Bespectacled Minneapolis crooner Jeremy Messersmith was born in South Carolina and raised in Washington state but settled into the Twin Cities scene after moving there to attend college.
While the indie singer-songwriter has steadily acquired a slew of accolades from places like Paste Magazine, NPR, The New York Times, and about every one of his local outlets imaginable, he’s also released an inter-connected trilogy of harmony-based folk-pop that’s available in the pay-what-you-can fashion on his website.
Messersmith also recently gained some national attention for the beautifully constructed, Star Wars-themed video to his hushed ballad "Tatooine."
Often a solo act, Messersmith is currently on a west-coast swing with a full band and making a stop at the Soda Bar on Monday, July 18. I recently caught up with him as he was strolling around Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market and talked about everything from settling down in the Midwest to the turn-off of concept records.
Scott McDonald: You were born in the south and raised in the west. Why stay in the middle?
Jeremy Messersmith: There are a lot of factors. But I think the biggest one is that there’s a radio station -- 89.3 The Current -- that plays a lot of local music here in Minneapolis. It really helps to foster all kinds of different music in the area.
And it helps a local music scene that’s already really good. And maybe it’s because no one has anything else to do in the wintertime, but you can go see great live local music virtually every night of the week around here.
SM: So you added yourself to the rotation.
JM: I came here to go to school. But once I started immersing myself in the local scene, I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow. A lot of these people are really good.’ It made me want to practice and play more shows. And that’s exactly what I’ve done here for the last few years. It’s the reason why I’m in Minneapolis instead of somewhere sunny all the time like San Diego.
SM: What prompted you to connect all three records?
JM: It’s a loose, thematic trilogy. It doesn’t follow one character throughout each record or anything. ‘The Alcatraz Kid’ really focuses on adolescent issues and finding your place in the world. ‘The Silver City’ is a middle-age record. It’s about working and finding your place, but realizing that, maybe, that’s all there is. It has songs about exciting things like commuting and taking the bus. The last one, ‘The Reluctant Graveyard,’ seemed like the thematic way to cap it off. It’s a record about death. I did do it intentionally, but it’s very loose.
But it’s not like they’re concept records. Whenever someone says something is a concept record, that’s an immediate turn-off for me. That just means you have to listen to it much more intently. And who wants to bother with that?
SM: Dark lyrics and light music. Just happen or orchestrated that way?
JM: I think I’m just a depressed dude who really likes pop music.
But when I wrote ‘The Reluctant Graveyard,’ I sat down wanting to write an album that dealt with death and dying. But I knew that had the potential of being the most boring and unlistenable record of all time. It’s just not something people like to talk about a whole lot. But if it’s packaged with a bit of a more 60’s soft-rock wrapper, it works a bit better.
It’s like the whole Mary Poppins thing – a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. It’s a conscious juxtaposition.
SM: Do you think you’ll always stay independent?
JM: Well, we’ve talked to labels, and I’ve just never seen anything that was worth a damn. And just naturally, I think I’m a bit of a loner. I was home-schooled growing up, so I’m used to spending quite a bit of time by myself. I do like the process of doing all of this alone.
And one of the good things about being a singer-songwriter is that it really doesn’t cost that much to make a record. It’s mostly just about coming up with the songs. It’s not like I need the latest producer or anything. All things considered, being an indie artist is pretty great. But I do like my music.
I think it’s pretty good. So, of course, if it worked out some day, I’d like to really get it out there, just so as many people as possible could hear it.