In pictures and onstage, Cameron Mesirow is often shrouded, wearing a mask, for instance, or cloaked in kaleidoscopic light from the projections that are part of her set. In person, Mesirow, who makes music as Glasser, is an open book: friendly, high-spirited, and willing to share nearly any detail, from her self-consciousness about her music’s digital infrastructure to the particulars of her dreams. This project, she says, exists in a state “between sleep and wakefulness,” and even the Glasser name came from a midnight vision of a figure hovering over water. The songs’ content emerges from the same place, and their structure grows slowly from the in-headphone trance Mesirow cultivates when she’s working.
Sometimes it takes the eye of an outsider to see something others would miss. No one better exemplifies that than Mesirow. Though her just-released Apply EP brings the number of Glasser songs in circulation to a spare six, Mesirow’s output is earning an abundance of attention for its consistently charming mix of artfulness and unvarnished beauty. Composed on Apple’s GarageBand program, songs feature her hypnotic voice layered over an array of synth sounds and prefab percussive loops. It’s sublime, drone-prone electronic folk, not that Mesirow had anything like that in mind when she started Glasser.
“I guess I’m a purist,” she says between sips of tea from one of the Casbah Café’s extrawide mugs. “I didn’t expect that I would ever be doing anything other than a rock & roll band. You know, Joni Mitchell is one of my idols, and she’s known as this organic kind of artist. I always envisioned doing something like that.”
As it turns out, Mesirow isn’t a complete outsider. Her father, who taught her to play guitar, is currently a member of the Blue Man Group in Berlin. Equally astonishing, her mother is Casey Cameron, founder of new-wave group Human Sexual Response (responsible for the 1980 hit “Jackie Onassis,” quoted in Rage Against the Machine’s “Tire Me”). Mesirow was born in Boston and, following her parents’ split, relocated to the Bay Area at age 10. She learned some piano as a kid, performed in musicals at school, had a couple of bands later, and eventually wound up studying German and literature at San Francisco State. While there, she met her boyfriend of four years, Matt Popieluch, better known as the singer of Foreign Born.
“Matt’s a really, really great partner,” Mesirow says. They live together in Los Feliz. “He helped draw out the songwriter in me. I mean, it was there, sort of begging to be unleashed, but he engaged it when no one else dared to.” She flashes a grin. “He plays guitar with me live, and I play the songs for him as they’re developing. He also reminds me to write people back about shows.”
Later, Popieluch weighs in: “I started out as her No. 1 fan, not to mention roommate and significant other, so basically [my duty in Glasser] was manning the flame-fanning when Cameron started writing a couple years ago. She does all the heavy lifting to this day. Cameron knows exactly what she wants, and the music is just one part of it.”
Last month Glasser played its first show without prerecorded parts. Mesirow assembled a nine-piece band comprising members of Darker My Love, Fool’s Gold, Abeline Fawn, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and, of course, Foreign Born. More than generating a larger sound (which it did in spades), Mesirow’s intent was to create an ever-stronger visual. In the past, she’s performed accompanied by dance troupe Body City, and at all shows, Mesirow wears custom outfits by the local designer Ida Falck Øien. She has greater plans still, and is currently working with New York artist Tauba Auerbach (whose credits include the Apply vinyl-EP sleeve) to invent a bifurcated pipe organ.
“Several years ago, we dreamed up a plan to build instruments together,” Mesirow says, “and it evolved into the idea of making something that’d be impossible to play without each other. The organ is gonna be split into two keyboards — we’ll each have every other key — and I’ll have the pumps for her side while she has the pumps for mine. We’re calling the project Auerglass, and we’re debuting it at her gallery in September. We’re having the pipe organ built in upstate New York.”
Which isn’t the least bit surprising when you learn that two of Mesirow’s biggest influences are prog-rock and Jim Henson. Even so, an 8-by-8-foot behemoth of that acoustic caliber is a stark contrast to a tiny, mobile laptop. When she started experimenting with GarageBand and Glasser, Mesirow was working at a nondescript shoe store (the name of which is one of two details she declines to discuss; the other is her current job working for multimedia artist Mike Kelley). She actually recorded the vocals to “Apply” at the shop — note the Karen O–like yelps — and in the process freaked out a customer or two. The EP was finalized on a transatlantic flight to visit her dad in Germany.
Perhaps the clue to Glasser’s greater appeal lies in the unexpected turns the music has taken. “Apply” and its sister songs — the swooning “Learn,” haunted shuffler “Glad” or the Kate Bush–meets-Cluster “Tremel” — do sport the built-in intimacy common to good bedroom recordings, but they also possess hints of grandiose and mercurial qualities. A recent Rolling Stone write-up suggested that “emotion is not an option” when listening to Mesirow’s “icy, remote” music, but that’s like saying white isn’t a color when, in fact, it reflects the entire spectrum.
“You can feel so many different things in your dreams,” says Mesirow. “For instance, you can see a really beautiful flower and be absolutely terrified. It’s very difficult to control and even harder to distinguish the exact mood of a dream, and I think that’s true for these songs as well. You’re never totally sure if I’m happy or sad, or even scared. It can all change so quickly.”
Glasser | Apply EP | True Panther Sounds