Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Jeremy Messersmith visited our studio one morning, quite a number of months ago now. He arrived with his wife and following the taping, they headed down the road to do some thrifting and antique shopping. If first and only impressions can be taken with anything more than a grain of salt, they seemed great for each other, madly in love in the unassuming and non-showy ways that become gross to look at and they appeared to be best friends. It was a portrait of how it should be - the easiness in two people finding a harmonious cooperative, a joint happiness. Without ever touching on the subject verbally, it seemed as if there was proof of another one of love's accidents not backfiring. And it's this observation that makes the Minnesota artist's music so much more intriguing. This isn't to say that the circumstances are rare as these kinds of lucky draws do happen and they happen fairly frequently. It's more how they're cared for and nurtured that matters, that keeps them in good shape. No, it's not the accident of love that we're thinking about here, it's in the construct of Messersmith's lyrics and their subject matter that we find our fascination coming from. How many of us - generally happy people, filled with more glee and joy than we see in others - are drawn to sad movies and books about the most depressing of plotlines? It's more than a few. How many of us are moved more substantially by a heartbreaking song than one that's just supposed to make us want to drink heavily (not to excess, just to the brink where everything remains a riot) and party our asses off? It's also more than a few. Messersmith is no different, writing songs in a devastatingly gorgeous voice, with the sweetness of despair bleeding into all of his immaculate lyrics. There is all manner and form of domestic sadness and dreaminess on his last two records - "The Silver City" and "The Alcatraz Kid" - and it leads us to believe that he's an incredible caricaturist, a playwright - in a sense - with that keen knack for faking sadness in such a believable way that we're awed that he isn't more scarred. At the same time, aren't we always more anchored to our shortcomings and the disasters or the conflictions of love and life than we are to those of true elation? It seems to be the case, most often, that we are molded more so by the formative and continuing glitches in what refuses to be a smooth procession of birth to death, for any of us. Messersmith brings his vocals so close to us on his recordings, putting them inside our heads like Sufjan, Mr. Andrew Bird and the late Elliott Smith did and do. They rest with us and act on us over these soft and luscious, sometimes posh arrangements that seem to go with the fine crystal dinner wear. It's as if the undercurrent that sometimes winds through the songs is working on us and we feel that we're thinking about depression, but he always comes off as a man who's still filled with sunshine or glitter and not necessarily the glum overcast. He's tongue-in-cheek, but matter-of-fact, in welcoming all to suburbia, but later in the record, he sings -- on "Love You To Pieces," -- "I've made mistakes and I've blown second chances/There are some things I can't reverse/I don't want any more mended romances/I want to love you til you burst." And it's a turn and a twist. He sings about wearing a crisp white shirt and working a shitty dead end job for his love, but confronts the same thought with the line, "I bought that diamond ring for you. I'd buy anything for you," and you hear in his kind tone that it's a sacrifice, everything is, and he's chosen to seduce that fine line between what breaks you and what makes you an appreciative old soul.