When I arranged to meet New York-based avant-garde pop artist Glasser for tea in Manhattan’s East Village, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was going as an editor with my glasses and notebook and all, but I admittedly was also going as a fan. Her 2010 debut album, the remarkably fresh and innovative Ring, is still on heavy rotation for me. (When I’d felt comfortable enough, I confessed—rather, gushed—about having made a not-so-great multi-tracked vocal cover of her trippy single “Mirrorage” on GarageBand while struggling with an epic bout of insomnia one night.) Glasser is the diva-fied stage name of Cameron Mesirow, a true-blue California girl whose later-in-life discovery of music-making led her to become dedicated to making her life a work of art. She’s wary of the stoner-esque philosophizing she’s prone to, probably a by-product of having only moved to lightning-fast New York three years ago, shortly after completing Ring. Nevertheless, Mesirow has a great big smile and is quick with jokes—we bonded over Michelle Obama’s style and Beyoncé’s badass diva ‘tude—and thoughtful reflections on life.

Glasser's sophomore LP "Interiors" is in stores and on iTunes now!

Glasser’s sophomore LP “Interiors” is in stores and on iTunes now!

Interiors is her second album, and it’s out now. It’s basically a masterpiece: where Ring dwelled in a (lovely) labyrinth of looped harmonies that could seem unpolished, Interiors inhabits, as the title suggests, a much more cerebral, technically sharp space. Based on her experience thus far living in America’s most populous city, Mesirow and producer Van Rivers created 12 meditations on New York’s urban sprawl and endlessly fascinating architecture as a backdrop to explore more personal meditations on her own levels of intimacy and desire. The overall sound of Interiors is far more polished than its predecessor; layers of Mesirow’s ethereal voice float lightly above Rivers’ consistently thrilling electronic arrangements like a hovering crane swaying in the skyline, creating a sense of anxious tension that warrants many repeated listens.

But above all, Mesirow is disarmingly honest and down-to-earth. She gave a very candid with interview to Beautiful Savage about her desires and intentions as an artist, how she is learning to deal with attention toward her music, that lame female authenticity debate, and confidence. Read on:

Beautiful Savage: I know you’re very detail-oriented. I remember playing “Mirrorage” for a friend in the car, and the way each sound sort of revealed itself, it’s so great. That whole album is so great on a really good sound system because I’m like, “What are these sounds? My mind is blown!” Everything is so intricately put together.
Cameron Mesirow: Yeah, it’s so delicate sounding. I think I have a sort of tendency toward that type of thing. I like mosaic things, like very complicated. I like clean things as well.

It sounds clean, that’s the thing.
CM: I guess that’s sort of my… anyway, I’ve had all kinds of insane ideas for the visuals. I really felt like after Ring, I was like, “Okay, people who really dig it are open to who I am,” but I felt like a big part of it was missing, which was the visual component. There was not a clear aesthetic sense that was really a stand out like, “Here’s me!” So really early on, I contacted [New York artist and director] Jonathan Turner to work with him on stuff. I was writing him crazy long emails in the middle of the night like, “I’m in my room and there’s the spinning silver thing and it’s changing shape!” At the time I was like, “I’m going to be wearing an orange dress!”

Yeah, the patterned one, which looks fabulous by the way.
CM: Thank you! That’s the distracting factor for my awkward dance moves. It kind of is but it’s because I’m wearing those damn Tom Ford shoes and I was like, “Shit.” My feet hurt for like a month afterward.

Who designed the dress?
CM: Prada. It was a rental, believe me. I wish I would be wearing that dress right now. Spanx and all, I’d be up in here with it. So yeah that was super intense to wear those shoes, for real though.

For Ring I think I remember reading that you made the whole thing on GarageBand and you brought it to the producer and you guys cleaned it up. Did you take a similar approach to Interiors?
CM: I didn’t really take the same approach. I wrote a ton of instrumental music while I was touring because I didn’t have the privacy to sing. I’m still pretty guarded about that, and I was with people all the time, which was pretty crazy also for its own reason. I didn’t have anywhere to sing; I would be in a van and playing instrumental music. With Interiors, it’s way more electronic, much smoother. But I really do love GarageBand sounds.

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I almost like how “off” they can sound.
CM: Exactly. A lot of this record has fake strings and real strings. I like that they’re mixed, and maybe some audio person would know, but it’s almost like tricking someone into buying a fake designer bag or something. I just think like, who cares in the end? Does it evoke the emotion? Are you less moved when you know it’s a fake tuba?

I was talking to a friend about this fake authenticity argument that people always want to throw up with women who make pop music, or just music in general, and it’s like, let’s not take credit away Britney Spears. If a song is by Britney Spears, it’s by Britney Spears. It’s never by Britney Spears, featuring this roster of producers.
CM: Yeah. It’s funny you mention that. That’s sort of a common discussion about female musicians. It’s like, “Who’s really going to come forward and take the credit?” It sucks because it really pits us against each other. All of us; like, men and women, and women and women. It’s a bummer. I guess I have that same reaction in me, I know I do. It’s part of my conditioning. I’ve been trying with this record and other stuff I’m thinking about working on to shed that, just fuck it. It comes from not being a huge artist who can’t always afford to get a string section in the studio all the time. And that’s cool. I always aim to make the most of what I’ve been given.

