Gemma Dunleavy on her “everyday chat dressed as sonics” and the community injustice that spurs her on
Some time in the autumn of 2007, Cameron Mesirow sat down at home in LA, opened her laptop and taught herself to play GarageBand. A linguistics graduate and jobbing singer with a burning vision and problems sleeping, she took to it like a fish to water. Glasser was the name of the project, and full lungs and big drums were at the heart of the sound. Additional instrumentation came from people like Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid, who also helped realise Fever Ray’s vision.
Soon, it made its way to the people at Young Turks, who released the Tremel EP last spring, and True Panther Sounds, who released ‘Ring’, one of the year’s most resonant pop albums. Steeped in myth (the structure, famously, is taken from epic poetry) yet rooted in the everyday, brainy but fun, deeply personal yet far from self-indulgent, it’s a fierce, fun record that responds to a fierce, fun time with fractured loveliness.
Around the time of its release, we interviewed her on a clear day in Hoxton Square in London. She was smart enough to have a laugh, but spoke with resolve about old-fashioned things like artistic sincerity and responsibility. Curiosity, too, at many things, was there – she that had that wonderful ability, like all great music, to make your world a little brighter, a little sharper, if only for a short while.
Pre-dictaphone small talk was about growing as a musician, the graft of the music game and playing to people who weren’t yet into what she did. It’s always weird hearing people behind music you adore do things as mundane as soundcheck, but this was especially illuminating. In a lot of ways, ‘Ring’ – conceptually complete, proud, purposeful – is the opposite of a work in progress. Yet flux, transition and change are at the heart of what she does – it’s there in the undulating structure of the album, the there-not-there press shots, and in her last interview with Dummy, she spoke about ‘the impermanence of things’. Something, I suppose, that Glasser can teach you is that everything, ultimately is, on its way to something else, which is actually quite nice when you think about it. She’s playing XOYO in London on Tuesday, and you really should try to come down.
One of the things I really like about the album is the way the rigmarole of life is set against this epic backdrop.
That’s just how it came out! That self-expressing state of mind, and the possibility to be heard or not, and just to see what would come out if I’d just let it roll [was what was important]. There was a lot of that – when I wrote that song, Apply, I had this reoccurring sleep paralysis, which affects your dreams, or in my case, nightmares – it’s where you wake up but you can’t shake yourself out of it. It’s those domestic things like the window or the sounds happening in my room or street noise that filtered in to this woozy, fluid world where we all go for half a day. Half of our time is concerned with domestic concerns and the other half is concerned with riding a dolphin through the forest [laughs]. It’s funny that we can have these wild dreams then go to work the next day and take ourselves really seriously and act like we weren’t just riding a dolphin. There’s a lot of that – laughing at the world and cursing it for not letting me take myself seriously. I had such a funny, psychologically explicit dream last night. Do you want to hear it?
I knew I had a full day of press today. So I had a dream where lightning struck near to where I lived, and everything was the same, but slightly roughed up around the edges, slightly shredded and someone came up with a paper, saying “You’ve gotta read this, it’s so good!”, but every page was shredded and ripped and I could never get there.
It’s hard being suddenly judged. Even when it’s nice, I’m like “Don’t pay too much attention! Don’t pay too much attention!”
Wow. What do you think that means?
I’ve done my goofy [thing] for a while with no one watching. And now people are watching and it’s like “Woah!” I read a review that was supposed to be nice, I think, but it was very backhanded with its compliments. And I was like “What have you done?” It’s hard being suddenly judged. Even when it’s nice, I’m like “Don’t pay too much attention! Don’t pay too much attention!”
It’s strange that artists have to be oblivious to the opinions of the world but then super-sensitive to the world around them.
Yeah! Because you’ve got to sensitive to the world enough to make observations about the world that actually mean something. It would be hard if I weren’t so proud of what I’ve made. You’d be screwed, all the criticism would feel right. But when people don’t see what I see when I look at it… [Laughs] I pity them!
