Through the looking glass with Cameron Mesirow
If you’ve been following the much-vaunted renaissance of dreamy, celestial pop that’s seen Blonde Redhead garner critical acclaim for over a decade of beautiful craft and characterised School of Seven Bells’ deserved prominence this year, Glasser, and her debut album ‘Ring’, completed the holy trinity.
A Los Angeles twenty something with a bubbly, considered personality, Cameron Mesirow is the voice, mind and spirit behind the moniker. Armed with Garageband and a vivid concept, Glasser has evolved from early, unformed works to the vibrant, evocative artist responsible for one of the most well thought out albums of 2010.
I’m told Cameron is a performer in the truest sense of the word, collating costumes, visuals and theatrical dramatics to rival that of Karin Dreijer Andersson’s Fever Ray productions. It’s a dirty word but pre-interview I get a palpable sense I could be dealing with a bit of a diva.
“I wasn’t embarrassed about what I wanted to do,” she says. “I wanted to make music and I wanted to do it like other people had done it. But that’s one thing I think I’ve really broken away from, wanting to emulate other people.”
The statement, in itself, is not an unfamiliar one. Isolated as it is, you could view it as another artist’s reasoning on their perceived originality or a blunt opening gambit designed to put an unscrupulous music hack on the defensive. Thankfully, it’s neither.
Flitting between deep-thought, conversation about religion, classics, and the influence the e-grip of information has had on music, Cameron brims with smiles and spontaneous giggles. She has a lovely way of putting a stranger at ease in much the same way her music does.
With Glasser representing both the ethereal and beautiful side of her psyche, and the overused theory that any female act with a discernible style or quirk should instantly be thrown in with slightly crazed luminaries such as Bjork and Fever Ray, the comparisons, lazy or otherwise, are a common, recurring theme.
“I definitely see it as a compliment,” she says. “I mean, Blonde Redhead and Fever Ray have that combination of Van Rivers and Subliminal Kid producing their albums and they’ve both worked on my album, so I have that connection with them. It’s always nice to be indefinable but people tend to be a little over zealous with comparisons.
“It can be lazy because everyone is working very hard in music right now and it’s difficult when people write it off in the way of ‘if you don’t like this, then you won’t like this.’ It’s human nature and it’s what makes people feel comfortable and like…religious. That’s what religion is all about – giving people something to hold onto.
“It’s funny because in an earlier interview we talked about the focus on my record to kind of allow chaos into my life and just embrace it because it’s kind of there whether you accept it or not. I have to allow people to make comparisons, but I have to be strong enough in my own convictions about my music. Everyone I get compared to, they should check me out!” she laughs.
It’s a resolve Cameron has had to build upon to push herself to where she feels she can, and should, go artistically. Motivated by a fierce desire of revolution as opposed to evolution, her roots in art and her unremitting drive to constantly reappraise, reinvent and revitalise some of the emulation and repetition in music is as much of a personal journey as it is an inner battle.
“When you’re a kid, it’s so huge in your development to latch onto a certain idea or a certain identity, and it’s so important…you kind of have this stage where you wear different hats, you know? One day you’re a punk, the next day you’re a goth, the next day you’re going to prep school; you’re just trying out different stuff.
“I wanted to be in a band but didn’t know what I wanted to do, but was wishing I could be in Blondie or thinking ‘wouldn’t it be cool if I could do what that person did?’ So, when I would try, I would always feel embarrassed because I wasn’t being myself in that character. What changed in me was that I stopped having a mark I was trying to hit and started just having to face myself and this is what I can do, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about being yourself. I think this is a really healthy part of growing into this creativity. I’ve always had the energy for it but not the outlet.”
It feels like a familiar story of growing pains and the adolescent struggle to establish an identity – musical or otherwise. It seems Glasser is the latent vehicle for Cameron’s repressed, early creative impulses and one that she, although flourishing, is still yet to fully grow into.
“I just ended up experimenting and pushing myself to make noise that I didn’t think was beautiful or flattering because my consciousness was holding me back. I just had to grab it by the balls and stick out like a sore thumb. It really helped me and dissolved so much of my fear about the whole thing, and I ended up liking what I did.
