Jeremy Messersmith: The extended interview

Jeremy Messersmith: The extended interview
Photo by Nick Vlcek

Once you've finished reading today's cover story on Jeremy Messersmith, you might still be aching to learn more about the reserved, introspective, and talented singer-songwriter. Read on for additional quotes from my series of interviews with Messersmith that didn't make their way into the feature.

On writing his very first song:

I might have been, probably 10 or 11. But it wasn't really like a full song. A friend of mine, one of my childhood friends wrote me a message on MySpace reminding me about it last month. Apparently I had re-written the lines to the Christmas song, "da da, da da, dadadada." [singing strains of "Do You Hear What I Hear?"] Apparently I had re-written it when I was a kid to "A beast, a beast, rising in the East, he will eat us piece by piece. He will eat us piece by piece!" It was a hit song, apparently. He remembered it, like, 20 years later.

On his favorite music:

For a long time, U2 was probably my favorite band, Jimi Hendrix before that. I really like the Flaming Lips a lot, I've never seen them in concert. Radiohead is everybody's favorite band. It's freeing knowing Radiohead is out there being the best band in the world, and probably will be for a number of years--that is sort of freeing, knowing that. Like, ok, they're out there doing that, so I guess I can just do what I want to do. Ok, good, they're scientifically advancing music, great, and I love it. Stand on the shoulders of giants, and you do your work. I really like Dr. Dog a lot, and I was shocked to find out that we have the same number of Twitter followers. I was like, what? Dr. Dog? You guys are awesome!

On the inspiration for his new record, The Reluctant Graveyard:

The whole idea was originally inspired from Dan Wilson, actually. I was over at his house and we were making The Silver City, and I was complaining about how I never read poetry, I just never get into it, and he was like, you should read the Spoon River Anthology by Masters. And we read a couple of them, and I ended up liking it a lot and reading the book... So that was maybe the initial motivation for it, oh, I should try to do like a Spoon River record. And it only turned out about half as well. The songs aren't really that interconnected. I had a bunch of stuff, but it seemed like the more I tried to write songs that interrelated to each other, a lot, the more the songs just weren't very good. So instead it's just a loose concept about death and dying.

Messersmith, doing a spot-on impression of Bowie's "Heroes" cover
Messersmith, doing a spot-on impression of Bowie's "Heroes" cover
Photo by Nick Vlcek

On his first single off of The Reluctant Graveyard, "Violet":

Violet came from watching a bunch of Pinky Violence movies from Japan, in which you have these female characters who are exploited and completely abused and tortured half the time in these movies, but that's only like the first half, and there's always this point, sort of like in Kill Bill with the wiggle your big toe moment, where all of a sudden they just start kicking ass, and they usually end up dealing it out way worse than they got it. It was kind of inspired by that, and also watching all the Prop 8 stuff.

On The Reluctant Graveyard's opening track, "Lazy Bones":

That was written about my cat. I was just sitting around, trying to figure out something to write about, and he was just laying there, not doing anything. So yeah, start with my cat and then we move to real people with the rest of the record, I hope.

On using Beatles techniques in the studio:

Tracking all the background vocals in one mic at the same time was like a classic Beatles thing. We did slowing down and tracking things at half-speed, and then speeding them up. Tracking at half-speed, and then pitching it up to change the tambre of instruments, that was a really common technique in the '60s. Lazy Bones has that. So the piano in the bridge is Andy playing it an octave lower at half speed, and then when you play it at normal speed it brings it up an octave, so it sounds kind of tinnier, more bright, sort of tack-y sounding.

On his tour plans:

I've only done like two and half week jaunts through Chicago and up and down the Eastern seaboard. And that's going to change. It just seems like, I've done really well in Minneapolis, and that's about it, so nowhere else, no one really gives a shit outside of Minneapolis. I don't really have the touring presence. I'll be gone basically all summer touring all over the place, multiple times. It'll probably be me driving around in a car through the Midwest for long stretches of time. It'll just be me, at least for the summer.

On getting started in the local scene:

Really, it was Krista and Grant over at Princess Records - I had just made these little Paper Bag Eps, and I would hand them out to people at shows, and they got one and they were like, hey, all you need to do is record four or five more songs, put them on a disc, and we'll help you put it out and we'll teach you how to do that. So they kind of taught me, ok, this is the stuff you need to do. You need to have a one-sheet. You need to go get a picture taken of yourself somewhere and put it on this thing. They really walked me through the whole process of, this is how you do this.

On "Beautiful Children":

Did all of that happen? No. But I think the reason it resonates with people and why I wrote it is because there's truth in it. It's the plight of nice guys, that's always what it is. Whatever, I'm totally married now, but in college, or high school or whatever, I was probably somebody's emotional boyfriend more than not. It eventually leaves you feeling maybe a bit used or bitter, I guess, at your own passivity, at them, I don't know.

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