The circular logic of Glasser
There's a funny thing about Cameron Mesirow's debut full-length as Glasser: You can start "Ring" at any point you'd like to. Like "Finnegan's Wake" or the finale of "Lost," the last thing you hear is revealed as the first thing that happens on the record — a strange percussive element, like a gamelan chime. The effect is purposeful but also just a fun thought-experiment on how to listen to this incredibly imaginative album.
"Ring," coming out Tuesday, is nominally an electronica record, built off shards of samples and big orchestral washes in the spirit of Bjork. But it has its own deeply weird sonic geography. Mesirow's voice flits in and out of melody, often turning to uncanny harmonies and percussive yelps for punctuation, and linear ideas like verses and choruses are beside the point.
But it's also completely catchy and requires zero intellectual exertion to enjoy its sheer creative generosity. We talked to Mesirow about making records by her own rules. She plays Amoeba in Hollywood at 7 p.m. Friday.
This project has such an idiosyncratic and personal approach to sounds and songwriting, but you’re also pretty open to working with other producers like Ariel Rechtshaid and Van Rivers & the Subliminal Kid. Tell me a bit about how you preserved your vision while staying open to what these other musicians can offer in the studio.
The sounds and the songs are what I came to those producers with, and what they did for me that I couldn't do on my own was expand the sound and break it out of the demo scope. This music is spacial, and I created those spaces on my own in a miniature scale, like architecture, but when the architect wants to bring his/her ideas to fruition, they need a team of people to help them build.
So much of this album’s power is in the vocals, and you do a lot of really interesting things with your voice that aren’t necessarily lyrical — yelps and repeating sounds and ambient harmonies and such. What’s interesting and moving to you about arranging your voice in this more abstract way?
I suppose what I love about singing is that one doesn't have to say anything in order to create something moving and powerful. We depend heavily on language to guide us through what we're feeling, but there are many more ways to express emotion that have a larger impact than simply saying "I'm happy" or "I'm sad." Using words to express feelings can make those feelings seem less real.
Your early music was made on GarageBand, and I was curious if you feel like the kind of limitless possibilities and editing available in home digital recording made a strong impact on how you write and structure your songs. These songs seem really rooted in sounds and arrangements moreso than chord progressions or verses and choruses.
I never have thought of my freedom in songwriting as being a result of using GarageBand, but I think there might be something to that. I have always been a music person, even prior to making any music of my own, and I think a little before I started making music as Glasser I had a period of disenchantment that many people go through when they hunger for new inspiration in a seemingly already pillaged medium.
I was interested in pushing the limits of what I could still enjoy as music, because while an interesting concept in music is always fun to talk about, in the end the concept behind a song is not what makes a song listenable. So I think what I was doing when I started playing around with the GarageBand software on my computer was trying to isolate sounds that were not the usual building blocks for songs, and pair them with pretty harmonies to prove to myself that all you really need is a vocal melody to have a pop song.
You landed some really high-profile opening tours really early on in this project with the xx and Sigur Ros' Jonsi. How did those big rooms influence what you wanted from your live show going forward?
From the start of my performances, I think I knew that what I needed to do was to go big in order to achieve the right sound. When I toured with Jonsi, I used in-ear monitors for the first time and it really made a huge difference in terms of my performance because I was sure of my singing and therefore moved more and enjoyed myself a lot more.
You’ve played with really large live versions of Glasser in the past, with members of some well-known L.A. acts. What was the process like to arrange this really dense, abstract music for live instruments and move away from samples and backing tracks, and how did you cast the current band?
I was lucky to have a lot of people come together and help me when it came to doing my EP release party at Spaceland in May of 2009. I can't take responsibility for all of the live arranging, but I was so proud of what we did, and happy to lose some pre-recorded sounds in favor of live ones. The current band is a great mix of electronic and live elements. The players are friends and friends of friends, and I'm very excited to go on the next few tours with them because I think this new setup that we have created is going to be fun to play as well as watch. I hope so anyway.
Many of the big reference points in your work — Joni Mitchell, Bjork — have a strong sense of femininity as a powerful, kind of mysterious force in their music and lyrics, one often tapped into the natural world. Do you feel like your music draws from something similar? If yes, how so?
Women are intuitive creatures. I like to think of my femininity as something that extends beyond sexuality, and beyond standards of age and beauty that I so often feel myself being measured against. I don't know if this is how those other aforementioned women feel, but I think I can't help but draw from my own feelings in some form or another in my expression as an artist. It's a part of my personality.
Your music has a strong visual identity, but it’s one that tends to focus less on “Cameron” for more abstract forms — masks, dancers, elaborate clothing and such. Do you think this aspect is more of an expression of your personality, or a way of obscuring it in this project?
What I aim to create visually with Glasser is an amplification of the minutiae that makes up a thought or a memory. Exaggeration has been a part of the performing arts for centuries, and though I have incorporated many of those extra-musical elements into my performances, I would never incorporate anything that didn't represent some part of my own experience or personality.
The Auerglass project was really bold and impressive from a craftsmanship standpoint. How did that influence your ambitions for making new sounds going forward?
I think it helped add another layer of strength or confidence to the way I made music. It was just completely overwhelming and enveloping as a project, but also really different from anything I had done before, because it was a collaboration down to the last notes of the music. We shared everything. Perhaps in a way that also made me ready for the impending collaboration with my producers.
Other pieces written on Glasser imply that a vivid dream life is really important to you. Do you feel that paying attention to that inner psychological world frees you up to different ideas about writing and how the world works?
My dreams have been emphasized a lot in media representations of me. However I would say that though my sleep life has played a significant role in my creativity, my waking life is just as affected by dreaminess. I have always had a lot more on my mind than what was directly in front of me. When I was in school, it was a real problem. I have for years been trying to get my attention span and imagination on a shorter leash, and I have made strides, but what I decided to do with writing for Glasser was to just let it go, and I'm so happy I did.
— August Brown
Photo: Cameron Mesirow, a.k.a. Glasser. Credit: Courtesy True Panther Sounds.