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Jeremy Messersmith: Live in the City

21 Sep

Jeremy Messersmith is set to release his sophomore disc, The Silver City, Thursday the 25th at the Varsity Theater. Cake in 15 caught up with Jeremy over the inter-links to talk about the suburbs, Dan Wilson and why the new W Hotel at the Foshay is a bad thing.

The Silver City has songs both focused on the city (“Franklin Avenue”) and in the suburbs (“Welcome to Suburbia”), and songs whose emotional heft comes from the transition between the two (“The Commuter”). Do you/have you lived in the suburbs? What is the draw to write songs about the passage between suburbs and city?

Growing up, I lived on the outskirts of what was called a “bedroom community.” I didn’t live directly in the suburbs, but most of my friends lived in housing divisions with the names of natural features mashed together. Anyway, it felt like geography I was fairly familiar with.

I guess the need to write about the city vs the suburbs is an argument that’s always running around in my head. It’s the choice between reality and ignorance or fantasy. For me, moving to the suburbs would be a bit like planting my head in the sand and checking out of life. Not to totally dramatize, but it feels to me like Hamlet’s dilemma- “To be or not to be.” You can either engage yourself directly with life and all the good and bad, or you can check yourself out.

How do you feel your writing practice lends itself to writing songs with a thematic thread, and how has it changed/progressed since The Alcatraz Kid?

For The Silver City, I had a vague idea that I wanted to make a record about the Twin Cities, but I tried to keep it as subliminal as possible. I guess that’s why I think of the disc as a loose concept record. I feel that if I gave myself a bunch of restrictions as to what the songs could be then I wouldn’t have written anything, but if I kept the geography in the back of my head it would unconsciously guide the tunes that came out.

With The Alcatraz Kid, I didn’t have any grand theme- it was just songs that felt personal to me and that I needed to write.

I was recently speaking to a friend about why people come to (and especially come back to) the Twin Cities and he said something to the effect that it was “an easy place to be”, in that you can find artists, collaborators and support. How have you found your trajectory develop since you moved here?

Hmmm. Could it be that we’re really friendly? Since I’ve lived here, I’ve found a lot of people to learn from- people who were willing to invest time listening to bad songs and challenge me as a songwriter and as a performer. Maybe the main benefit of harsh winters is the constant reminder that we all need each other and are dependent on one another. I think that translates especially well to the artistic community with respect to collaboration.

Then there’s that Dan Wilson guy. Wanna talk about him for a minute?

I could talk about him for much longer than a minute, so maybe I will.

More Dan Wilson, songs & style after the jump!

He’s a master songwriter and performer. He writes around his voice better than anyone I’ve ever met and is never afraid to “waste” a good idea on a collaborator.

We talked quite a bit at the beginning of this project about the “producer” role and what that meant. There were a few different approaches we talked about before we started.

The first approach is what I think of as the “Jon Brion” approach to producing. I should state for the record that I love Jon Brion and I’ve listened obsessively to almost everything he’s produced or written. However, I find that most records that he produces tend to sound like, well, a Jon Brion record more than the individual artist he’s working with. In this case, the artist provides the content and the producer shapes a lot more of the form and flavor of the record. Whatever the artist can’t do, the producer does for them.

The approach we tried is more of the “Rick Rubin” method of producing, which worked well since Dan’s latest record Free Life was produced by Rick. To give an example, Dan would often run the board while I was trying to track a part for something, let’s say guitar. Even though Dan could probably have just played the guitar part himself in 1 or 2 takes, instead he let me keep trying it and offered some suggestions. Often times, he knew what I was trying to do before I even did. He was constantly trying to bring out the best ideas that I had instead of inserting his own. I think this is why Rick Rubin has been so successful with such a variety of different artists- instead of making a “Rick Rubin” record, he’s able to get the best out of the artists themselves.

I think the traditional producer role has the producer acting as a sort of “boss.” That was clearly not the case with Dan. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who is so easy to collaborate with and is so giving with his ideas. He easily (and rightly) could’ve said, “Hey, I’ve written hit songs and I won a Grammy, so what I say is the final word.” Instead, he was exceedingly patient and open and I admire him that much more for it.

Quick note: Almost all the piano you hear on the record is Dan playing. Also, he turned out to be a much better shaker player than anyone else.

It isn’t too far of a leap to say that “Skyway” may be one of your favorite “Minneapolis” songs. Are there any other songs that stand out about the city, or any specific song that you associate with with the city or a specific neighborhood? A moment of epiphany with a soundtrack? Music for the first snowfall?

There is one song that immediately popped into my head and it’s “10,000 Lakes” by Kid Dakota. I remember hearing this song and thinking, “Oh- you mean you can write songs about where you live?” I have all these associations with that song and huge snow drifts outside an old drafty house…

Favorite place to eat/shop/see music in the Twin Cities?

Anywhere that serves a good bowl of pho is on my top ten list. I’ll gratuitously pitch my wife’s shop- Blacklist Vintage over on 27th and Nicollet, but honestly it’s where I get almost all of my clothes.

In the Star Tribune yesterday the bar in the Foshay Tower, The W Hotel, was featured next to an article about me. The ironic thing is that I tried to go there a few weeks back and was turned away for what I assume was my shabby dress or generally unwholesome demeanor. I guess my Converse shoes aren’t considered “business casual.” [Ed.- I got in because I was wearing a suit, after work. It was all blue blazers and blue hairs. The view from the top of the Foshay, though, is grand.] I ended up going over to Grumpy’s and having a great time. So there you go- Grumpy’s = good, W hotel = bad.

89.3 The Current Presents

The Owls
Rachel Ries

September 25, 2008 (Thursday)

The Varsity Theater
1308 4th Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Doors open: 7:30 PM
Age restriction: 18+
Ticket Price: $10.00

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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    […] of cheap pick-up lines and holding eachother in the swell of quiet sound, the vastness of a packed city. ¬†With his beard, wool tie and owl glasses, Messersmith looked like he could have given us a […]

  2. Cake In 15 » Blog Archive » Wild on the West Bank - May 9, 2009

    […] expect songs like “Franklin Avenue” and “Light Rail”. Oh, and check out the interview CakeIn15 did with Jeremy back when he was about to realease that disc. Sharing the bill are […]

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