Glasser talks to Cormac Duffy about inventing her own instrument and the curse of Björk
It’s an embarrassing day for the Irish tourism industry. Sitting in Crawdaddy after her soundcheck, Cameron Mesirow, aka Glasser, informs O-two that this is her first time in Ireland. In typical fashion, she has one request: a pint of Guinness. And the bar has none.
Needless to say, she isn’t pleased. “It should be illegal. And, I haven’t even seen one drunk person since I got here.” We’re devastating this American’s expectations of us one by one. At least she has her upcoming gig at the Trinity Ball to look forward to. Apparently, she was booked with little information about the event, other than that “there’d be a lot of drunk people there”. What else do you need to know?
The Mesirow that O-two meets comes across as strikingly different in person to the one on her debut album, Ring. Her music paints a portrait of a mysterious artist; one who fuses tribal and folk sounds with electronic drones and one whose music tiptoes along the boundary between pop and art. In person, she comes across as incredibly down to earth. There is a kind, soft spoken, uniquely American charm to her mannerisms.
Despite being pinned down as a Californian artist, she actually grew up on the East Coast, living in the more Irish than Ireland city of Boston. “It’s hard to answer when people ask where you’re from,” she explains. “Now I’m living in New York, I would always say California. But when I’m in California, I would always say I’m from the East Coast.” At least she knows she’s American. “In the States, people are so proud of being Irish, even if their family hasn’t lived there in 500 years,” she laughs.
O-two asks about spending a lot of her life in California, a state that usually looms over the musicians it produces. Has the state’s sunny, hippie vibe left an imprint on her sound? “I don’t think so, people are always telling me my music sounds like winter,” she replies. “There are also others who say it sounds tropical. I don’t think it says anything about California other than that it’s diverse.” And her music is nothing if not diverse.
She outlines her taste as “older music, a lot of folk music, a lot of psychedelic and prog rock;” causing one to think maybe California has left its mark. O-two asks her about the tribal rhythms that permeate the album, especially on the album highlight ‘Apply’. “I feel compelled to say it was never intentionally tribal.”
However, she admits: “I was feeling that everything I was writing was really heady and philosophical. I didn’t have much of a physical sound for much of the music, so I wanted to make the most physical, guttural sounding song I could.” Her aim was to have this balance the otherworldly sound of the rest of the album.
Despite her electronic influences, she never aspired to be an electronic act, instead approaching it from “a folk angle”. She is quick to clarify that “the only reason I used those sounds was because they were what I had access to”.
So if it happened by necessity, what was the original plan? “I was really interested in having a rock band for a long time.” She says this in a hushed tone, as if she’s admitting to an awful crime. “It just didn’t happen. I found I was much better off when I worked on my own.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean she is a stranger to collaboration, as she unveils the story of “The AuerGlass”. In a partnership with her friend Tuaba Auerbach, a New York visual and performance artist, the two joined the ranks of Leon Theremin and Robert Moog, and created their own instrument. The AuerGlass (get it?) is a double-sided pump organ, where one player provides the pump for the others notes, necessitating collaboration.
With her sound, her image, her willingness to engage in artistic experiments like this, she has found herself suffering from the curse that any alternative female will eventually face – the Björk comparison. “It’s hard to be compared to anyone,” she explains.
“If I’m going to be compared to anyone, she’s not a terrible person to get compared to because she’s so special. There is a reverence for her that you have to appreciate if you’re being compared to her. It is hurtful when people say things like she should stop copying Björk. Why would you think that’s what I’m doing?”
When O-two asks her how she would like her music to be analysed, she has a simple request. “Give me a chance to be another strong female example. Give me a chance to be…” she stops mid-sentence, trying to find the words she wants. A chance to be Glasser? “Exactly,” she says with a smile.
Glasser plays the 2011 Trinity Ball on April 8th. Tickets are sold out. Ring is out now.