Column 268: Jeremy Messersmith’s scarce goods; Digital Leather fund-raiser; Holly Golightly tonight…
Some additional notes from the Jeremy Messersmith interview…
Messersmith said the hardest part of his music career has been dealing with criticism. “I’m too sensitive to bad reviews,” he said. “I remember the bad reviews the most, and they make me not want to do this anymore. At the same time, these people (critics) are justified in their opinions.” On top of that, Messersmith said he’s also started to get hate mail — that’s right, hate mail. “It’ll be a random Myspace comment or e-mail from someone I don’t know. It’s weird. Stuff like ‘You epitomize hipster assholery.’ At the same time, when people hear my music, I want them to really like it or really hate it. Anything’s better than indifference.”
Finally, Messersmith said he “loosely shopped around” his new album, The Reluctant Graveyard, but “I’ve always been more of a do-it-yourself person. I’m not sure what a label would offer other than additional money. There aren’t any labels in Minneapolis that I want to be part of, and I don’t know a whole lot of record people. As a singer/songwriter — rather than being in a band — it’s easier to connect with people using web tools. So it seemed like a good fit (releasing the album) myself.” And, he added, no label showed interest. “Most indie people thought my stuff was too direct or too poppy; and it wasn’t poppy enough for the majors. I occupy some sort of nether region of music.”
Column 268: The Reluctant Rockstar
Jeremy Messersmith’s scarce goods.
It was pure, unbridled serendipity that I ever discovered Jeremy Messersmith’s music. As you can imagine, I get quite a few CDs in the mail — most of them by anonymous-sounding bands with bad names and poor taste in art. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Album artwork (even on CDs) is very important. If your art is bad, bland or just plain poorly conceived and printed, it’s going to get lost in the shuffle/pile/mountain of discs that stack up (or get placed under) an editor’s desk. And if your band name is offensively stupid, it’s going to get thrown in the trash.
There was nothing particularly interesting about Jeremy Messersmith’s name or the packaging and artwork for The Silver City, his second album that came out on tiny label Princess Records a couple years ago. There was no reason that — instead of throwing the disc on “the stack” — that I took it with me and listened to it in my car on the way to wherever. But I did, and am better for it.
The story was unfortunately familiar to Messersmith. “Probably one of my biggest failures of last year was not marketing (the CD) better,” he said. “I did the best with the infrastructure I had to work with.”
Speaking from his home on the edge of The Greenway — a bike path that cuts through the southern part of Minneapolis — Messersmith sounds exactly as you expect the creator of his three albums to sound — warmly quiet, laidback, funny, NPR-intelligent, probably smiling on the other end of the line while he nods his head knowingly.
The Silver City is one of the most straight-out catchy and satisfying albums I’ve ever heard — a floating puffy white cloud in a perfectly blue sky held up lightly on the warm current of Messersmith’s friendly voice that invites listeners to sing along. It was produced by superstar fellow Minneapolitan Dan Wilson, originally famous for Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic until he teamed up with The Dixie Chicks and won a “Song of the Year” Grammy for co-writing “Not Ready to Be Nice.” Wilson’s uncanny knack for melody permeates The Silver City‘s perfectly crafted songs about falling in love in the heart of suburbia.
Now comes The Reluctant Graveyard, the final installment in Messersmith’s three-album song cycle that began with 2006’s The Alcatraz Kid, an album about “me in my basement hating life,” Messersmith said. “It feels like an adolescent-growing-up record. The Silver City is that same person after moving to the suburbs, commuting and going to his job. The Reluctant Graveyard wraps it up with songs about death. Not to sound too morose, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. I’m 30 now and every day I wake up and see a new gray hair. When you’re younger you think that maybe there’s some sort of ‘out’ — a loophole or something or that maybe by the time you get old they’ll have death figured out. So it’s me thinking a lot about the fact that I’m going to die, and asking what am I doing with my life, what’s the point of it all and how do I find enjoyment.”
It sounds depressing, but the record is as fun as any of his others, with the same catchy Beatle-esque, sunny-sidewalk melodies. Messersmith produced this one with Andy Thompson, the two leaning on what they learned from Wilson, especially this golden rule: “Never underestimate the importance of a well-sung line. Make sure that it’s the best it can be, and you’re saying exactly what you want to say.”
How is Messersmith going to avoid having his new album get lost in the endless, fathomless sea of releases? He’s following the path of Radiohead and Trent Reznor by giving it away online. Well, not actually giving it away. Folks that go to jeremymessersmith.com have the option to “Pick your price” to download the album, an option that’s also now available for his first two records. Fans can also buy the album on vinyl, CD and (get this) cassette tape. On average, Messersmith said people pay about a buck download.
“I’d rather have it be easier for people to hear my music, and wouldn’t want money to be a limitation to that,” Messersmith said. “It costs to make the recording, but beyond that it doesn’t cost me anything to distribute or manufacture (mp3 files).”
But doesn’t giving away his music make it harder for those who want to make a living selling music? “I don’t expect everyone to be a winner; someone always has something to lose,” he said. “I don’t make the bulk of my money making music, and maybe never will. This is a sustainable way of doing it.”
Messersmith’s strategic model: Connect with fans as much as possible using the Internet and social media (twitter.com/jmessersmith, Facebook, YouTube), then give them a reason to buy your physical goods — make it something that’s cool and useful. “Touring is the ultimate ‘scarce good’ from an economic standpoint,” said Messersmith, revealing his nerd underbelly. “Scarcity is something you can charge for, and I can only be in one place at a time.
His philosophy while staring in the badly beaten face of the crumbling music industry: “I would rather have a smaller piece of the bigger pie than a larger piece of a smaller pie.”
You’ll have a chance to consume some of Messersmith’s “scarce goods” when he opens for The Mynabirds at their CD release show this Saturday, May 1, at Slowdown. Get there early.
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Yesterday morning, the folks in Digital Leather launched an online effort to generate money to purchase some new equipment. From their Facebook page: “Digital Leather has a new album, which is pretty much the most amazing record ever, and we need to send it out to labels. But first we need some way to self-master and get it there. We found a sweet machine for a relatively low cost, and in exchange for helping us get this mixer/ recorder, you get things.”
The deal: Those who pledge $10 get an album download before the actual release date. And for $15, they get the download plus a vinyl release with a numbered, super-limited edition cover.
They wanted to raise $600 within 45 days. By this morning, they were at $741, and there’s no stopping it. The fact is, $15 is a steal for a download and limited-edition vinyl. Get in on the deal while the getting’s good. Here’s the link to the offer.
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Tonight at The Waiting Room, UK garage-rock queen Holly Golightly and her band, The Brokeoffs, perform in support of their new album, Medicine County (Transdreamer Records). Whipkey/Zimmerman open. $10, 9 p.m.
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Tomorrow: The Mynabirds