“Now it’s becoming quite known to people around me, at least that I’m making music. I feel like a musician in the sense that I make music, but I lean towards myself as more of a creative person so I don’t limit myself. Music is really important to me and it’s been a real tool in my upbringing and in my social development, but it may not always be…I can’t really put my finger on what’s to come.
“People connect me with the art world,” she continues, “and I guess I identify a bit more with that in terms of musicians are often chasing after technique. They want to play things that have been played before. You might want to learn to play guitar like Bo Diddley, then you end up with a band that sounds like Bo Diddley. I’m more interested in making and doing things with sound and music that aren’t a repeat. I like to do stuff that’s me and I know right now it’s cool to reference things from the past, and god knows everyone does it, including me, but I kind of like to just keep pushing myself forward. That’s why I think I connect myself more with the art world. Contemporary art is more about doing things that haven’t been done before.”
It’s an ideology Cameron takes to heart. Her debut, ‘Ring’, isn’t any ordinary LP, recorded, pressed and pushed out to the masses; it’s an album born of the eternal; a living, unending symphony consisting of songs and themes that constantly inform each other. It touches upon ripples of percussion, playful handclaps, drizzling synth and the sweet, honeyed presence of Mesirow’s vocal.
“The idea I had about making the album with no set beginning or end was an idea I had on my own. It was like, ‘why does an album always have to be over?’ What if there wasn’t a set progression…what if you could just start it somewhere and come back to that? So, during the making of the record, most of the songs share a theme, which was this idea of instability and embracing chaos, and some of the songs are about being afraid of it and others are about embracing it.
“It just felt fitting and wonderful if I could add more rings to a ring and make it centred around this one song that wasn’t about embracing chaos or fearing it, it was just a simple message of a love song. So, I framed that song within the others and built this shared theme from the centre out, it’s like concentric circles [Cameron tries to air-demonstrate the theory] and those circles come back…it’s hard to explain!”
As concept albums go, ‘Ring’ has been refined to its essence. Inspired by a simple wish to create a cyclic body of music with no fixed beginning or end, its construct is both complex and delicate; a fluid stream of sound that serves to strengthen the mysticism, consideration and execution that went into the entire process. Still, it doesn’t prevent Cameron patiently trying to put it into layman, music writer terms.
“The song about love is in the middle and there’s a ring around that with two songs either side of that song…it’s like if you have a tree trunk and you cut a slice off the top,” she laughs. “I just thought it was an interesting nod to that style of composition that was also like something I conveniently learned in school.
“I was taking Classics classes where we read The Odyssey and The Iliad. Now we read them, but they used to just be told, so the way the orator remembered how to tell the story was by sequencing the series of events in the story. If Odysseus went to the island of the Lotus Eaters, and then went to where there were giants, he’d come back to the island. Anyway, the important part is that it’s called the ring composition. Sorry, I feel like I’m being so inarticulate. I didn’t have to talk about it when I was making it!” she giggles.
Behind her open, friendly exterior, it’s clear that there’s a deeper thinking to both Cameron and Glasser. The intermittent laughing and smiling eyes are engaging and inviting, but there’s also a level of seriousness and high intelligence channelled through her conversation. It’s a steeled element manifested by the personal battles and exploration Cameron’s had to contend with in reaching this current point of her creativity, and in the same way the concept for ‘Ring’ was never-ending, her self-analysis seems equally unremitting.
“A lot of people are not taking the time to make albums,” she says. “They’re making songs and putting them together as collections. I think it’s cool that there seems to be an album revival and I’m happy to be a part of that. It’s special and it’s art. Everybody, don’t forget – music is still art! When I was done making the album, the album was not done being made. It was working with producers then it had to get mixed, and, of course, I was there for all that stuff, but it didn’t really sink in it was done until a month or so after. Then it was just months of sitting on it and thinking ‘I have this secret to tell and nobody knows.’ There was a lot of suspense.”
