#NextUp: Jeremy Messersmith Performs Tracks From ‘Heart Murmurs,’ Discusses Songwriting [EXCLUSIVE VIDEOS]
The way Jeremy Messersmith tells it, becoming a musician was almost a happy accident.
The soft-spoken singer's journey to signing with his label, Glassnote Records, was unconventional, to say the least. Jeremy, who defines milestones by each time he completes a song, originally pursued a completely different career path.
"I could never really figure out what I wanted to do, and even now I’m not really sure what I want to do half of the time," he tells PopCrush at his #NextUp shoot, adding, "Although, the musician thing is a pretty cool job to have. I initially went to school for computer science, actually. I feel like I’ve been a nerd for a lot longer than I’ve been a musician, so that’s always just kind of been with me. But I worked in tech support for awhile and did some computer programming stuff. You know, nerdy jobs like that. I enjoyed them rather a lot, and somewhere along the line, people started coming to my shows. So now I do that."
Jeremy's musical training, in fact, extends to his early childhood. He describes his upbringing in a "holy-roller denomination" where he often played musical instruments and sang in church. This emphasis on music carried over to his home life.
"My family played trombone and clarinet and I remember having a wood block when I was like five or six," he says. "I would just hit a block, but it was a very participatory kind of thing. I just kind of grew up doing it."
Although, he wryly points out, it wasn't without a roadblock or two. "I played trumpet in a band until I tragically got braces and ended my trumpeting career, sadly. But I took up guitar a few years later and I’ve been playing ever since."
His childhood also helped shape the way in which he approaches songwriting. Growing up in rural Washington, Jeremy says he didn't have exposure to a lot of radio stations. When he was around nine or ten years old, however, he received a Walkman for his birthday.
It’s like the Mary Poppins things. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, you know? It’s a matter of balancing some dark subject matter with some happy melodies and things. The music really sets the emotional tone for the songs, so if you have it set a little bit lighter, you can go a little bit darker and deeper.
"I just spent hours and hours and hours, I remember, just singing in our barn along with music from the '50s and '60s and '70s," he recalls. "I think that really informed a lot of what I do, as far as melody-first songwriting."
A first play of Jeremy's latest record, 'Heart Murmurs,' gives listeners a jumble of paradoxes. Ghosts haunt ex-lovers, tourniquets symbolize unwavering love, blood-letting seems inevitable. Set to uplifting melodies and illustrated by Jeremy's unwavering, soothing voice, though, the dark themes take on a much lighter tone.
"Well, for me, it’s always a bit of a balancing act," he explains. "It’s like the Mary Poppins things. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, you know? So, it’s a matter of balancing some dark subject matter with some happy melodies and things. The music really sets the emotional tone for the songs, so if you have it set a little bit lighter, you can go a little bit darker and deeper, I think."
One such song, 'Ghost,' casts Jeremy as a distanced, unrecognizable version of himself. He plays with his own formula, lacing swelling guitar chords with dark lyrics, "If there is a line I'll cross it / No lesson will I learn / Even if I'm standing on it / No bridge that I won't burn."
Watch Jeremy Messersmith Perform 'Ghost'
'Heart Murmurs' was written over the course of two and a half years, and when when it came to defining the themes that drive the album, Jeremy found himself turning back to his analytical side.
"I started off wanting to write some love songs, and I quickly found out that there’d been a few songs already written about that and that maybe that was a little hard to write about," he explains. "I thought, ‘Well, I better define my terms.’ Being a computer geek, you define your variables and you write your program. What is love? And I realized, I don’t have any clue what that is."
As it turns out, even a proficient wordsmith such as Jeremy can't define love in such simple terms, so he set out to explore the different aspects of the subject.
"It has a really broad range of meaning, and so I kind of took a wide approach to what love can mean," Jeremy continues. "On the record there are songs about romantic love, kind of thwarted love. Songs between a child and parents. I kind of tried to throw in a bunch of things that could maybe be a little less written about that could keep it fresh for me."
One unexpected topic that Jeremy spun into a charming love song? A one night stand! He admits the idea of romanticizing a stereotypically non-emotional thing isn't conventional, but that's what makes it intriguing.
"I had the title kind of arrive one day and I was like, you know, a lot of times you can judge how good a song is. It’s a good indicator of the song’s fitness by how interesting the title is," Jeremy says. "I thought ‘I Want to Be Your One Night Stand’ would be kind of really funny and sort of interesting."
The track mixes images usually associated with the event (a dive motel, boxed wine, faded wallpaper, discarded wedding bands) with the singer's wish to sweep a certain lady off her feet.
"A big thing I try to do in my songs is try to develop an idea, not just to restate it. It just could have been funny throughout the whole thing, but it didn’t feel like it was taking the idea anywhere. So it just seemed kind of natural to have a song that starts off kind of trashy and sleazy and then by the end it turns kind of sweet. It just seemed to fit."
Watch Jeremy Messersmith Perform 'I Want to Be Your One Night Stand'
There's definitely appeal with a singer who can make a traditionally seedy happenstance come off as sweet and romantic. Not to mention that the title lends itself to be a great pick-up line. Jeremy humbly denies that fans use that line on him, adding, "But the record just came out. Every once in awhile, there’s maybe an awkward proposition or something like that. I’m usually about as graceful as I can be under those circumstances."
Despite his growing success, Jeremy still whole-heartedly embraces his inner nerd. His plans for the rest of the year include traveling the world playing shows -- and cashing in on some couch time, playing video games. At the mention of gaming, a certain quote on Jeremy's Wikipedia page is referenced.
"Oh, no!" he says, bursting out laughing. "What you might have seen is a quote from my brother, who sabotaged my Wikipedia page like four years ago. We play video games together somewhat competitively and, you know, we have a fair amount of smack talk about how terrible the other person is and he was like, 'Hey, you have a public Wikipedia page, so I’m going to throw in an awesome quote about how you’re terrible at all of these games.'"
Jeremy adds that the Wiki quote still needs a citation, but for the record, "It’s actually pretty right. I’m not very good."
Lucky for the computer science major, this music thing seems to be working out all right.