Glossary spent nearly 16 years churning out records and playing shows to a small but fervent following. That started to change last year. The Tennessee-based rock band scored a deal with London's Xtra Mile Recordings, which gave their most recent album, "Long Live All of Us," an overseas release, while Glossary's previous five albums were part of a stateside reissue campaign. They played about a hundred shows between January and May of last year, including two in Alaska, and appeared on "Last Call With Carson Daly."
Then Glossary hit a wall.
First it was physical: Drummer Eric Giles came down with severe tendonitis in his shoulder, causing the band to cancel the rest of its touring commitments. "It was already messed up by the time we got to Europe, but the European tour was five weeks, so by the time we got halfway through it, he could hardly hold his right arm up," singer and guitarist Joey Kneiser explained over the phone.
Giles had to rearrange his drum kit to compensate for his arm during those shows, propping it on a floor tom whenever he needed to reach the ride cymbal.
"It was hard on him because he wanted to be playing better, and he just physically couldn't," Kneiser said. "It's the fear, like being an athlete or something, being scared that the thing you've wanted to do your whole life, you might not be able to do because a lot of injuries like that you have in some form or fashion for the rest of your life."
Giles underwent months of physical therapy while Glossary went on the back burner, playing one-off shows here and there. But Kneiser also admitted to having hit the wall mentally around the same time.
Up to that point, Kneiser had been cranking out songs, both for Glossary and his solo records -- the most recent of which is the 2012 EP "Moonlight for the Graveyard Heart" -- plus material for the band's playful Christmas special. While band-mate Todd Beene toured with his other band, Lucero, Kneiser tinkered a bit in the Nashville songwriting machinery, writing with industry songwriters at Sony.
"Doing that for seven months totally burned me out on the process of writing songs," he said.
Part of the exhaustion was the glad-handing component of being a successful Nashville songwriter. Maybe more important than writing a good song is knowing the right people. Songwriters team with a "plugger," who's charged with finding an artist or producer who will put the song on an album. A successful plug means the songwriter has landed a "cut." A year or two later, the album with that cut might finally get released. Hopefully, the cut ends up on the radio.
"The real surprising part of it, in trying to be in that world, the biggest part of it is almost the game of doing it," Kneiser said.
"It's less about the song and the songwriter as much as meeting other songwriters and getting to write with people who are getting cuts," he continued. "And it's such a weird thing because songwriting in its essence is almost an introvert's art. Almost all art is designed by introverts -- usually somebody in their room painting or writing or doing something, so it's weird to me to take it out of that setting and put it somewhere else."
I first met the members of Glossary while attending college in Murfreesboro, Tenn., more than a decade ago. Like some of them, I was part of Middle Tennessee State's Recording Industry Management program. Most of our classmates hoped to land jobs in Nashville, whether it be with recording studios, publishing firms, record labels or a performing rights organization like BMI, which is where I landed for a little while.
In a lot of ways, Nashville is the last bastion of an old-school model of music manufacturing, a holdover of the Tin Pan Alley-style process. Kneiser said that the deeper he delved, the more his work with Glossary suffered.
"I come from a punk rock, kind of indie-rock background, so I don't think about songs in terms of writing from the hook or something. I start working on the song and it sort of develops organically as I go along," he explained. "It took me months of taking a break to just go back to writing for myself. I could feel the holdover from that. I would still sit down and be working on stuff of my own and be thinking like a Nashville songwriter, and I would be like 'Oh my God, I've got to stop.' "
Kneiser said Glossary weathered the storm, with Giles healthy and him reclaiming his songwriting mojo.
"I have to protect it. I can't have something tainting the process or the romanticism I have for it. It has to have some element of magic or something romantic about it," he said. "When you have to do it all day in this really clinical, over-thought kind of way, it just takes all of that away. I had to get back to finding that romanticism."
But Kneiser got past his mental block, and Glossary plans to release a new album this summer.
"I feel like I'm back to it," Kneiser offered, "but it still doesn't make it any easier. Writing songs is hard."
By Matt Sullivan
Daily News correspondent