Songwriter Interviews

Glen Burtnik

by Carl Wiser

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Growing up in New Jersey in the '70s, Glen was part of the house band at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Bruce Springsteen would sit in with the band on Sunday nights, and Jon Bon Jovi (Bongiovi at the time) even invited him to join his new group, Bon Jovi. Glen turned down that offer, but he did join Styx in 1990 after Tommy Shaw left for Damn Yankees.

Along the journey, Glen nipped at solo stardom and became a top songwriter, writing not just for Styx, but also for Mark Collie, Randy Travis, John Waite, Jo Dee Messina and Neal Schon. With Patty Smyth, he wrote "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough," which she recorded with Don Henley.

Something else you should know about Glen is that he is a master of Facebook. He went over his friend limit a while ago and had to start another page for the overflow. As he explains, connecting through a song and connecting with a post aren't all that different.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): You and Patty Smyth captured something very emotional on "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough." Please tell us about writing the song and where you and Patty drew inspiration for the lyric.

Glen Burtnik: Here's what I can tell you. It was my birthday. We were in my manager's office in Manhattan, chipping away on another song, some rock tune (which went unfinished). Sometime soon after they surprised me with a birthday cake. I picked up the guitar and started making something up, playing kind of absent-mindedly in between forkfulls as we spoke. Patty asked what it was and said she liked it. This was the impetus for the start of the song. We began batting around melodic and lyrical ideas. When we got to a certain point, I put down the guitar and went over to the piano (as I usually do when I feel like I need more musical choices). I came up with a second section, which led to me stealing a melody from a song I had written as a teenager and tried combining that with the scratch verse ideas we had been tossing around. Patty took the music home on a cassette tape (remember those? Unlike DAT tapes, they STILL work!). To be honest, I have to give credit to Patty, who did the lion's share of the lyrics. She bounced ideas off me, I contributed a little, but she wrote the story. For me, the inspiration is either a melody or a title. In this case the title came later, and I wasn't sure a negative idea like "love ain't enough" was a good idea for a single. Goes to show what I know...

Songfacts: How did "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough" end up as a duet with Don Henley?

Glen: Patty had worked with Henley a few times before on several songs on both his Building The Perfect Beast and The End of the Innocence albums (you can clearly hear her singing on his "Sunset Grill"), and when she played him the tune (before it was recorded) he loved it. There was the harmony part I was singing with Patty which he learned and sang beautifully when he agreed to appear on her record. I feel forever indebted to Don Henley for his appearing on her recording. He was at the peak of his solo years and I believe it drew attention to the song which might not have happened otherwise.

But here's an interesting story about the song. Patty recorded it first for Columbia Records, with Eddie Van Halen on guitar and Don Henley singing with her. Columbia didn't think it was any good, so they didn't release it. Patty took the song to MCA Records, and the song was a huge hit. Go figure. In this situation, Columbia Records was apparently useless.

Songfacts: What was life like as a member of Styx?

Glen: Fun for the most part. I used to refer to it as "playing rockstar," because I was never really a star but audiences were treating me like one.

Songfacts: Please describe the songwriting process when you were composing songs for Styx.

Glen: Nothing much to say. I needed to satisfy the band members, instead of some A&R jerk or publishing idiot. Otherwise, I made up melodies and put some words to the music.

Songfacts: When you were touring with Styx and playing pretty much the same songs night after night, there must have been shows where the band didn't have a lot of energy. Can you explain how you and the band handled that, and if you think the audience noticed?

Glen: I never felt bored with that band. The energy is always high.

Songfacts: What was it like playing a bar in New Jersey with Bruce Springsteen, and what other musical experiences have been similarly memorable for you?

Glen: I've enjoyed sharing the stage with a number of the heroes of my youth. Performing alongside Felix, Eddie and Gene from the Rascals was big. Same with Edgar Winter, Sam Moore, Darlene Love. Todd Rundgren was big for me too (though we only played in a rehearsal studio). All of it has been a blast. Perhaps the biggest thrill was working in the studio with Brian Wilson - I was essentially producing him singing an a cappella arrangement of mine - that was huge. And yes, Bruce & Little Steven & Southside & LaBamba & Bobby Bandiera & Bon Jovi, etc. were all a thrill and an honor.

Songfacts: What is your most memorable collaboration as a songwriter and as a musician?

Glen: There have been too many to mention. I enjoy the personal interaction of collaboration. It's more often fun to work with someone on a shared project, unless they're too rigid.

Songfacts: I read that you declined an offer to join a new band called Bon Jovi. Do you ever get a bad case of the couldas, and how do you think it would have worked out if you accepted the offer?

Glen: I'd like to think I'd have more money, but I bet I'd have eventually gone through everything I ended up going thru with Styx anyway (quitting the band to save my marriage, then failing at that, getting a divorce and losing my shirt in the divorce).

Songfacts: From where do you draw lyrical inspiration?

Glen: Lately from true stories of my own life. I used to write more about others, fictional points of view, etc. Recently it seems to be all about me, my life and my kids.