Not that Cameron need have worried because ‘Ring’ did as much to capture the imagination as any of the current school of melodic, spectral indie pop. It’s an album that surprises and delights, floating with a ghostly, swirling sheen, given a new, glossier weight courtesy of Van Rivers and Subliminal Kid’s production. And whereas the timing of the release couldn’t have been any more perfect, Glasser still had to deliver an album that would both dispel the perception that her music was “difficult”, and prove that the skeletal composition of her earlier tracks could grow into a full body of work.
“In the Internet age, people listen to a second of it and they’re like, ‘Oh, Bjork.’ People listen to a fraction of it and they have it pegged…that’s just how art is. The person who’s expressing can never… it’s so hard to express everything and have people take it seriously…we have short attention spans, you know?”
It’s often a criticism levelled at blogs in the great hit chase, but it’s symptomatic of Cameron’s positive outlook that everyone and everything has value in spite of the relentless zeal in which we embrace a modern way of life.
“I wouldn’t say that blogs are not critical because they certainly are. I’ve had some incredibly badly written blog pieces with some saying how good the record is and some saying how bad the record is, but they’re people with opinions. I think the lack of patience is due to people being inundated with information, and I think about how many more bands there are now and how little emphasis is put on music.
“I played an instore at Rough Trade the other day and I was awed by the fact there’s a store dedicated to music. I’ve seen music stores before, obviously, but they seem to be turning more into media stores. For example, Tower Records, before it went out of business, that was a major chain in America, but towards the end they started selling toys and just had all this shit crowding music. I guess it doesn’t matter so much anymore because we can get it for free.”
Ultimately, Cameron’s take on other people’s opinions is proud and understandably personal. It’s protective without being confrontational and again reverts back to the musical sense of self she’s chiselled out over the last few years.
“When you love something, you just want… I just want people to like it,” Cameron corrects, “but I have to accept that they may not. I try not to place a lot of emphasis on the really good reviews because I know how crestfallen I’ll be with the bad ones. At the end of the day, I think if you’re proud of what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter what people think. I’m very proud of the record, I worked really hard and I had to overcome a lot of personal obstacles to get it out.”
For some, the completion of one’s album marks a new notch in the timeline. It presents an opportunity to reappraise what came before, gauge its successes and failures or it can be the catalyst for something entirely new. And, with repetition and imitation being two thought processes Cameron needs no encouragement to battle, it’s unsurprising that her mind is already on her next project, even if it’s a little clouded.
“I once heard that creativity is like a ghost and it just passes through you then disappears. I still feel like I have that now, but maybe I’m getting anxious to make something new. I also think I’m having a reaction to myself now. The first album was so fluid… I’m finding myself attracted to things that are solid and truthful, not that it’s not truthful, it’s more like an admittance of flux, and what I’m feeling right now is a barren emptiness and a hardness, and I think it’s a reaction to my previous writing. I’m not sure [about the second album direction]. I haven’t got a good enough grasp on the future to tell you that.”
What is for certain is that whatever Glasser’s future direction entails, it will be conducted with the creativity and fearlessness she finally seems to have harnessed and has found a level of comfort expressing. With the potential to delve deeper in either art or music, Cameron seems fulfilled with where she is, but, most importantly, is always looking ahead to where she can go.
“I think everything informs everything else and things can be connected,” she smiles. “Music’s definitely been the most important thing for me to do in the last few years. I think I’ll feel like that for a while because I love music and I love singing and I love making songs and sounds. But I’m just following myself, and I don’t know where it’s going to go. I think it could go somewhere totally unexpected and it could potentially be something, someday, that isn’t just critically acclaimed. Who knows? It’s all just a big experiment. You can try to tell yourself that you know where it’s going to go, but you have to keep it open. You just have to do life.”
After what seemed to be a gruelling personal battle just sitting in her own skin, it’s difficult not to be enamoured with Cameron’s thoughtful, open-ended outlook to her music. That she’s prepared to recall a time where the progress wasn’t always beautiful is a testament to her conviction, and that in rejecting that period of imitation, she’s emulating the only person that’s most important right now: herself.
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