To listen to the music of Cameron Mesirow is to listen to layers. And loops. And (at times) languid lullabies. But before you start to think that today’s Glasser interview is brought to you by the letter L, stop and consider this fact: During SXSW 2011, amongst the dozens of shows attended by Team Buzzine, there was but one in which, when each song ended, an industry crowd could be heard doing that which they never do: paying complete attention and not saying a word. For us at Buzzine, that kind of rapt silence also breeds questions, and lucky for our sanity, the very next day, we got the chance to get some answers from Ms. Mesirow. Lovely.
Stefan Goldby: Can you begin by telling us how Cameron first became Glasser?
Cameron Mesirow: My background is just being a creative person… I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type. [Laughs] And my main interest in playing one type of music would last for about a week and then fall away in favor of something new. I think that’s how I came to making this type of eclectic-sounding music. And I had many years, prior to making music when I was a great consumer of sounds and all things artistic. I’ve never been a particularly intellectual type – just interested in things that move me. So I had a lot of different styles pass through the gates [laughs], from R&B and hip-hop when I was younger, trying to fit in with everybody. And I still really like that stuff. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m a pop person.
But then trying not to fit in with everybody came around to the rock ‘n’ roll/punk aesthetic and mantra…and that was extremely important for me in terms of my growth into adulthood. Just being someone who was interested in people who take risks. Not the actual aesthetic…although I was very influenced by “punk” aesthetic initially, I think what I took from that was this idea of questioning and being extremely outspoken when you have something different to say. That was really important. And then I just always really enjoyed singing and dancing and being animated.
SG: When it came to actually formalizing all of those musical ideas, wrapping it up into some kind of cohesive entity and calling it Glasser, what did you have in mind?
CM: I think the idea of Glasser was actually not really an idea – it was just the beginning of experimentation for me. Glasser was a name that I heard in one of my dreams and stuck with me. When I woke up… you know how you just remember one thing from a dream? I remember that was a part of my dream and I really liked it. That in itself symbolizes the shift from me choosing outward things to focus on and turning inward and saying, “I’m gonna focus on what I have and what I can contribute to the world”, rather than what I can add to… like if I can add to the rockabilly scene [Laughs], if I can add to the grime sound.
That was a change for me because I was always such a consumer of music and different sounds, and wanting to emulate those things, now changing to “I’m doing me now” or whatever. [Laughs] I didn’t have a formula at all. I wasn’t saying that I’m gonna pull from this thing that I love and this thing that I love and this thing that I love – I just started experimenting and reaching deep inside, trying to find what could possibly come out.
SG: There was over a year from that point to the creation of your debut album, Ring. What were the most important things you felt like you learned?
CM: I think the biggest growth that I did, in terms of setting the Glasser journey into motion, was finding my voice. I mean, I had my voice already, but I didn’t really appreciate it, and I never thought I had a voice that people would like to listen to. I knew I could sing on key. That was kind of my thinking about it. I can sing…
SG: You were technically proficient…
CM: Yes! I was technically proficient. [Smiles] But did anybody care? Probably not. That’s how I felt. So I guess I realized, at some point, it’s almost like, “Wow, you just had all this money lying around, this whole time you’ve been complaining about how poor you are, and then whoops, I forget I had thousands of dollars just sitting here.” [Laughs] Not to put a monetary value on my voice, but I just totally took for granted that I could sing and never really noticed the quality of my voice. So the biggest development in moving forward with Glasser was just listening to my voice and seeing how I could use it, and trying many ways…
I think I was influenced by The Beach Boys in the beginning, because their excessive harmonizing [laughs] has seemed to creep into my consciousness while I’ve been making my music. So I started out with a lot of songs that were just a'cappella jams with myself as really ethereal and as pretty and raunchy as I could make myself sound, just to try it out. And that was really the beginning of the sound for me.
SG: How important was it for you to then have a partner in the studio, and what did they bring into the mix?
I had a bunch of songs ready when I went into the studio, and they were demos that I made in GarageBand, famously. [Laughs] I took all of my demos to my friend, Ariel Rechtshaid, who works in L.A. and he’s worked with a lot of people I know, and I think he’s a pretty amazing producer. We worked together, and he was able to change my thinking about these demos being finished, which now, when I listen back to them, I feel like, “How could I have thought that was finished?” But if you listen to the first recording of “Apply” that came out, even that was so minimal in mood, as opposed to the one that’s on the record, I think. There’s a lot of oomph that a producer can bring to a demo.
My job, at least how I see it, is to create the idea. I’m like the starter and Ariel is the finisher. He did a really fantastic job, and he did about two-thirds of the record, and then I finished the record in Stockholm with Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid, who had worked with Fever Ray, and they helped me with creating the ambient sounds on the records, because I wanted these interstitial songs to exist between the songs so they could keep flowing in a ring.
So they were very helpful and experimental. It was very fun being in the studio with them, because they just set a bunch of toys and sound-making devices in front of me, and they were like, “Okay, now play around.” [Laughs] And we made all these great little industrial-sounding pieces… When I think of the transitions between the songs, I think of a machine cranking toward the next thing, which is great – that’s exactly what I wanted.
SG: If you have an album that’s based on ring structure and there being no beginning and no end, how do you then sort out a linear track listing?