Glen played Paul McCartney in the Broadway production of Beatlemania, and has done various Beatles-related projects over the years, including a 2007 recreation of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He's also a big fan of The Police, and performed in a cover band called Glen Burtnik's Synchronicity.
Songfacts: What Beatles songs that you've played are the hardest to perform, and why?

Glen: "Revolution 9" took a lot of effort. I'm proudest of having performed that as well as "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)." I figured I'd done my job after performing those two live - I can die now.

Songfacts: What about The Police? What's it like performing those songs?

Glen: Sting sings high. His range is stupid high. Otherwise, great fun.

Songfacts: What are your strengths as a songwriter, and what songs best demonstrate this?

Glen: I can't answer this. Maybe versatility. I've written pop-metal like "Love Is The Ritual," country hits like "Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man," and folk songs like "Watching the World Go By." I like my harmonic sense - I like to use something called deceptive cadence and a few other tricks.

Songfacts: What is "Deceptive Cadence"?

Glen: "Deceptive Cadence" is a musical term for a technical, harmonic device (arranging and writing). It's an instance where the listener assumes the next chord, or melody note, will go somewhere it doesn't. Even though all the indications lead you to expecting a certain outcome, the writer/arranger intentionally surprises you by going someplace else musically. Not sure it's simple to understand, and any examples I can think of would probably not make sense to you, as you're conditioned to being used to the outcome (the final chords in The Beatles' "A Day In The Life" and "Roundabout" by Yes, for instance).

Songfacts: How do you feel about your early single "Follow You," and do you remember where the inspiration came from when you wrote it?

Glen: I sat down with a guy named Jack Ponti and we wrote it together. I liked the idea of writing about both faith AND love, and being that I was married at the time to a Christian, I was aware of and exploring the idea of faith. It got cut by a couple of Christian rockers, which is flattering, but a lot of people assumed it meant I'm a Christian, which I'm not. Not that it's a bad thing...

Songfacts: Was "Love At First Sight" written about anyone in particular?

Glen: Nope, well, not for me. We were taking forever in the studio recording the Edge of the Century album and I was bored out of my mind. So while songs were being tweaked in the control room I would go out in the studio and play the big beautiful piano they had. Eventually I came up with a good chunk of the music and at night I'd go back to my Chicago apartment to work up a demo of the tune on my sequencer. I showed what I had to Dennis DeYoung, who wrote most of the lyrics and James Young chimed in on the bridge. It came out worthy of including on the record, so my work was done! Now, it may be possible Dennis was writing the song about somebody, but I was just trying to get another song on a major release album.

Songfacts: You co-wrote "Delicious Surprise," which was recorded by Jo Dee Messina. How did you come up with that, and was it written specifically for her?

Glen: Actually, that was written with and for a singer named Beth Hart, who recorded the tune first. Beth told me JoDee heard it and asked Beth if she could record it. It did pretty well there on the country charts for a minute...

Songfacts: Which are your favorites of the songs you wrote for Styx, and what are the stories behind them.

Glen: "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye" is one of my best for that band, I guess, because I wrote it completely solo and it came out strong. I guess I like "Love At First Sight" (written with DeYoung and Young) because I think it made me the most money!

Songfacts: How did you end up writing the song "Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man," and what inspired it?

Glen: I'd been dragging the initial idea around for a couple of years and finally wrote the tune with Trey Bruce. My publisher, Warner Chappell music didn't care for it. Trey got it to Mark Collie, who released it (on Giant Records), the Producer of which liked it and a couple of years later recorded Randy Travis's version. My biggest country hit. I'm proud of that one. Publishers are apparently useless.

Songfacts: Of your solo songs, which is your favorite and why?

Glen: Usually, it's my most recent. In this case, it's one titled "The Trouble With Sally." But I'm proud of a number of others. I'm happy when they get recognized ("Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man") and disappointed when they aren't ("The Old Man). What pleases me is when the melody is sonorous and hooky, and when the lyrics are strong.

Songfacts: You're bumping up against the limit for Facebook friends, and there's even a video on YouTube commemorating your greatest posts. Were you an early adopter on Facebook, and is there any correlation between a good post and a good song idea?

Glen: I suppose it's all relative, but I consider myself late to Facebook, seeing as how I was just getting into Myspace when my daughters had already grown tired of Myspace and moved on. I surpassed the "friend" limit on my personal profile page some time ago and for a while there I was looking for excuses to drop people (ugly, I know). I've started a fan page, which I don't like at all, and most recently I've started my second personal page to deal with the overflow.
I suppose posting a status update is sort of like song writing in that creativity is involved (hopefully) and if I come up with something interesting, people find it entertaining.

I prefer it to Twitter. There is a sense of community on Facebook, a large amount of people can join in on a conversation I've started. I like that. Twitter strikes me more isolated.

July 21, 2011
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Comments: 2

  • AnonymousGlen is a friend and a very complex deep Thinker. I am so Happy for his Happiness and Success because I don't know anyone more talented and Hard working and Genuinely Sincere and passionate about his Love and Life.
  • Fred from New Orleans, LaGlen Burtnik is a great song writer and performer. I saw him with Styx when they played at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, CA. He blew me away with "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye" and it continues to be one of my favorite songs. I hope he comes to New Orleans in the near future. Great interview!
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