Style and Substance with Jeremy Messersmith

Notables at the Nomad with Dessa and Musician Jeremy Messersmith

By Dessa
Photos by Aaron Davidson
Dessa and Jeremy Messersmith

Jeremy Messersmith chats with Dessa for Issue 7 of The Growler // Photos by Aaron Davidson

Each issue, Dessa sits down at the Nomad World Pub with a notable Minnesota figure. This issue, she chatted with the man, “…widely regarded as one of the best songwriters in the Twin Cities.”

In his press photos, Jeremy Messersmith is sometimes professorial, sometimes a Williamsburg freelancer, in stripes and colored sunglasses, and sometimes almost Don Draper in a slim, vintage suit. In interviews he credits his wife Vanessa, the proprietress of Blacklist Vintage, for at least some of the sartorial curation. The looks vary, but all the shots, even the ones in which he sports a scruffy beard or a white t-shirt, read as unusually deliberate. And not because the photography is painstakingly styled—it’s about Jeremy himself. He sometimes wears a small smile but more often regards the lens with a rather Zen-like calm. He comes off as a guy who is seldom caught unawares—a guy who sits for portraits, not pictures. These days, when everybody’s got a smart phone at every concert, most musicians are captured in scores of awkward mid-gesture snapshots, silly grins, or backstage tomfoolery. Messersmith almost always looks collected, unflappable.

Photo by Aaron Davidson

Photo by Aaron Davidson

I asked Jeremy how his on-stage persona compares to his off-stage personality. There’s not much daylight between the two, he says. He aims to be the same man in both worlds. “I try to be as reasonable as possible. I try to live my life as logically I can—as much like Mr. Spock as I can be.” It’s an unusual disposition for someone in his line of work.

Jeremy is widely regarded as one of the best songwriters in the Twin Cities. He makes folky pop songs with an acoustic guitar, a lot of strings, and a cast of accomplished producers and musicians (most notably, Grammy-winner Dan Wilson). He’s got a clear, sweet voice that can hit the high notes without straining for them. His lyrics are writerly, wistful, clever, and often a little macabre. He started playing music in the church, and some of his songs nod toward that part of his past—“John the Determinist” and “Scientists” among them.

Critics sometimes compare Jeremy Messersmith to Elliott Smith. The music of these two may have some passing similarities—the guitar, the tender vocals—but the makers of the music couldn’t be more different. Imagine the classic figure of the tragic artist, overwhelmed by the existential burden of it all. Now drive until you run out of gas. You’re still nowhere near Jeremy. He’s never smoked a cigarette, he was homeschooled until college, and at least once he floated the phrase “emotionally detached” during the course of our conversation. He’s a little self-deprecating, but in a genuinely funny way—nothing that could be read as indicative of a real, latent self-loathing. The Elliott Smiths of the world are driven to create by passion, by a surplus of feeling, by angst. We’re familiar with their model. Jeremy’s method involves an entirely different approach.

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