You Can’t Shake Gloriana

Gloriana’s Tom Gossin talks with Pollstar about his musical upbringing, why the band is all about songwriting and what the group has learned from opening for artists ranging from Alan Jackson to Taylor Swift.

Founded in 2008, Gloriana originally consisted of Gossin brothers Mike and Tom, Rachel Reinert and Cheyenne Kimball.  Kimball left the group in 2011.

Gossin said Gloriana is in the middle of writing its third album.  The group’s second album was 2012’s  A Thousand Miles Left Behind and included the singles “Wanna Take You Home,” “(Kissed You) Good Night” and “Can’t Shake You.”

Photo: John Davisson
CMA Music Festival, LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.

Gloriana has been described as “New Country.” Are you and your bandmates comfortable with labels in general?

I’m going to say, not a resounding “no” but I think it’s silly.  Music is music and I’ve always [operated] under that kind of policy. … The genre doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s a really nice piece of work. All the different styles of music, all the different genres, I love accepting them all because it’s a representation of the origins and the locations that particular music came from and how it has progressed through the ages.

It’s all very interesting to me. I’m a music lover and, literally, I don’t draw any lines for myself anywhere.  I’ve played classical music, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, country, and R&B, and I love it all.

Having formed in 2008, Gloriana is still a relatively new band.  During the first few years when someone such as a promoter, club booker or label representative asked you to describe the band’s music, what would you tell them?

I would say, for us, the thing we care most about is songwriting. We love writing songs.  I try to live as a songwriter, which means it’s my job to take in the same experiences everybody else has, relatable things and then come up with some sort of poetic and catchy connecting way to put that out there so somebody listening to it can say, “Oh, Man!  I’ve been there. I know exactly what he means.”  That’s really where my passion comes from having that reaction from people.  Having a song on the radio and seeing it connect with so many people.  It’s so gratifying.

As far as describing our music: It’s music by people who really care about songs. I think that’s where it starts with us.  Right down to the beginning when we started working with Matt Serletic, our producer.  He’s a music guy, he’s a composition major. He can write orchestra pieces and conduct a 90-piece orchestra and things like that. I love that we’re doing country music.  We take it very seriously.

You and your brother studied classical piano.  When did the two of you begin leaning towards country music?

I always leaned towards country music.  The first record I ever gravitated towards … when I was barely two years old, my dad was playing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on vinyl.  For whatever reason it struck me and it almost got annoying because I wouldn’t ever let them stop playing that record.  Multiple times a day, it was all I really cared about.

We grew up in a very rural area, dairy farms and it was just that kind of lifestyle where I think the country music really spoke to me.  Mainly old country music.  I never really got into newer stuff until later when I moved to college [in] North Carolina and started to know people that were big music fans of new stuff.  They introduced me to stuff I hadn’t previously heard.  Really fell in love with it all.  Then moved to Nashville and fell in love with that whole world.  Just bought my first house about a week ago.  We’ve been pretty much everywhere as a band as a far as touring and Nashville is my favorite place in the world.  I’m really excited to own a home there.

We’ve spoken to Nashville musicians who grew up in the North yet sound like they’re born and raised in the South.  While you and your brother Mike grew up in Utica, N.Y., and you went to college in North Carolina, you’ve pretty much retained your hometown accent.  Have you consciously resisted adapting a more Southern sound in your voice?

It’s funny.  We can go back to the first question about labeling [the band] “New Country.”  First of all, every genre of music … changes.  The rock ’n’ roll of now sounds nothing like the rock ’n’ roll of the ’50s.  In that respect I don’t really pay attention to those labels because of course it’s going to change as time goes on.  It’s been doing that forever.

We’re totally into being what we are.  Mike and I grew up in the Northeast and lived in North Carolina and Rachel is from California. So we’re not typical of what you think of when somebody says, “country singer.” If you automatically think of somebody with a cowboy hat who was raised in Georgia or whatever; the typical stereotype – we’re not the stereotype.  So when you say I don’t have the accent, of course I don’t because I didn’t grow up there.  But I’m not going to pretend like I did.  I’m totally cool with being who we are.  And who we are are humongous country music fans who grew up in a rural lifestyle.  Other than that … life was no different.

Touring around the country you’d be so surprised at how many country music fans are out there.  They really come in all shapes and sizes from every part of the country.  I love the fact that one of the biggest stars out there is Keith Urban. He’s not even an American, he’s Australian.  I love all the different versions and all the different things going on in country music right now.  I love that there is diversity.  I think out of all the genres of music, the most [diversity] is going on now in this genre.

Gloriana, along with acts such as The Band Perry, Sugarland, Lady Antebellum and such, is essentially a small core of artists backed by other musicians filling out the sound.  Do you think that is the future of music?  That is, to form a small unit and then bring in other musicians to provide the band sound?

