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When asked if he normally extends such a gracious hand to up-and-coming songwriters, Wilson laughs. "No, he's really good! Most things that people make are all the same as everyone else makes. It's all the same, and it's all nondescript and kind of depressing. And Jeremy's stuff was already amazing."
The two musicians eventually started dabbling in the studio together without an explicit goal in mind, and they spent the better part of three years working off and on recording what would eventually become Messersmith's second album, The Silver City. But halfway through the project, Messersmith decided to step back and finish hammering out some demos himself, releasing his home-recorded full-length, The Alcatraz Kid, in 2006.
The Alcatraz Kid is an innocent record. Songs focus on the jarring adjustments that happen during the transition to adulthood and the gut-churning heartbreak that comes with loving someone foolishly yet completely. The album is painstakingly personal at times ("Some of the songs are sort of embarrassingly confessional," he admits now), and they still coax some of the strongest reactions from crowds at shows. "Beautiful Children" is so stunningly honest that it routinely causes audience members to laugh or cry at the punch line, depending on their willingness to show emotion in public, and "Novocaine" could easily be the theme song for this generation's televised teen drama. In face, "Miracles," a song written at the same time as the tracks on The Alcatraz Kid but saved for the next record, was recently featured on an episode of Ugly Betty.
Once he was back in the studio, The Silver City took on its own themes, circling around the grind of a workaday life and the peace that comes with finding a soul mate. Though Messersmith's songs of heartbreak strike a chord with fans, his songs about finding true love are equally poignant, the result of a contented marriage with his wife and best friend, Vanessa.
Jeremy says they have been married "four and a half years, it'll be five in August. We met the first week of school, so that would be like 10 years ago." Though they didn't date in college, Jeremy remembers his first encounter with Vanessa vividly. "I met her the very first week I went to college," he remembers. "She seemed sort of insane and interesting. I was—I still am, for the most part—very reserved, and I just found her to be exciting, and very much outgoing when I wasn't. She started wearing these long jean skirts, and she had dreadlocks, and she was always wearing this orange Tang T-shirt."
Vanessa now co-owns a vintage clothing shop in south Minneapolis (Blacklist Vintage on 26th and Nicollet) and is a familiar face at most of Jeremy's local shows. Anyone who has witnessed the pair interact can see that they are old souls born to be around one another, teasing and flirting and blurting out whatever needs to be said without the slightest hesitation.
"She's the person I wake up at 2 a.m. and say, 'Hey, do these lyrics suck? Does this work for you?' She's basically my creative foil. She's the person I bounce ideas off of. So she's probably the single biggest influence on my songwriting. Basically, if it doesn't work for her, I don't put it out, or it goes back to the drawing board."
The Silver City was a drastic sonic shift from The Alcatraz Kid, trading in the lo-fi bedroom sound and childlike imagery for grown-up ballads with slick, hi-fi pop sheen, but it was an about-face that has now become customary each time Messersmith steps in the studio. And with The Reluctant Graveyard barely back from the presses, he's already looking forward to the next project, whatever it may be.
"I've tried to make the process of making each record different, because I think that's a big deal," he says. "This will probably be the last record, like this anyway. It feels like I've been doing one thing for three records, trying to get better at it, and I don't know how much better at doing that I can really get. I just kind of want to try something else. If you're an artist, you should try to do something new.
"I've got a couple ideas for more bizarre projects. Basically trying to move the form to something else." He looks around, eying passersby and smiling mischievously. "Don't tell anybody this. It would definitely be something that could never be played on the radio. Ever."
JEREMY MESSERSMITH plays a CD-release show with the Mynabirds on FRIDAY, MAY 7, at the CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER; 612.338.2674
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