- June 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH JEREMY MESSERSMITH
Born in Charleston, SC and raised in rural Washington State, singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith began playing music in church at an early age. His earliest musical influences were Sandi Patti, Carman, DC Talk and Michael W. Smith. After a promising trumpeting career was tragically cut short due to braces, Jeremy turned to the guitar as his instrument of choice.
A life long homeschooler, Jeremy started college at the age of fifteen and soon graduated with an associate’s degree in computer science from the most prestigious community college in town- Columbia Basin College. After spending a year working as a computer technician at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Jeremy transferred to North Central University in Minneapolis, MN to study music. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in music, Jeremy started writing and recording songs while working a random assortment of jobs including janitor, barista, valet and office temp.
More recently, Jeremy taught songwriting for three years at McNally Smith College of Music in the composition department before leaving to pursue music full time. Jeremy has sold dozens of records in his career and even got to open for Barack Obama one time.
When he's not touring, failed astronaut Jeremy Messersmith enjoys sitting around and just being really, really lazy. Current obsessions include trashy science fiction, Netflix binges, wondering if JJ Abrams is going to mess up the new Star Wars movie, the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brien, Ricky Jay, mushroom hunting, indie video games, pondering the future of the human race, Noam Chomsky, Reddit, Michael Pollan, The Long Now Foundation, part-time veganism, fictional metallurgy, cooking, brewing kombucha, biking, booze and hot yoga.
Drink of Choice: Belgium Beer in Brussels (Chimay) or an Old Fashioned.
The Show: Jeremy Messersmith with Big Scary, June 2 at Schubas Tavern.
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: How did you get into music?
Jeremy Messersmith: Well, I was homeschooled in a charismatic, Christian denomination and there was always a bunch of very participatory music. A lot of times we had way more people playing in the band than were actually in the pews, but everybody played an instrument. There would be drums and bass and piano and organ and clarinet and trombones and auxiliary percussion and kind of like whatever anyone could play. I remember playing a wooden block when I was five, just tapping along with everybody else. I think that was my first exposure to music, or at least playing it or being involved in it.
Kristen: So, it sounds like it was a real kind of community feel as opposed to something that you did on your own?
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s way more about community and fellowship and togetherness as opposed to glorifying the individual. That’s how most sacred music is, really.
Kristen: And I saw that you travel sometimes with an eight-piece band.
Jeremy: Rarely, but yes, with a rock band and a string section.
Kristen: Do you think that part of why you want to do that is because of the way that you grew up around music?
Jeremy: Yeah, probably, though I didn’t expect that we’d get so psychological. That’s a good point and that probably is true. I very much just want to take my family, my people with me when I go on the road.
Kristen: Let’s chat about your most recent album Heart Murmurs, which came out in February 2014. There’s a big shift between previous albums and this album. Can you talk a bit about that change?
Jeremy: The first record, The Alcatraz Kid, was recorded mostly in my basement, sometimes in my bathroom, with me just singing. I had one mic. The whole record is just a single, F158 microphone. It has a very basement quality feel and I was still learning the craft of how to write songs, so to me it sounds kind of childlike or adolescent. I feel like starting from that and working on the couple of records that followed—The Silver City and The Reluctant Graveyard—I eventually got better at writing songs and better at working in the studio, using sound and figuring out what to do. A big part of that was Dan Wilson from the band Semisonic, my Minneapolis, songwriting-production mentor. He produced my second record, The Silver City, and I really, really learned a lot on how to work in the studio through him. Heart Murmurs seems like a pretty logical growth from The Alcatraz Kids. Hopefully the songs are better and hopefully it sounds a lot better from previous records, too.
Kristen: Your previous album dealt a lot with death, but there’s a shift toward love on Heart Murmurs. Is there a specific reason for that or a person behind it?
Jeremy: Well, I always try to make records about the phase of my life that I’m in. So, yeah, for me it’s probably the most personal record I’ve made. The only way I’ve found that I can write about love honestly is if I try to make it as personal as possible. Every once in a while I'll think, “Oh, that might be a good idea for a love song,” and then it ends up just being cheesy or a little Tin Pan Alley. I don’t know. I guess it’s just where I was at the time. We’ll see what happens when I make another record.
Kristen: Where did you record the album?
Jeremy: I did it in Minneapolis at this studio called The Library, although we also did a bunch of it at my producer Andy Thompson’s house. We did some at my house. I did a week recording in Atlanta with a producer by the name of Ben Allen [Bombay Bicycle Club, Cee Lo, Matt and Kim], who just finished up recording the new Belle and Sebastian record. He did some work on my record as well, but we did probably 90% of it in Minneapolis.
Kristen: You’re not originally from Minneapolis, are you?
Jeremy: I grew up in Washington State, in this little place called the Tri-Cities. I’ve lived in Minneapolis for a decade now.
Kristen: What’s your favorite thing about home?