CM: I did have to create a narrative in my mind, and I used the hours of the day because it’s like a sun cycle. I have most of my energy in the morning, so I started out in the middle of the night with “Apply,” and “Apply” is a song about “the haunts,” which my grandmother would call them, which is when you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re thinking about terrible things [Laughs] and you’re scared…
Actually, “Clamour,” which is the last song on the album, is also about that. But it’s about a different time of night. It’s a much darker time of night. I suppose maybe it’s like 3:00 a.m., whereas “The Haunts” are like 4:00 a.m. [Laughs] I don’t know… It’s not exactly a 24-hour record; it’s not even an hour long. “Apply” has that kind of energy that is frantic… It almost sets a tone for the energy of your day, and then the day comes and it’s lighter and a relief from that feeling. That’s how I structured the album, anyway.
SG: What, artistically, are you happiest with about this album?
CM: I guess, for me, the most important thing about it, in feeling satisfied with this record, was I feel that everybody who worked on it gave it a really big go, including myself. I feel like I put a lot of heart into making it, and it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s kind of the biggest accomplishment in my life…. I guess it is the biggest accomplishment of my life. [Laughs]
SG: So far…
CM: So far. [Laughs] I just feel very pleased to have finished it. [Laughs]
SG: If the creation of the record was, in part, the discovery of your voice, how was the experience of then taking that out and staring people in the eye as you sing in a venue?
CM: I’m a performative person, and I really enjoy singing loud and being expressive, so playing live is a treat. There’s being an expressive person and then there’s being an expressive person in front of a lot of people who are judging you [Laughs], and I guess maybe it’s taught me about how I deal with that attention. More than anything, I’ve just totally enjoyed becoming a performer. But I have learned a little bit about myself and what I can and can’t do in order to keep going.
SG: You have incredible vocal range, which really made a show like last night (in a church in Austin, Texas) truly amazing, but doesn’t that also mean added pressure, given that the success of your show depends on your voice staying close to being at 100%?
CM: I love singing so much, and I have wanted to do it for so long, but there are a lot of sacrifices that go along with choosing this as a profession, and many of them are social sacrifices. I just find myself constantly apologizing to the people I love because I can’t come to their shows, or… I have to rest my voice a lot, especially with a week like SXSW, when absolutely everyone I know, practically, is here and trying to invite all of their friends to come see them play or see their movie, or whatever. I get into such a panic about pleasing people…especially with the recent press I’ve had.
After I did Jimmy Fallon, people have been contacting me a lot, like, “Wow, you’re really doing stuff,” or whatever. I feel like that’s the biggest pressure, actually, is keeping the people I love aware that I still love them, even though I’m busy. It’s not like I met new friends that I feel like I want to hang out with more. It’s really that I’m just working so much… And it’s quite isolating because people eventually forget about you, and you come back from tour and you’re like, “Okay, I’m ready to hang out now,” and they’re like, “Yeah, well, where were you when I needed you?”
So that’s actually the biggest amount of pressure that I’ve felt, because I want to socialize, and I love talking and making jokes, and I get excited and want to shout and stuff, and I have to hold myself back a little bit these days, so in a way it’s changed my social personality slightly, because I find myself constantly being like, “Okay, take it down a notch.” It’s a weird pitfall of the profession.
SG: Making music videos and having them get your music out into the world is one of the solutions to the stresses of life on the road for you…and in talking about your music videos, there is rather an obvious first question: Is it safe to say that you’re a Twin Peaks fan?
CM: Yes! Huge Twin Peaks fan…but it was sort of unintentional in that “Mirrorage” video. The setting of that video was supposed to be quite a bit brighter, and you would have seen that the wall was painted in a rainbow gradient. But we ended up doing a lot more in the dark than expected, but I love Twin Peaks, so I’m totally fine with that video looking just like the Black Lodge!
SG: And you’re even flickering back and forth between black and white…
CM: That’s true. Bob. I am Bob. [Laughs]
SG: Talking of flickering bits of black and white, I love the idea of using QR codes on stage. Can you explain where that idea came from?
CM: Not exactly. [Laughs] It was something that was pitched to me, and I actually don’t have a lot to say about it, unfortunately. I think it’s a fantastic idea too, and I’m very happy to be involved in it somehow. [Laughs] Basically, for the Fallon show, we did a special QR code set-up. We had three codes set up on stage, and viewers could take photos with their cell phones, and they would be led, via code, to a 3D environment where they could buy the record and do all kinds of things. But more importantly, they were in a 3D environment, and I was really into playing around with it on my own phone, so I was very excited that Mitch Trale, who made those, wanted to do that project.
SG: I’m sure there’s been a number of 'loading in the snow in Buffalo' kinds of moments, or crappy 'van on side of road' moments along the way…
CM: There haven’t been that many, actually.
SG: But we don’t want to hear about those...
CM: Okay. [Laughs]
SG: In the Glasser period so far, what’s been the best kind of pinch yourself, look around, "this is what I signed up for" moment?
CM: The weirdest thing I’ve done, by far, is go on television. You never, in a million years, imagine, when you’re writing songs, that someone is going to put you on television. It was bizarre. [Laughs] And it’s so different from how you think it is, when you’re just a watcher of television. There are all kinds of things that you just don’t know about. I never ever thought about how those shows work. I never thought about being an audience member – never cared about doing that. Never cared about going on the show. And then suddenly someone was like, “Do you want to do this?” And I was like, “Yes, I think I do.” [Laughs]
So that was pretty weird. And then everybody’s like, “Oh my God, that’s such a big deal!” I was like, “Is it? Yeah, I guess it is. Okay, it’s a big deal. All right. Okay, it’s a big deal, okay it’s a big deal, OH MY GOD IT’S A BIG DEAL!” [Laughs]
Glasser’s ‘Ring’ is out now on True Panther/Matador Records.