Exactly! But you can’t please everyone. Especially when you’re laughing in a world of people crying. Or crying in a world of people laughing, which sometimes I get confused.
How do you mean?
I feel like what I made is pretty sincere. Even the humour is not meant to be ironic – so many things right now are campy, or nostalgic, or ironic, and it all falls into that overflowing pool of stuff that is taking the piss, as you would say. I feel like it’s people not taking responsibility for making what they make. Maybe it’s a result of how over-saturated the word is now with popular culture, a defense mechanism and an urge to still feel in control of the content. Despite feeling inundated with media, they can still maintain a sense of control. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. “What this person has made is meaningless compared to my ability to take the mickey out of it.”
That’s like a blog thing, isn’t it? It’s self-importance. Sometimes it’s good. But I always feel extra proud of friends or peers who create things that are true to themselves, and not just a grasp to control the thing that cannot be controlled. Does that make sense?
One thing that struck me about this record was the fact you composed it on GarageBand on a laptop and it was delivered to me digitally, where I heard it on another laptop. There’s something quite elegant about that process.
That’s so funny! Yeah, I guess. But you missed out the bit where I got other musicians to record some elements. The violin, the saxophone, all real. That’s a funny thing though. I suppose that a lot of people are listening to the record through their laptop.
There’s that nice feeling you get listening to music made on a laptop that you get only when you stand in front of – I don’t know – the Mona Lisa and think “This is where Leonardo stood, right here.” There’s a directness of communication.
Yeah! I’ve never thought of that. I was just a means to an end, really. I was like “Oh, it would be so cool if I had a band! I have a band … with myself …” It was never meant to be a GarageBand endorsement; it was just the only thing that I experimented with long enough to make something. I suppose I also felt comfortable with it. It didn’t feel like I just being another guitar player. So many people are like “I was to make music, so I should play guitar or piano” and I always felt sad that I never gave up enough time to be an expert pianist, but I ended up getting much better results when I stopped trying to fit myself around another programme. I came to it new, and I had that advantage. I spent many years going around picking up instruments saying ‘is this the thing?” Finding instruments …
- .. Making instruments [Cameron once made a two-person organ, called the Auerglass, which she plays with her friend Tauba Auerbach] …*
… Trying to work out how to fit a 16’ organ into a band. You saw the organ then?
Yeah! I like the name too.
Thanks. Auerglass is actually the name of the collaboration, and the organ is project one. We’re going to get together in the winter and start making some plans that I can’t disclose … I’m still really into this idea of interdependence. It’ll be fun. It’s been fun the whole way through, too bad you didn’t hear a performance. You saw the video above though, right?
Yeah! I love it when people make their own instruments. “The instrument that I want to play is an organ which needs me and my friend. The instrument doesn’t exist, I shall make the instrument.” Do you think you’re a very ambitious artist?
[Cautiously] I’d like to think so. I’d like to think I go for things that are hard to get to. I mean, why not? I used to know, but I think I’ve forgotten, which is a good job. I somehow unlocked that gate, and now I don’t live there any more. [laughs] Getting into Glasser was really hard, you know? Just doing something that was really, real, not a joke band, which I’ve done before.
“I’d like to think I go for things that are hard to get to. I mean, why not? I used to know, but I think I’ve forgotten, which is a good job.”
Are you stubborn?
I … try not to be.
I have a hot temper. I’ve reeled it in somewhat. It’s such a waste of time. Some of the ways I feel like acting when I’m angry are not productive. But sometimes they are. I lost my temper the other night at a gentleman in a bar, who physically violated my space.
It was done in a joking way, funny to him at least. He thought it would be hilarious to move me, so he literally picked me up and placed me somewhere else. And I was so shocked! That someone would literally take control of my geographic place and deposit me somewhere else for their own amusement. So, my temper may have been lost.
I’m very glad to hear that! After all, that’s not losing your temper … that’s using your temper.
Yeah. My bag may have impacted on his face. That might have happened.