The Red Alert
The Red Alert

Jeremy Messersmith

(October 2008)

Interview by Amber Henson

 

The architect of The Silver City talks about making his exquisite new album, obsessing over science, and surviving crap day jobs.  He also receives an unusual challenge.

 

As soon as I found out I was going to be interviewing my personal voice hero Jeremy Messersmith, I started doing research.  And as soon as I started doing research, I found this quote from a previous interview by Perfect Porridge, when he was asked “What else is new?”: “Well, I just got taken out to the Star Wars exhibit at the Science Museum. Being the biggest Star Wars nut ever I was pretty excited to ride in the Millennium Falcon. Hmmm. I guess I need to make a Star Wars record or something.”

 

Oh.  My.  God.

 

So I immediately wrote down in my notes “Tell Jeremy that if he makes said record, I will have to stalk him.”  Of course, I knew, even in my mild state of euphoria, that that’s no way to start an interview.

 

Instead, I started by telling him that his song, “Novocain,” as I mentioned in my review of his most recent album The Silver City, was the most listened to song on my iTunes, which had surprised me.  He answered “No one is more surprised by that than me.”

 

Then we got down to business, and I asked him when singing became a major part of his life.

 

“Well, I came from a religious family with lots of religious traditions, like playing music in church.  I played the trumpet when I was kid.  It was probably around fourteen that I began playing the guitar and singing a bit.  I was a music major in college, and eventually I started performing out of school.  I was finding a form of expression.  And then I got a very, very meaningless job, so music was much needed.”

 

This is the job that is the subject of “Day Job”, “Great Times”, and “Dead End Job”.  I asked if he was still plugging away at it.

 

“Yeah.  That’s what motivates me with a lot of my music.  I started out as a temp.  It’s a standard office tech.  It’s soul-fucking.  But, you know, you drive a shit car and try to make a living.”

 

However, Jeremy will be going on tour in November, so that will be the end of that dead end job, at least for the time being.

 

We then switched over to his music.  I wanted to know how the songs came together, if it was lyrics first or the other way around.

 

“A bit of both, kind of half and half.  Sometimes I get melodic ideas, but other times I think ‘hey, it would be fun to write about this concept’.”

 

I inquired if the song “Light Rail” had been one of those concept pieces.  It was.  I explained how much that song meant to me, as I had taken the light rail of San Jose, California very often as a child.  He answered “Dan Wilson [who helped produce the album] has a theory that most good songs have some hint of nostalgia, a romanticism with the past, and that’s true for quite a few of my songs.  That song came from me riding the light rail here in town.  It feels personal.”

 

I also wanted to know what the obsession was with scientists, which comes across in his first album.

 

“I wrote it about the shedding of my upbringing [Jeremy was homeschooled and raised Evangelical Christian].  The basic premise is that if God’s an all powerful god, and Christianity has all the answers, then where is all the good in the world?  Those songs are definitely on a personal level for me.”

 

We then got to talking about The Beach Boys, and I mentioned that I figured he had to be a fan of them given the song ‘Love You To Pieces’.  He answered that when he was creating that song and workshopping it around town at gigs, that he used the chorus to “God Only Knows” in the song, and that somewhere out there, there is probably a bootleg copy of that.

 

So, a new project for me.

 

Speaking of gigs, I wanted to know what the tour would be like.

 

“It will be maybe me and one or two others.  Or it just might be me solo, with a looper.  I still have to hash that out.  I’ll be touring in the east starting in mid November, and then coming out west after Thanksgiving.”

 

Lucky for me, he will be coming out to Los Angeles, probably in December.  Once we established that, I could relax a little, and was able to ask him about a quote from a different interview, with City Pages, where his song “Novocain” was compared to the Eels’ song “Novocain For The Soul”, and Jeremy mentioned that he didn’t like to “use the word ‘soul’ in songs.”  I asked why.

 

“Well, I try not to.  I have a couple times.  It’s because, like, what does that really mean?  It’s a little too vague.  Is it the deepest part of someone that lives on forever?  There are lots of different ways to interpret it, so I just avoid it.  I try not to be influenced by contemporary Christian music.”

 

So if he’s not listening to contemporary Christian music, what is he listening to?

 

“Oh, a lot of local music, like Haley Bonar, who just put out her third album [Big Star].  The Owls [who Jeremy has been doing shows with] put out my favorite local disk of the last year.  They’re like Belle and Sebastian meets Bowie.  I’m also listening to Dr. Dog, Al Green, and Aimee Mann these days.”

 

Speaking of singer-songwriters, in the reviews for The Alcatraz Kid, he had a lot of favorable comparisons to Elliott Smith.  How did Jeremy feel about that?

 

“I like him a lot.  I fee like a lot of his stuff was an extension of The Beatles.  It is all very personable and the songs are related to each other.”

 

Finally, I decided I couldn’t let the Star Wars issue pass.  I brought up the album idea and the stalker warning.  He laughed.

 

“I wonder how I would do it [create that album].  I’m always looking for things that inspire creativity, get the juices flowing.  I am probably the biggest Star Wars fan.  I used to watch it every day as a kid.  I may not ever love anything the way I love Star Wars, so maybe it would need to be a side project, like a make an album in a week kind of thing.”

 

I bristled at the idea of him announcing he was the biggest Star Wars fan and so challenged him to a game of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit once he was out here in Los Angeles on tour.  His answer:

 

“Okay, you know what?  I’m not one for bragging, especially about nerdy stuff, but there have been multiple times where I have beaten that game on one turn.”

 

Oh.  Alright.  Now it seems I’m in over my head.  I told him as such.

 

“Well, it’s been like five years since the last time I did that, so I might be pretty rusty.”  I smiled and thanked him for the interview, and we hung up.  But would I really feel okay with beating one of my heroes?

 

I’ll let you know in December.

Jeremy Messersmith

www.jeremymessersmith.com

 

Related:

Jeremy Messersmith - The Silver City

Jeremy Messersmith - The Alcatraz Kid

 

More by this writer:

Mason Proper - Shorthand EP

Ours - Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy)

Persephone's Bees - Notes from the Underworld

Speed-the-Plow - Live - February 18, 2007