also playing in Lucero.

So when I saw him sitting at his pedal steel on stage right, I wrestled my way to the front and stuck out my chest. After the song he leaned into the audience and asked, "What the hell are you doing here?" I asked him the same thing.

During the four years and change I lived in Murfreesboro, the local bands were coming to terms with the fact that the Next Big Thing status that publications like Billboard magazine had thrown at the town's indie-rock scene in the late '90s didn't stick. This wasn't Athens, Ga., or Chapel Hill, N.C., and bands like Self, Fluid Ounces, The Katies and The Features never exploded like everyone expected.

For those of us who started bands in that wake, the scene politics dictated that those groups were either put on a pedestal or openly disdained. Glossary was different -- from the metal to punk to hip-hop to the experimental noise-making corners of that scene, the reverence other bands gave the country-ish rock combo was universal.

"We've been lucky because we became one of those bands that's other band's favorite band," Glossary front man Joey Kneiser told me over the phone. "Bands like the (Drive-By) Truckers, Lucero and Against Me have kind of kept us alive over the last few years from just helping us."

Glossary started out in the late '90s as an indie-rock outfit with a penchant for Southern rock-isms. Southern rock and country later became the main reference points, and on 2010's "Feral Fire," the band reinvented itself as an E Street Band-Thin Lizzy hybrid.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it's criminal that not every single person reading this has heard of Glossary. Admittedly, nostalgia plays a big part (I spent my 21st birthday at a Glossary show, for example), but the nearly 16 years the band has toiled in relative obscurity make it hard not to complain about how underappreciated they are. Of course, I'm biased. While I mostly haven't been in touch with these guys since leaving Tennessee, they're still friends.

So don't take my word for it. From a former colleague at the Nashville Scene in 2006: "There are local bands that build a buzz and a following until they get a crack at going national, and then there are local bands like Murfreesboro, TN's Glossary, that keep at it year after year because there's something that needs to be expressed, even if no more than a few thousand people ever hear it."

That same year Kneiser was interviewed by Paste Magazine about what was then the recently released "For What I Don't Become": "I wanted the songs to represent where we were as a band and try to answer whether or not I'm doing the right thing by pursuing something as crazy as a life in music."

As Kneiser and I caught up over the phone while the band was winding its way through California, he told me things are finally starting to work out for Glossary.

"We always had to -- because we could never get a good booking agent -- we always had to basically be smart about what we did," he said. "The band couldn't support everybody."

Friends like the Drive-By Truckers regularly asked the band to open tours, but until recently, Glossary had a harder time booking its own tours.

Venues out west had been contacting the band for years, but the five-piece didn't have the resources to make it work. Then the band finally found a decent booking agent, which has the group playing in Alaska this weekend and leaving for Europe next month.

"Going out on our own as a headliner, obviously it's rougher. Now we're to the point where we're starting to do a lot," Kneiser said. "The band's been getting a lot bigger."

Just this past Wednesday, the band announced that it signed a deal with the London-based label Xtra Mile Recordings. Last week, Glossary was the guest on the popular Sklarbro Country podcast. (Kneiser said Randy and Jason Sklar have been fans of the band for years after a fan sent the two comedians a mix tape with Glossary songs.)

Glossary had every reason to wonder if it was doing the right thing in 2006, but that existential crisis didn't seem to carry over to the albums that followed "For What I Don't Become."

On "Blood on the Knobs," Kneiser reaffirmed his pursuit no matter how crazy it is: "Shake up the future and rattle its cage / roll down the road to the next show that doesn't pay / I'm still holding on to rock and roll."

And on last year's soul-inspired "Long Live All of Us," Kneiser was purposefully upbeat. A common refrain from the album: If you're doing what you love, it'll work out in the long run.

"I wanted to try and write a more positive record," the songwriter explained. "I was getting annoyed with how apathetic and cynical indie-rock has become.

A lot of the great rock and roll that I love does have some positivity while it still has a little bit of darkness."

By Matt Sullivan