Alt-pop star purpl shares vulnerable new single ‘Morphine’
On Landscape, a simmering pop song from Glasser's second LP 'Interiors' – released on True Panther last month – the New York artist sings about being inside a lover's inner landscape, admitting "I don't want to go back to mine." These words are resonant in the back of my mind when I talk to her over the phone from London, as she describes what it was like to work on this record with her romantic partner Van Rivers (best known for his production work with Fever Ray). In a chirpy voice that sounds like she's constantly smiling, with long, thoughtful pauses between her colourful bursts of speech, Cameron Mesirow details the way in which the musical ideas of the two tesselated together in the recording process; he would build a space for her in his productions, and she would obsessively, meticulously add and subtract sounds and melodies until she had something that came as close as possible to sounding like what she was hearing in her mind.
It makes a lot of sense that a relationship so fluid and so giving would need to be at the centre of a record like this; bolder, bigger and much more emotionally honest than Mesirow's debut 'Ring', 'Interiors' is the artist not only stepping into the spotlight, but doing it without anything appearing false or forced. When you listen to 'Interiors', you start to feel like you know the person behind it a little bit better, so transparent are the "walls, walls, walls" Mesirow sings about in Landscape.
I caught up with Mesirow on the phone ahead of her European live dates (check those out here) to talk about how the push and pull of her romantic relationship with Van Rivers came out in the album's intuitive sound, as well as the time spent rootlessly touring that made her feel like she was "married to the sea" and the "innerlichkeit", or inwardness, that 'Interiors' is all about.
So the album's out today, how have you felt about the response to it?
Glasser: "I feel sort of mixed about it, because on the one hand I've been feeling really happy about what I made, but obviously to have it out in the open brings all these little criticisms to the fore, and even though I feel strongly about what I made it's hard not to hear those things, and like, hear them all day long."
Are there things you're not happy with?
Glasser: "Well I'm very happy, but people have their own take on it. The world of people who generally would be listening to my music – which I'm assuming is sort of the 40s-and-under crowd – it's a generation of very very quick decision-making."
It feels like you disappeared for quite a long time and really took your time over this record.
That must be a stark contrast, when it comes out and everyone hurriedly makes their decisions in a week or so.
Glasser: "Yeah, I think that would be difficult no matter what, no matter how long it took to work on it. I remember feeling this way the last time, just that when it's out, you feel exposed, in a way. But again, I'm really happy with it, and I'm trying to stay focused on that because this week and this day are not what I'm after when I go into the studio. I can't control anything about how anybody takes it."
What's great about this album is that, when you read that it's about architecture and space, you're almost expecting something steely and inhuman, but when you listen to it it's so emotional and human and raw. How did your idea of the album change as you were making it?
Glasser: "I guess I started from that core of architecture, but what I came to know about myself in doing that was that I couldn't really do something that was not… I mean, I'm not really sure who wants to hear a song about an actual building. I think that what I really meant when I said architecture, and what I mean when I say it now, is that I'm sort of observing the structural form of life, and the emotional structures that exist for everybody."
"I make this move to become like him. It makes me feel happy to connect with him so I try to emulate him in a way, to force our connection to go deeper. But that's where you hit a wall. Because I'm still me, you know?" – Glasser on Van Rivers
The first track that really stuck out for me was Landscape, because that really deals with those emotional structures, with people invading each others' space and sharing lives. What was the writing process like for that track?
Glasser: "Yeah that one was really a collaboration between me and Van Rivers. I realised that because we're also romantically involved, the relationship is such an equal playing field, that I make this move to like, become like him. It makes me feel happy to connect with him so I try to emulate him in a way, to force our connection to go deeper. But that's where you hit a wall. Because I'm still me, you know?"
How do you think your relationship with Van Rivers came out in the sound? Were you more comfortable?
Glasser: "No…maybe more and less. What I've been making requires a lot of embarrassing realisations or really vulnerable things; singing is a really vulnerable activity, and needing to sing something a lot of times can be difficult. And also if I'm singing about my relationship with the person that's recording…there are lots of different layers. But, because we have sort of a constant, private dialogue, there are certain things that are also a little easier. Like working on sounds, for example. He has more of an understanding of who I am, what I like…I can explain to him in a language that exists between us what I'm going for."
I wanted to talk about places a little – do you have a favourite place in the world?
Glasser: "No, I don't have a favourite place in the world. I don't feel like I have a home anywhere, and I think that's what most of this record became about; I'm sort of like a turtle or something, I take my home with me. That's something that increased for me when I was touring a lot. So much is unregulated, or irregular, when you're on tour – you can't really control lots of things that are happening around you, and at first it's sort of chaotic, and then certain behaviours and feelings gel into place, and they facilitate survival. Actually, Van Rivers and I joked that when we were on tour all the time together, that we became sort of like sailors, really unreliable. It was like a new port every day, meeting different people. I could't help but liken it to being married to the sea [laughs], because you just don't put down roots anywhere."
"It's an exploration of where I go when I can't speak, when I feel isolated, when I can't depend on what's outside" – Glasser
On this record it feels like the form and content are so well matched all the time, the productions expands and contracts with the tension and the emotion of the song. I wondered if you could talk a bit about how you approached the production; what did you start with when making a track?
Glasser: "Well, I'm really obsessive about what sounds get used. I'm like a crazy person. I'm a producer, on my own, but I lack the capability of – well, so far, anyway – of creating space within music. This is something that I talk about all the time, space within music. I'm not ever sure if I'm being understood. But there's this three-dimensional quality to the production that Van Rivers is able to contribute, and I'm really obsessive about what gets put into that space that he creates. I usually have one thing that I'm really focused on."
Could you give an example?
Glasser: "Okay, the song Dissect, which is probably one of my favourite songs that I've made, that song actually had this core melody that I was obsessing over that didn't actually end up being in the song. We took it away afterwards. I guess that's sort of what I mean, only it didn't continue existing."
So when you listen to that song do you hear a kind of absence?
Glasser: "No I don't hear an absence, I hear it still! It's like really faded in a way, through a combination of things. I probably hear this song differently from how anybody else hears it."
It's like you hear the footprint of the melody in the song.
Glasser: "Exactly. There's a ghost in it, for me. But yeah, I tend to have like one thing that's driving the entire operation that I focus on heavily, and I think that's my job, that's my job to see what the core is, and I think it's more Van Rivers' job to build around that. And whether or not that core exists in the end is dependent on whether or not the structure that he builds can uphold the whole thing.
"Whereas prior to this, with 'Ring', I sort of had those core ideas in there for every single song. You know, if you listen to 'Ring' each song has a theme that continues pretty much throughout each track, there's obviously meandering within that, but those cores are all there."
If you had to put into words the core of this album, what would you say? What's the heart of it?
Glasser: "It's about space, and it's about – in German it's called 'innerlichkeit', which means like 'insideness', which is like, it's an exploration of where I go when I can't speak, when I feel isolated, when I can't depend on what's outside. It's me realising when I can't reach what's outside that I also can't always reach what's inside. It's existing on that threshold."
True Panther released 'Interiors' in October 2013. Read our review of it here.