By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
THE MIDTOWN GLOBAL MARKET is an exercise in sensory overload. At noon on a weekday, each of the vendors' stands is bustling with business professionals and families ordering up lunch, and a dizzying array of aromas and bright colors and sounds demand attention at every turn. Children are crying, hurried women are impatiently raising their voices, and flustered servers are dishing up tamales, hummus, falafel, cupcakes, and tarts to growing lines of hungry patrons.
In the middle of the mayhem, perched at a high-top table in the cafeteria, sits Jeremy Messersmith, quietly finishing his lunch and perusing updates on his iPhone as if barely aware of the mayhem swirling around him.
The sterile rows of tables in the dining area may not seem like the ideal setting for honing one's artistic craft, but for Messersmith it's home to many of the writing sessions that led to the songs on his third and most recent record, The Reluctant Graveyard. If anyone can focus on lyrics and chord changes in the noisy epicenter of multiculturalism that is the Global Market, it's him.
Centered in the maelstrom, Messersmith is the calmest person in the room, and it's a superlative that doesn't just apply to the day we meet in the Global Market. There's something even-keeled and measured about Messersmith that makes him extraordinarily approachable and easy to be around, so much so that when asked to identify his defining characteristics, four of his closest musical collaborators replied with words like "gentle," "kind," and "humble" (not to mention "a total nerd").
That sense of accessibility has also translated to his musical career, as his tender, pure alto-tenor and honest-not-earnest lyrics have earned him a sizable contingent of fans in the Twin Cities that will surely fill the Cedar Cultural Center this Friday for his CD-release show. As he prepares to embark on his first major tour in support of his new '60s-influenced pop record, Messersmith invited us into the studio, out to the Market, and back through his past to learn more about the making of what he says could be his final singer-songwriter effort.
LIKE SO MANY RECORDING STUDIOS in Northeast, the Library is tucked inconspicuously into the corner of an expansive warehouse, its entryway one of a long line of nondescript doors that look like they could just as easily open into prison cells as artist lofts or practice spaces. But once inside, the space is laid out like some sort of nerd haven, with bookcases devouring most of the wall space and an old, creaky ladder resting in one of the corners, the center of the room a maze of area rugs, guitar cords, drums, stools, and stands.
It's a cold, bleak Saturday morning in November, and Messersmith is deep into the recording process on The Reluctant Graveyard with multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Andy Thompson.
"The books absorb a lot of the sound," Messersmith says, marveling at the intersection of form and function in the unique recording space.
He is hunched in a corner, looking over a box of pastries and fiddling with a laptop while Thompson examines a to-do list for the day's session. The pair are calm yet serious—downright scholarly—as they begin to work, and though they are the only two musicians in the space, they are not alone. As with their previous days' efforts, today's recordings will be webcast via streaming video, and anywhere from 20 to 100 fans at a time will flood a video chat room to type words of support or feedback and listen intently to even the most mundane of their studio tasks.
As the recording sessions move forward and the album nears its release, Messersmith has continued to pull back the curtain that separates him from his followers, inviting fans to watch him record his album, crowd-sourcing input on his business and distribution decisions from his Twitter followers, and even organizing a citywide scavenger hunt as a way for listeners to track down and listen to his album before it was released.
"He's constantly on his iPhone Twittering or Facebooking and building his network," says guitar player Brian Tighe. "Having been in the music scene for a long time, it's really impressive to me because promotion is really hard, but he finds a way to do it that's actually interesting and very human."
"Over the last year I've been trying to embrace the internet as the medium for releasing music," Messersmith says. "And on the internet, content is king. You've gotta protect your rights as a musician and the copyrights and all this stuff, but I'm more of a child of the internet, and information has got to be free—it is anyway—and you should maybe just try to embrace that and figure out some way to entertain people."
During the recording session on that November day, Messersmith stopped every now and again to acknowledge his online audience, occasionally asking for input when he was feeling indecisive. "I remember asking, should I sing this certain word this way or this way? And people had very strong opinions about it, so I sang it that way, and it seemed to work just fine," he says. "It was kind of freeing, in a way. It was like having people there as an impartial third party."