Mike and I are the only two guitarists.  Zach, our bass player, grew up down the street from us in New York.  We’ve known him since we were about two years old and played in bands with him our whole life. 

In that sense, the core of the rhythm section, we all did grow up playing in a band together. Trey, our drummer, we met when we moved to Nashville, and Rachel sings. … But I do know what you mean.  The group is presented as the three of us because we write the music, the three of us.  Do I think it’s the future?  I don’t know. I hope there will always be bands.  I’m somebody that always played in bands and I like the idea of a band.  On the road we treat it like that.

Photo: Scott Legato /
The Palace Of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Mich.

Is there a date, a moment or event, something you consider to be a game changer for Gloriana?

I’m still waiting for it [laughs].  I think when you’re in it, you don’t see it from the outside, so it’s all a game changer.  Just the fact that we’re out here, we live in a bus and we’re kind of living the dream we’ve had since we were little kids.  We’ve worked so hard to get to where we are, to get to a bus, to get a record deal and all that good stuff. Yeah, we just kind of rejoice about it every day and that it still continues to go farther.

You toured supporting Taylor Swift in 2009 and 2010.  What did you learn from that experience?

That was the first tour we ever went on so we basically learned everything.  Previous to that I played bars, weddings, parties and events, but never an arena.  I’ve never played on a stage that big or in front of that many people.  Even with the tech that we had available, the light show, in-ear monitors and things like that.  Prior to that we just roughed it.

It was a big learning experience and Taylor is a great person to learn from because she’s such a great performer.  Amongst everything else she does fantastically, she can really hold an audience.  It was awesome watching her every night, learning all that stuff. It’s really invaluable.

Does supporting a touring veteran like Alan Jackson help further that learning experience?

I absolutely love playing with Alan Jackson.  Being a fan of old country, just the vibe of his band, the [musicians] he plays with and the whole vibe of his show, there’s something so classic about it to me and I just absolutely adore watching those guys and learning from them as well.  His band is a fantastic band.  It’s like I get to go to a concert every time we play with him, a concert I would love to go to, so it’s pretty cool.

Photo: Scott Legato /
The Palace Of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Mich.

Who were some of your influences?

My mom was a huge James Taylor fan.  Although he’s not really labeled “country,” I would say that if those songs had come out today, a lot of them probably would have been played on country radio.  The thing I really admired about him, growing up with [Taylor’s music], was the songwriting.  He’s just a fantastic American songwriter.  The way he can get a point across or a story across in a song, the way he did it, he was so crafty with it.  I think that was kind of ingrained in my mind from an early age as far as songwriting goes.

With Gloriana being a very intensive songwriting band, how does the creation process begin?

It’s funny.  We recently started writing songs for the third album.  We’re on the road so a lot of [the songwriting] is on the bus.  For this third project, I’m really hoping to do a rhythmic record. … I’m using a lot of percussion and rhythmic elements, starting with almost a beat first [that] kind of moves you enough to go, “Oh, this song sounds cool.”  Almost trying to make a hit song that’s a hit before the words ever come in.  I always admired songs like that because they just come on and before [anyone] has even said anything, you’re hooked. And it’s usually a rhythmic thing.

So I’m starting a lot with the drums first this time.  We’re writing little riff ideas along with these rhythmic ideas in the back lounge of the bus, just sitting around jamming and coming up with stuff.  I think right now the Voice Note programs on our phones are completely full with all these half-song ideas.  It’s really fun going through that and putting it all together and we’re right in the middle of that process now.  It’s an exciting time.

How about those times when you’re not jamming on the bus; say at the store or just driving around.  Are you still recording bits of song ideas, perhaps humming a riff or singing a few words into the phone?

Constantly.  No joke. Sometimes I’ll be on an airplane. … I look at songwriting like fishing.  You cast a line out there all day long. Every once in a while, you can’t predict it but you’ll get a nibble or a bite and that’s an idea.  I’m trying to learn how to become more in tune to keeping that channel open as much as possible.  Almost like listening to your own ideas.  Paying attention, I guess.

From the viewpoint of a professional songwriter, do you still hear new songs that blow you away?  That is, not necessarily from a listener’s standpoint, but from the point of view of someone that spends a considerable amount of time writing songs?

Absolutely.  I’m a huge music fan.  One of the few things I actually spend money on is music.  I’ll get a new album that comes out from a band that I like and I will play that record until I know every last word to every song, every note on every instrument.  I stick with one record for a couple of months and then move on to the next record.  It becomes my life, it becomes the soundtrack to every different era of my life.

For instance, we did a tour in Australia and there was this one album that I listened to when I walked every day [Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker].  It was like my Australia-trip record.  And now every time I hear it, it always takes me back there.

