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Escape Velocity

Twisted Trees In An Energy Vortex: Glasser Interviewed
Kiran Acharya , November 25th, 2010 07:25

She draws inspiration from Joni Mitchell, Jennifer Connolly and The Simpsons, but Cameron Mesirow tells Kiran Acharya that at heart she's actually a realist

Cameron Mesirow is a very stylish girl. At soundcheck in Madame Jojo's, Soho, she stands wrapped in a large dark sailor's jacket with the collar up, as if for shelter against the waves of her own voice. The layers rise while tribal beats, handclaps and steel-drum guitar tones resolve into the chorus of 'Home'. A thumbs-up from the band's secret-weapon sound man Jordan, and everything is set. Later, with a full quota of fans before her, she'll perform wearing an airy one-piece printed dress, like an autumnal Jackson Pollock. Shaking her shoulders, she'll dance as if entranced, the bells of 'Mirrorage' ringing as she sings 'we live... alone.'

Dandering to The Glasshouse Stores, a Sam Smith's pub on Brewer Street, she explains that travelling from LA to London (onwards to Paris, Oslo then back to Manchester for the In The City showcase) has left her a little zapped. But passing VinMag, the vintage magazine shop, she lights up describing an edition of I-D she bought earlier in the day. It's from 1984, the year after she was born. 'There aren't any feature length articles in it,' she says. 'The whole thing is a bit collage-y. But there's a wonderful photo of Leigh Bowery. He always had the most fantastic costumes.'

This easygoing enthusiasm for everything from vintage magazines to literature, from pop culture to haute couture, to art and film and dreams informs Glasser's debut album Ring. The songs, like little pictures of longing, make you want to stare a little longer, remember their strange textures. One of Joseph Conrad's most famous lines is “We live, as we dream - alone.” As if to contradict the maxim, Cameron Mesirow dreams as all singers should - aloud.

Given that you studied German literature, are you a big reader?

Cameron Mesirow: I have more of a linguistics interest. I do like reading. I have a pretty short attention span so I don't get a lot done. I'm not someone who can't go a day without reading part of a novel, but I read the New Yorker quite a bit.

Ring is an evocative album. I found myself imagining the ocean and scenes from films, things like Pan's Labyrinth.

CM: A fantastic film. I've always liked fantasy films. There's something very comforting about them. I suppose I've always liked the idea of magical things happening, but in my adulthood I've come to appreciate the idea of magical things happening in a deadpan, nonchalant way. A way that's not so fantastical, but more along the lines of something Michel Gondry might show you. That if you're open to something happening, it could.

But no, I'm not particularly... I'm a realist. Non-musical influences, for me, would be from movies, from different beautiful places in nature, and maybe some art.

Movies like Labyrinth, with David Bowie?

CM: Yeah. I loved that movie. It was a big part of my childhood. I referenced it a lot for a while. Not in songs, but visually. There's a part where Jennifer Connelly's character Sarah flips into a sort of drug-world and ends up at a masquerade ball. That part is just amazing. Really, it's beautiful.

What's your favourite place in the world, in nature?

CM: I don't know if I have a favourite place in the world. I've been really really impressed when I've gone to oceanic spots. There's a place in northern California named Point Reyes, and it just looks like the end of the earth. It's really really gorgeous and expansive. The Pacific is so huge and awe-striking. That place took the bottom out for me. I was completely dumbfounded when I saw it. I've been a few times.

A few years ago I went on a cross-country road trip from California to New York, and saw the desert for the first time. I was travelling with the band Foreign Born. We went through the Mojave desert and through a bunch of different states - Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada - I wasn't sure where I was. But Sedona, Arizona is like a new-age centre. The reason so many hippy/guru types go there is because they have what's called an energy vortex. I'm not really familiar with the real definition of it, but as I understand it the gravity there is different from most other places. It causes the trees to grow in spirals. Like something out of Labyrinth. We walked around these giant rock formations. It just looked like dinosaur land or something. It was so impressive.

The second song on Ring is called 'Home'. You're based in LA but travel extensively. Where do you consider home?

