Priya Ragu’s post-genre sound champions her Tamil heritage
Spitalfields has changed a lot in the last six years. The city has encroached on the ramshackle creative hub, dragging with it gleaming glass units, sanitised shop fronts and rows of franchise eateries. Mikael and I sit in one of them, eating a watered-down approximation of a Middle Eastern lunch before heading down the road for a more satisfying wander around Whitechapel Art Gallery. We’re passing time, our midday interview with LA’s GLASSER having been rescheduled to the afternoon. I’d seen her perform at The Lexington the week before. A slight young woman in a white, almost space-age hooded dress had taken to the stage accompanied by two men in wide-brimmed hats and robes. The stage swamped her a little until she started singing. Her crystalline, hyper-feminine soaring voice filled the room, punctuated by primal verging on primate yelps and screeches. The contrast was thrilling in its fearlessness, evoking both the playfulness of Bjork and solemnity of Fever Ray (interviewed here). Conjuring up a musical jungle, the men in hats swayed over two laptops spewing forth part-tribal, part-tropical, densely intricate synth and drum rhythms. It was a beautifully wrought, thoughtful and striking performance, if a little underappreciated by the Indie-centric audience.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case with last night’s packed gig it transpires. So much so that when we finally meet GLASSER aka 26-year-old Cameron Mesirow in a light-filled Whitechapel studio, she’s got a sore throat and isn’t feeling great. Nevertheless she’s smiley and more than happy to sink into a sofa to chat before the video shoot for Tremel (listen above), her new single on Young Turks out today. It follows her ‘Apply’ EP on True Panther Sounds last May, who’ll also be releasing Cameron’s debut album ‘Ring’ late this summer. Incidentally, she grew up with both True Panther’s Dean and Lemonade (interview and mix here). I’d read she describes herself as an arranger? “I have to be something. I’m not a trained musician,” she responds. “I guess I’ve had a difficult time legitimising myself in the music world. I feel more like an artist than a musician.” GLASSER’s strong visual aesthetic, from her stage outfits designed by Norwegian designer Ida Falck Øien to the ‘Apply’ artwork by artist Tauba Auerbach, is all the more resonant in the context of Auerglass, her ongoing project with Auerbach (see some of their work here). Funnily enough, it was not playing an instrument that ultimately shaped her musical development: “I had to figure out my own way and ended up doing something really different.” Growing up in California, she was heavily into the punk scene. “I felt very insecure about making a move into electronic music. It sort of betrayed my identity but actually I’ve found making music anyway you can is maybe more punk than if I was trying to do a garage band,” she laughs, having written her album on GarageBand.
Talking to Cameron, the thing that’s most striking is her self-possession. Yet her confidence isn’t intimidating; it’s infectious. She has a genuinely exciting, non-limiting way of looking at the world. “There’s this way that we’re all expected to be and it’s actually quite arbitrary when you think about it. There are things that I didn’t dare do when I was younger, like I wouldn’t want to make a noise like that,” she says of her yelps. “It felt embarrassing. But then I think that we spend so much of our lives being embarrassed about absolutely nothing. I realised that a few years ago and felt compelled to not let it keep me from doing what I wanted to do. Not that what I really wanted to do was yelp or screech like that.” Rather it’s a way of exploring and expelling that embarrassment, of giving sound and shape to it. “I’m interested in sleep and memory, dreams and memories,” she continues. “I am constantly in awe of the impermanence of things, and memory is a huge testament to that. It’s in our nature to try and be as specific as possible, because we have language and we have definitions. But we can’t really define anything or hold on to anything, or say how anything really happens or occurred. I think that’s really hilarious.”
Her readiness to laugh at the world, to question the way things are and attempt to upturn them is what gives her music so much life. It teems with it, bristles with it. That challenge to conformity is something she shares with Karin Dreijer Andersson so it comes as no surprise that the two men in hats on her tour were Fever Ray producers Van Rivers and Subliminal Kid. “They didn’t produce my record but they’ve been really helpful with advice,” she explains. “I think there’s more to come from that collaboration definitely.” The idea behind ‘Ring’ is that it will have no beginning or end, something that a non-linear format like the internet could deliver: “If you think of it as a running circle, anywhere you start it will make sense going all the way round.” It underlines her gentle but no less disruptive chipping away of traditional format and structure. “It’s funny how we’re all constantly struggling with freedom, and kind of hating and loving people for being free,” says Cameron when we discuss the thrill of refusing to conform. She laughs when I say I can’t wait to be really old and dance down the street without caring. “What are you waiting for?”