Jeremy: Obviously the first thing is the people. The people are what make any place home, but there are a lot of things to love about Minneapolis. I love that it has its own regional sensibility and its own kind of cultural identity, which a lot of places definitely have, but its very, very prominent in Minnesota. Maybe it’s the winters that make it that way; I’m not really sure. There’s also this great togetherness. There’s an emphasis on the collective, and the time when I notice this the most—and you probably notice it in Chicago, too—is every winter, early in the winter when we have our first gigantic snowfall. Everybody comes out of their houses and helps shovel every body out and push their cars out. For me, it’s actually one of my favorite days of the year when that happens. It’s lovely. The other great thing about living in Minnesota is the first hot day, where every body just takes off all their clothes and goes and runs around the lakes. Everybody is crazy from winter.
Kristen: Especially this year. It has been terrible.
Jeremy: Yeah, terrible. Chicago had it just as bad as we did this year. It was miserable.
Kristen: You’re playing Schubas on June 2. You said you’ve been to Chicago before. What have your past Chicago show experiences been like?
Jeremy: They’ve been awesome. Outside of Minneapolis and New York, Chicago is one of my favorite places to play—and Schubas specifically. This is maybe the third time I’ve played it, and it’s one of my favorite places in the country. It always sounds great, and it’s kind of got this German drinking hall kind of vibe. It’s awesome. And the macaroni and cheese is really good.
Kristen: I live around the corner from there. It’s a problem because I want to eat their mac and cheese every night for dinner.
Jeremy: I think about it when I’m on another continent on the other side of the ocean. And I’m in Paris, like the food capital of the world [laughs]. I’m actually at the Louvre right now, sitting in some garden that’s enormous.
Kristen: That’s pretty amazing. Are you over there touring?
Jeremy: Yeah, I’m over here on tour. I play in Paris tonight.
Kristen: So amazing. I’ve never been there. It’s on my bucket list.
Jeremy: It’s been on my list for a good 30 years and now I’m finally here. It’s exciting.
Kristen: Well, I’m glad I can share this milestone moment with you.
Jeremy: Me too.
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Jeremy: I’m going to give you like three answers because really I’m not a rock-‘n’-roller at all. Probably one would be watching Star Trek Enterprise, which is a really terrible Star Trek series, but I watch it anyways. The other one would be me attempting to power stance at a show in Columbus, Ohio, this last tour and falling off the stage. That was about as least rock-‘n’-roll as you can get. And the other thing is the transformation that happens at the Airbnb or wherever it is my band and I are staying after I take off my rock-‘n’-roll clothes and put on my matching pajama set.
Kristen: You have a matching pajama set?
Jeremy: Yeah, I tour with it. Half of the reason is just for laughs, but the other reason is because they’re just really comfortable pajamas. It’s amazing how I shed my rock-‘n’-roll boots and my black clothing and then put on this sort of green 1950s pajama set.
Kristen: I was going to ask if the pajamas were a specific pattern.
Jeremy: I don’t know what the pattern would be called. It’s like a Mad Men kind of looking pajama set, but it’s definitely the opposite of rock-‘n’-roll. Flannel jam jams.
Kristen: Could be worse. You could be wearing footed pajamas.
Jeremy: That’s true. It’s funny you should mention that because one of the things I always bring on tour with me is a pillow and a slanket.
Kristen: A what?
Jeremy: A slanket or a snuggie. It’s like a blanket with sleeves.
Kristen: Oh yeah.
Jeremy: When you end up sleeping on the floor of a Motel 6 you can wrap yourself in a snuggie and cry yourself to sleep.
Kristen: After I see the infomercials I’m always kind of tempted to buy one. They did have a really good-looking leopard one.
Jeremy: It’s so comfortable. It’s a blanket that has arms. I actually recorded a few vocals on the record in my apartment, and I didn’t really have soundproofing so I just put a slanket over my head and microphone and just sang. So, that’s a little recording pro tip.
Kristen: What’s one of your favorite songs on Heart Murmurs?
Jeremy: I think one of my favorites is a song called "Hitman." It isn’t a radio song or anything, but I like that it starts soft and then ends up being one of the loudest, noisiest sounding songs on the record. The funny thing about it is that I hated every version of it that I did. We probably did like 10 or 15 mixes of it and I was like, ‘This is terrible, this isn’t going on the record,” and Andy, my producer, just nailed it with one mix and it was great. It became my favorite piece.
Kristen: It’s pretty cool how a song can surprise you like that.
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s so nice when that happens because when you’ve been working on something for so long, being surprised is really hard to do.
Kristen: Was there ever a time where you wondered if this is what you’re supposed to be doing?
Jeremy: With my life?
Kristen: No, like with music.
Jeremy: Oh, I was going to say, “Yes, like every day.”
Kristen: What keeps you going?
Jeremy: I keep going because I keep being given opportunities to do things that I keep saying “Yes” to. So here I am in Paris, bumming around and playing music. It’s just crazy. I don’t know. I guess if I were really good at something else I would probably do that, but maybe this is the only thing I’m kind of good at. I’ve worked lots of different jobs, but none of them really make me as happy as this one.
Kristen: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Jeremy: The best advice I ever got was from my friend John Munson who is a Minnesota music icon. I don’t remember the context of this, but he said, “Jeremy, I’m going to give you a piece of advice.” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Foot rubs can only lead to good things.” It's true.