CM: I'm not sure. Aside from my dad's house in Berlin I haven't really had a home, one that I've returned to again and again, for a while. But I've never actually lived in Berlin; I've just spent a few months here, a couple weeks there. Since I've moved so much I have a tendency to nest wherever I find a little spot. I'm not all that picky. Right now it feels really good to be in the city, and to have a lot of external stimulation.

Your folks are performers and your Dad's currently with the Blue Man Group. They must have moved around a lot. How did you get along with them?

CM: My Mom and I were always very close. My Dad and I had a lot of fights until I was in my early twenties, when we started getting along. We're really quite similar. So we really started to grow closer, from when I was a teenager up until now.

Did they support you when you wanted to go into singing and performing?

CM: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah.

Has any criticism ever informed your approach to music-making? Have you had much good criticism that's actually been useful?

CM: Yes. I had some good criticism from friends. And I have a really good team of people working for me now, people within the label and my management, and my lawyer even. He's been really helpful, he's an entertainment lawyer and he's seen it all.

I'm really trying to work on my performance right now. The singing is obviously very very important but I'm trying to work on my stage presence. And I'm always working on the sound of it. All this has been partially inspired by some good criticism.

Although you're worlds apart, musically, I can't help but think of Glasser alongside acts like Scissor Sisters, acts that also put on a show. Of contemporary acts and artists, who do you admire?

CM: I tend to admire people who are truly in love with music, who seem to be there for the right reasons. As far as acts go, it's difficult because I feel like I'm often trying to look away from music to inspire me for performance.

Are there some songs you enjoy performing more than others?

CM: I really like playing 'Mirrorage'. That song is so much fun for me to sing. One song, 'Tremel', was a single first in the UK, and a different version appears on the record. I've always had a difficult time with that song because the rhythm is really hard to detect. I have to prepare myself, concentrate. But I still like the song.

I understand that you admire Joni Mitchell.

CM: Joni Mitchell is a difficult singer for people to appreciate. Her voice, her timbre. She's a bit like Joanna Newsom or something, you kind of either like her or you don't. Joni Mitchell's voice is high and low, and she also uses it in ways that aren't always pretty. She can sing very beautifully, but can also make sounds that seem to embarrass people.

On which songs?

CM: Well. Here's a Joni Mitchell story. She wrote this incredible song called 'Woodstock', but she actually missed Woodstock. David Geffen was her manager at the time. He had her scheduled to perform at Woodstock, then the next day she was meant to be on the Dick Cavett Show. They were so nervous about her missing Dick Cavett that Geffen had her miss Woodstock, which I think was a giant blow for her. So she watched it all on television from her hotel room - she knew she had been prevented - but I don't think it was clear at the time how big a deal Woodstock was going to be. She wrote 'Woodstock', which became a perfect defining anthem for the whole event, according to the people that were there. I think that was just heartbreaking for her.

But at the end of that song - this is what I was getting to - she does this sort of yodelling thing that sounds kind of desperate. The first few times I heard it I was really embarrassed [giggles]. But as I listened to it more, I came to think that it was really brave of her. It really showed her desperation at having missed one of the cultural events of the century.

Aside from that, I was wondering if you like The Simpsons.

CM: I do.

So do I. In fact I love it.

CM: It's pretty out there, these days. Do you... what's your favourite character? What's your favourite episode?

I don't know. I guess I tend to appreciate particular jokes. I'll be cycling and something'll come back, make me laugh. It happened this morning, though I can't remember the joke.

CM: [Laughing] You know I've not seen The Simpsons in many many years, but I still think of things that I used to laugh about. One thing that comes up again and again is 'Boo-urns'. Are they saying 'boo', or 'boo-urns'? Then Hans Molemann's like 'but I was saying boo-urns...' Oh wow... I'm so glad you asked about The Simpsons.

Ring is out now on True Panther Sounds. Glasser will also play the following tour dates in 2011.

February 19 Leeds, Brudenell Social Club

February 20 Glasgow, Captains Rest

February 21 Manchester, Deaf Institute

February 22 London, XOYO

February 23 Brighton, The Hope

February 24 Dublin, Crawdaddy