With The Reluctant Graveyard, indie-pop singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith has crafted the most gorgeous, lush, and sunny record ever about death and dying. Corpses, organ donors, coffin salesmen, shot-down gangster doppelgangers, and zombies (both literally and the '60s Colin Blunstone variety) populate the 11 tracks, all wrapped in lush harmonies, bright guitar, bouncy piano and wry observation.
For the Minneapolis-based Messersmith, it also completes a trilogy of records in which he first explored youth and growing up (The Alcatraz Kid) and then middle-aged suburban ennui (The Silver City). All three self-released records are downloadable on a "pay what you want" scale at www.jeremymessersmith.com.
Rocks Off spoke with Messersmith at a tour stop - in Houston, he plays Mango's Sunday with Featherface and Fight With Flash; see pegstar.net - about the record, Twitter and his Star Wars obsession.
Rocks Off: Did you always plan a trilogy, or did it just end up that way?
Jeremy Messersmith: I figured that out when I started working on the second one. I was complaining to my producer, Dan Wilson of Semisonic, that I never really read much poetry and just didn't get it half the time. So he recommended The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. I read it and I thought, this was fantastic! A narrative divided up by the epitaphs of the townspeople! And I used that as inspiration for this record.
RO: Were you challenged by having to write about death in so many different ways?
JM: Well, I tried to keep it focused on the characters, and the way they died expressed different viewpoints. I hope that made it a little more original. By the way, it's really fun writing songs about people who die in the end. It's sort of like I was 12 and making war movies in my backyard.
RO: Because I have become an expert on your life in the past week...and by the way, I know what you did in 1987...
JM: I was showing chickens at the county fair!
RO: I can't read a single article about you that doesn't name-check the Kinks, the Beatles, the Zombies and the Beach Boys as influences. And while that gives people a sort of shorthand reference to your sound, is it constraining?
JM: I think I get written up as very derivative because I'm referencing these classic bands. It was conscious when I started this one because I was writing songs about dying, but wanted to put in a sweet wrapper that people were familiar with. I was also inspired by this Brian Eno quote where he said he had to stop himself every few years and ask "Why am I not making the music that I'm listening to?" And I listen to a lot of Kinks and Zombies, but also Camera Obscura and Grizzly Bear.
RO: Today, every act - from new artists to you to Foghat - pretty much has to have a presence online with a Web site and social media. But instead of seeing it as extra work, you embrace it by posting new songs, videos and humorous essays weekly [like the "Introvert's Guide to Meet and Greets"]. Why is that important to you?
JM: Because people will know instantly if it isn't me.
RO: Are you saying it's not actually Madonna herself tweeting fans?
JM (laughs): It was something I was already doing anyway, and would even it I wasn't making music. I'm a huge nerd and into computers, so I was already doing all that stuff. One of the advantages of being a singer/songwriter and not a full band is that you can have more of a personal contact with [your fans].
RO: Finally, I know that you are a huge Star Wars fan [see his Web site-exclusive video/song "Tatooine"] and were at one point contemplating doing a whole record of Star Wars-themed material.
JM: Ha! Well, that would be impossible. I'm not sure if I can crank out that many good songs about Star Wars, but the next one may be a sci-fi themed one. And I'll throw in some "Star Trek" songs.
RO: Hey - that would even sell to people who hate power-pop.
JM: I'm actually going to my first sci-fi convention next week! I can't wait!