By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Even the most autobiographical track on the album, "Organ Donor," takes a bit of unpacking in order to trace it to a more personal revelation about Messersmith's own life, though its lines become more profound when read in the context of his back-story.
I was born in a mortuary
Full of worry
Ice water in my veins
Gave my heart at the school library
Never knew her name
The son of a nuclear scientist and a home-school teacher, Messersmith spent his childhood in Kenwood, Washington, which "happens to be the second-most-polluted place on planet Earth," he states matter-of-factly. "Virtually everyone in town either works agriculture, growing apples, or they are scientists working to clean up nuclear waste and figure out what to do with it, because no one knows what to do with it. My dad worked at a nuclear power plant. I grew up there until I was 18."
Messersmith is a self-proclaimed "recovering fundamentalist," raised in a strict Christian household by parents who logged many hours at a nearby Assemblies of God church, where they would encourage him and his three siblings to pick up musical instruments. "I was the trumpet, my dad would play trombone, my mom would play clarinet, my sisters would play oboe and bassoon," he says. "We were sort of like a Holy Roller church, so people would be speaking in tongues a lot. The church was actually in the middle of a field. Usually the people playing, especially on a Sunday night, would outnumber the crowd."
Lost my tongue in the sanctuary
"Heaven spare me!"
Hands raised above my head
Sent my brain to the seminary
Never seen again...
After spending his childhood being home-schooled with his siblings, and his teen years studying at a nearby community college, Messersmith left home at 18 to attend the Assemblies of God-affiliated North Central University in downtown Minneapolis ("Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker went there," he notes), where he first met his wife, Vanessa.
Around the time Messersmith was finishing college, he says he could feel things beginning to shift. "I was still a Christian through college, and then I ended up taking this New Testament class with a professor at school who knew Greek. We had to write a paper on some passage of scripture, and there was one section, it was First Corinthians 11, and the whole segment was traditionally translated into something basically about 'women should cover their heads and be modest in a house of worship,' and I was like, okay, I'll take that one. Sounds like that'll be easy to write five pages on.
"Then I actually started doing research on it, and basically nobody has any idea what that passage means. In Greek, it's like gobbledygook. Nobody has any clue. They think the scribe—you know, scribes would occasionally write notes in the margins, they think that somehow the notes in the margins made it into the oldest text that we even have, so basically people have translated it to mean whatever, and it just doesn't mean anything. And a big part of being a Christian fundamentalist is that the entire Bible is the exact word of God, a gift to man. And I was just like, well, if it's God's gift to man, you'd think he would have done a better job."
Drained my blood at the mortuary
No more worry
Ice water in my veins
Took my bones to the cemetery
Where they still remain
"I remember thinking, well, what if God doesn't exist at all? It sort of made me all panicky to think about it at first. And then somehow it just seemed like, uh oh, probably not. Or even if there is [a God], for all intents and purposes, I'd like to behave as if there isn't one. And it just felt incredible. I remember just breathing deeply and being like, all of this stuff, my past, my childhood, I just felt lighter. I can live life however I want, and it's great."
So swing low
I don't know
If I'll ever be whole again
'THE RELUCTANT GRAVEYARD' is Messersmith's third album in four years, and the final chapter in what he calls his "pop song trilogy." Since emerging onto the local scene in 2005, Messersmith has established himself as a prolific and highly accessible songwriter, gaining a large following thanks in part to radio support from 89.3 the Current ("They're the only reason anybody's heard of me," he jokes) and hours logged on stages around town. Attend one of his packed shows now and it's easy to forget that just five years ago Messersmith was playing singer-songwriter nights at the old Acadia and handing out burned copies of demos dubbed the Paper Bag EP.
"I saw him play at the Acadia, he was doing a solo-song-night kind of thing, and I was super excited," says Dan Wilson. "I asked him if he wanted to send me some songs and I would tell him what I thought. So we ended up having a couple really long conversations about songs, and we decided to do some recording."