There's a cat mask sitting not five feet from Cameron Mesirow, who under the name Glasser will perform as one of the headliners of KCRW's now-annual Masquerade costume ball Saturday at the MacArthur Park-adjacent Park Plaza Hotel. The urge to put it on is tempting, but for now the unconventionally electronic and highly visual artist is resisting.
"I was thinking of doing a photo shoot with those masks and then being all, 'Come check me out at the Masquerade ball!' But that's way too cheesy and obvious, no?"
The current New Yorker, former Angeleno and daughter of parents steeped in the arts has now released two albums of increasingly complex sonic structures. Her new album, "Interiors," once again released on Matador Records offshoot True Panther Sounds, may be a merger of sweeping electronics, harrowing choral harmonies and a collection of found beats that stop and start without rhyme or reason, but Mesirow's on-stage persona remains one of pure physicality.
Chatting recently in an upstairs office at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery before a performance, Mesirow was surrounded by religious and spiritual iconography (Day of the Dead artwork, Buddha statues and those aforementioned feline masks). After dismissing the Halloween-inspired photo-shoot idea, Mesirow spoke of her approach to art and performance as an elaborate game of dress-up.
Onstage later that evening, Mesirow twirled, twitched and sang to two screens of digitally projected images as if the latter were characters. She stomped as if leading a drum line, posed as if the star of a fashion shoot and spun with shaman-like resolve.
"This is sort of my way of being in the movies," she said as she let her black-and-white dress sink into a screen of checkerboard images.
Mesirow wants listeners to be a little lost. Breathless huffs are as important as words, onetime friends or lovers are mistaken for shapes, songs seem alternately built out of wooden toys, empty bottles, warm harpsichords, frantic vocal acrobatics or swooning strings, but are most likely arranged with little of the above. Mesirow and her musical and romantic partner Van Rivers spent nearly a year tinkering with and manipulating the sounds of "Interiors" until the line between the organic and the digital was blurred beyond recognition.
"That was almost a political statement," Mesirow said. "Music people can be purists in one direction or another, so I wanted to make my own little statement that the mixture is part of the beauty of where we're living these days. The world is so tangled up in artifice. It's insane to pretend it is not there."
Mesirow may compare a song on "Interiors" to a Fleetwood Mac hit such as "Gypsy," but the resemblance isn't apparent unless one strips away layer after layer of fluid, orchestral synthesizers and wind-up rhythms. Even then, the melodies of what may or may not be a saxophone, one that took a wrong turn on its way to a smooth landing amid some bedroom soul from the '70s, would still need some tidying.
She talks of "Interiors" as a way to help her make sense of her varying personality traits -- the near-paralyzing fear and perfectionism of her approach in the studio and the outgoing show she puts on for the public. When she said on stage that she saw herself in pictures, she wasn't kidding.
"I imagine I'm in a movie when I'm living my regular life," she said. She grabbed a bottle of water to help illustrate her point. "Like, I'm not just drinking this bottle of water. I see this as how someone else will see it. So the on-stage demonstration is a third removal from the experience. It allows me to be extra emotive."
Got that? Mesirow stresses that it's just her attempt to "lock in" with her art and make sense of the experiences that "everyone is grappling with."
Such as? "Being alive," she clarified. "Fear. Death. I'm a little divided about this stuff. I just feel like it's all swirling around. One minute there's fear. The next something else takes my attention. I'm really about this. I'm excited about that. But look at that! What am I wearing? It's a wash."
To hear Mesirow tell it, it's something of a miracle that "Interiors," which landed this month at No. 15 on Billboard's dance/electronic albums chart, was released at all. Her debut, 2010's "Ring," was met with critical acclaim and earned the artist tour dates with the likes of the xx. It was also the product of much home recording during her mid-to-late 20s in Los Angeles.
The struggle of what to do for a follow-up, when you're untrained and largely home-taught, resulted in what Mesirow described as a "desperate" time. Though her mother was a founding member of new-wave band Human Sexual Response and her father has performed with the Blue Man Group, she said she didn't turn to them for advice, in part because her songwriting was becoming increasingly personal.
"It was a little dark," she said. "I wasn't trying to go crazy or anything, but I felt like I had temporary insanity. I was feeling like an unreliable friend, an unreliable family member."
Making the second album an even more arduous task was what Mesirow described as a near-stubborn refusal to master an instrument. Her partner Rivers has a studio and has worked extensively with electro-Goth act Fever Ray. She credited Rivers with helping her finish the album, but added that recording with a romantic partner was far from a relaxed experience.
"I have a hard time relinquishing power in the studio, but I lack the skill to accomplish what I want to accomplish, and therein lies a really big problem for me," she said. "I need to be a demanding person who chooses super-talented people to do my bidding. If they're smart and talented, and they are, then they want to do it their way and they resent me being like, 'Do this! Do that!' I would too."
In fact, Mesirow said she'd still be working on the album if it weren't for others forcing her to step away from it. She said she did that reluctantly -- and then wanted to trash it.
"I was like, 'The whole album is ruined. That one snare sound? I can't stand that.' I was devastated and didn't listen to it for a while. Then I listened again and my whole perception of it had been zoomed out so I didn't even notice what I had been devastated about. That is how it is to be dramatic like that."
Now that the album is out, Mesirow is more relaxed -- sort of. She's concerned about the visuals accompanying her live show ("they're a work in progress"), and then there's the larger fear that her budding fanbase will reject "Interiors." But she's coping.
“This is all relatively new,” she said. “So what if I don't have the same type of idea that attracts people? There's a lot of that fear in making records, especially if you have had any positive attention.
"But,” she continued, "if something moves me, then it most likely will move someone else somewhere in the world.”
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