But that’s the beautiful thing about music, it just keeps continuing on. The fact that we are getting to be a part of that by releasing these records to the public is just awesome for me. I’m so excited.

Photo: Rick Diamond / WireImage
Country Thunder USA, Florence, Ariz.

Have you always been able to play a song after listening to it a couple of times?

I had a great teacher when I was a kid. I took classical piano lessons, not because I wanted to play classical but when you’re a kid you can’t take country piano lessons or something like that.  You really have one option, which is to start learning music theory which in the end is great.

I took those lessons and I had a second teacher who was a local jazz musician.  He taught me at his house and it was totally the opposite [of] the classical [which] was by the book.

I came in the first day and he said, “What do you want to play?” And I was like, “Excuse me?” And he said, “What song do you want to play?  Whatever you want to play, let’s play it.”

So I would bring in songs that I liked, even if they were songs from the radio or anything like that. My whole instruction with him was putting a song on and learning how to figure it out by ear.  In turn, learning all the theory that went along with what we figured out.  So from a young age I was brought up doing that.  By the time I was a teenager it became really easy for me.  I can put on anything nowadays and just play it by ear.

Now you’re touring, writing songs in the back of the bus, dealing with contracts and such – during those rare moments when you’re absolutely alone, can you still entertain yourself by playing music or is it too much like working?

I can. Especially with the piano.  For some reason sitting down at a piano, for me, is really relaxing.  It feels like a departure.  In Gloriana and on tour I do play a little bit of piano but it’s mostly acoustic guitar.  I have an old Wurlitzer electric piano at my house and an old Rhodes electric piano, which are two of my favorite songs.  Just to go home and play around is just as entertaining as it ever was.

What do you like to play during those moments?

I might just put a record on and start playing around, making up stuff.  Like I said before, I’m trying to a lot of free-flow stuff.  Just sit and write or play what comes to mind.  It helps open some doors for musical ideas to write songs with.

Do you have a large guitar collection?

I do.  Yeah, I’m definitely a sucker for instruments.  I have more instruments than I have room for. Like I was saying, I just bought a house in Nashville and I might actually not have enough room for all my gear. 

When preparing to go on tour, do you want to take all of your guitars with you and find it’s tough narrowing the selections down to, say, two or three?

I have some classic guitars I have to keep at home.  One that comes to mind, my favorite, I have a 1969 Buck Owens American which is the red, white and blue acoustic guitar he played on “Hee Haw.” That’s my prized possession.  I’ve had it refurbished and it’s in great, great shape.  I like to use that to record at home.

But that doesn’t go on the bus with you.

Once in a while it does but if I do take it on the bus it has its own bunk.  Put it to bed and tuck it in at night.

Do you believe in luck?

I think it’s definitely the … it’s about 50 percent of the ingredient for making it in music. There are so many great artists out there and I think to make it you have to be a great artist and then you also have to be lucky.  That’s something nobody can really program, you just have to have it happen.

Yes, I believe in it, but at the same time I’m someone who sweated it out in the bars for a good 12 or 13 years before somebody noticed enough to kind of connect the dots with me.  Years of people saying, like, “Man, why are you playing here? Why aren’t you somewhere bigger?  Why aren’t you on tour?” You need to get lucky and that’s a huge part of it.  I just thank God every day that it happened finally for us.

Upcoming shows for Gloriana:

Aug. 15 – Carmel, Ind., The Center For The Performing Arts
Aug. 16 – Urbana, Ill., Harley Davidson MDA Benefit
Aug. 17 – Algona, Iowa,               Freedom Park   
Aug. 24 – Mitchell, S.D., Corn Palace (Corn Palace Festival)
Aug. 26 – Pueblo, Colo., (Colorado State Fair)
Aug. 28 – Walla Walla, Wash., Walla Walla Fairgrounds (Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days)
Aug. 30 – Federal Way, Wash., Six Flags Wild Waves
Sept. 1 – Filer, Idaho, Twin Falls County Fairgrounds (Twin Falls County Fair)
Sept. 6 – Columbia, Md., Merriweather Post Pavilion (Appearing with Alan Jackson)
Sept. 7 – Mashantucket, Conn., MGM Grand At Foxwoods
Sept. 8 – Verona, N.Y., Turning Stone Resort Casino
Sept. 26 – Lawrenceburg, Tenn., (Middle Tennessee District Fair)
Sept. 28 – Garnett, Kan., North Lake Park (Anderson County Corn Festival)
Sept. 29 – Beardstown, Ill., Art Zeeck Park (Beardstown Fall Fun Festival)
Oct. 6 – Conroe, Texas, Toyota Texas Bass Classic

Please visit for more information.