Jeremy Messersmith talks with us ahead of Friday's show in Rochester
Jeremy Messersmith, fresh off the release of his new album Late Stage Capitalism, is set to perform this Friday night at the Rochester Art Center. The Minneapolis-based songwriter, whose songbook has earned praise from the likes of NPR and the Star Tribune, will be joined by the bluesy Dan Rodriguez and the burgeoning Rochester songwriter Sam Butterfass.
Ahead of the show — which is being hosted by My Town My Music — we caught up with Messersmith. To our surprise, the indie songwriter told us he never expected to make a career out of playing music.
Q: Would you mind telling me a bit about yourself and your musical style?
A: Sure! I like to think of it as I’m a white guy with an acoustic guitar and that sums up about 90 percent of what I do. Sometimes I play solo, sometimes I play with the full band, and sometimes, like last weekend, I play with a full orchestra. But at the core, it’s just me singing my songs and playing guitar and ukulele.
Q: Have you always known you’ve wanted to be a musician?
A: No! No, no, I knew from my first piano lesson that I was destined to be none of that stuff. I studied geology, I wanted to be a filmmaker for like a summer, I have a degree in computer science. So, I tried all those things and thought maybe the thing I’m actually good at is writing songs.
Q: Are there any particular people, teachers, or mentors that you attribute your musical success to?
A: Yeah, probably the single biggest one would be Dan Wilson, the singer/songwriter/producer in the band Semisonic. They wrote songs like "Closing Time" and stuff. He saw me singing in a coffee shop about 10 years ago and has been a good mentor and friend since. He produced my second album, The Silver City.
Q: What kind of music did you grow up listening to, and did that affect your personal musical style?
A: Well, I grew up in rural Washington state. You know, where they now make wine and grow apples and stuff like that. Mostly, the music I listened to was church music, so mostly hymns and worship stuff. The first dose of music I remember was people singing and clapping and all sorts of instruments together. "A Joyful Noise," as it was sometimes referred to.
Q: What do you do when you need inspiration for a song?
A: I guess just giving myself a deadline. That’s really the only way I write anything these days. I just finished up a song a day challenge with my friends. We had to write a song every day for the month of April, so basically the peer pressure of not wanting to be the first person who didn’t write a song is motivated me. If I sit around waiting for inspiration, it never comes, but if I sit my butt in a chair and start writing, that’s the better way to meet the muse.
Q: So, you don’t always have a clear idea of what you’re going to write before you start?
A: Not always, sometimes I start with a song title to rule out all of the things the song is not going to be, which is originally infinite. The title is kind of the umbrella; everything else just kind of stays dry underneath.
Q: What is everyday life like for you?
A: Oh, I think it’s just like any other freelance kind of job. I spend a certain amount of time writing and playing my songs live, on the road or on tour. I also have other hobbies, like today I’ve been brewing some beer. Yesterday, I was gardening, and I do a lot of putzing around the house. I’ve gotten pretty good at that.
Q: Are there any particular musical milemarkers you’re particularly proud of?
A: I have to say, this weekend’s show with the Minnesota Orchestra was really kind of special in ways I didn’t even foresee. There was something very musically satisfying about stepping on stage and having ninety incredibly well-trained, practiced musicians all there supporting me, helping me deliver a song. I thought I was kind of past those days, since I’ve played all over the place, but it was definitely a highlight for me.
Q: Have you ever had one particular audience that you thought was absolutely the best?
A: I do these small shows sometimes. I call them supper club shows where everybody brings food, I play, and we eat together. I was at one of these in Rochester and it was the single best food that any crowd has ever brought. There were only like sixty people but there were like five folding tables filled with food, and it was totally gourmet. That would hands-down be the most decadent performance I’ve done. In Rochester, you guys sure can cook.
Q: Are you excited to come back to Rochester this weekend?
A: Yeah, it’s been a long time since I’ve played there with a full band. So, I’m feeling good about being back.
Sid Clarke is a student at Mayo High School, where she is president of the Literature Club. In the past, she has been a columnist for the Post Bulletin and an independent novelist. Sid finds writing inspiration from Shakespeare, Stravinsky and Metallica.
Cover photo by Christina Heerdt