I wanted to hear from you: what was on your mind when making Interiors, and why did you choose to focus on themes like architecture and desire?
CM: When I made Ring, I didn’t know I was making a record. I mean, I did, and I had written some songs and I was like, “Oh shit, I should write more and put it all together.” And I did, I actually wrote that circular structure and wanted it to be just like that from its inception. I was very new to having attention and the idea of myself as a musician and composer and a singer. There were lots of first jumps in a lot of ways. This time, it was like, “Now it’s time to make a record.” I had some pretty solid ideas of what I was going to write about, and I had a very different experience in my life. I went on tour and saw a lot more of the world than I had seen before. I was kind of in a low place when I started writing the record; going on tour can really take the wind out of your sails. It’s a complicated experience. I had this feeling that when something’s over, it’s like “Oh.” And maybe it won’t come back. And I’ve been draining all my energy traveling and not realizing it was going to be over. So I was in kind of a low place, and I think my personality is such that when I get in a funk like that, I go from being sad to angry and then that’s like a fire with which I can birth a new, (laughs)—

I’m sort of the same way: I can’t be sad for too long.
CM: Yeah, or else you just get mad. So I think that’s where I started with this one: Like, nobody cares right now what I’m doing, so I’m going to show them. I guess it was kind of angry, but I had to reckon with lots of feelings. This is kind of embarrassing to say, but something that’s common among creative types is resentment for recognition and circumstances. It’s understandable on the one hand because if you pour your heart into something, you want it to go as well as it can possible go. But you run the risk as a privileged person and creative person of having those things cloud the understanding that being an artist is truly a gift and privilege, and I shouldn’t be so hung up—I’ve had a good life, and I’m so lucky that my parents were like, “Go get ‘em, honey!” In that dejected time, even though Ring was so awesome and everyone was so nice about it, why did I feel like that? But I did because all the touring was over and it was on to whatever the next thing was, and people’s attention was on whatever the next thing was. And I was like, “Oh, that was my chance.” So I was kind of mad at whatever went wrong, and then it turned into being mad at myself. Like, “You idiot, you didn’t thank your lucky stars to go places with what you made.” So I changed lots of stuff. Your question has a super long answer, but it’s just that everything’s different now. I’m excited in a way I wasn’t ready to be before. I was so nervous that I didn’t let myself be excited. I’m excited and honored. People are still here. I thought they were gone, and they’re still here.

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This is just my opinion: I think it’s because Ring is an incredible record. Anything that you’ve seen or heard that’s incredible, you don’t just forget it. You’re the creator so you’re not thinking that way. You’re like, “Well I just put this out, and I can only hope that people would respond.”
CM: Right. It’s an important reminder to me and to everybody who hears me talk about this, is that it’s not the end of the world and people don’t high-five you everywhere you go. It’s such an amazing feeling to make something that you like, and that’s enough. That’s totally enough. I actually met Laurie Anderson, which was, well not actually nerve-wracking, but I was just in awe. I performed at this MoMA PS1 benefit dinner for her about a year ago, that’s how I met her. It’s a cool dinner, I never would have been invited otherwise. But I sat for a moment at the table for her while she was eating, there were people talking about how much Laurie has meant to the art community. And I leaned over and was like, “Is it weird to watch all these people talk to a whole room about how great you are?” And she was like, “I don’t take anything that seriously.” And I was like, OK, that is cool. So I was really into what she said that to me, and I was like, maybe I should not take anything that seriously.

So this time around were you just trying to have fun?
CM: No, I have such a hard time making a record, that’s not what I mean. I was like a total artiste about it, like “Ahh!” Just a total freak about it, I didn’t sleep and I watched all four seasons of Felicity. I was just a total wreck.

Did you order take-out a lot?
CM: Totally, and I was just like broke and a frickin’ weirdo. But Laurie Anderson takes her shit so seriously, too, but I think what she meant was she’s not all that motivated by the outside interpretation of—it’s not uncomfortable for her whether people like what she’s doing or not. She’s moving forward. And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t want to take those things seriously. I want take what I do seriously and give my everything to it, but I want to know that I’m not doing it for the applause…” I don’t live for the applause. Though I do love Lady Gaga’s sentiment with that song.

I love her.
CM: Yeah, I don’t need to live for the applause—not that I won’t take it, but I just don’t, I hope that I feel motivated to work and work and work and work forever. Because it makes me feel good about life to have a purpose, at least my own given purpose. Otherwise it’s like, “What am I going to do?” Sometimes you expect that the second something comes off the press, there’s going to be this explosion. I felt that way with Ring too: there was all this build up and once it was out for people to get, I was like, “The phone better start ringing, okay?”

People have to sort of receive it, and that takes time, is what you’re saying?
CM: Yes. And also when you make something kind of intense, some people don’t like it, and some people take a while for it to grow on them and then they’re suddenly like, “I love it.” I like that reaction, actually. They’re like, “I wasn’t sure, and then I couldn’t stop.” I love that, that’s so cool. It’s like a ghost, like a possession. That’s how it is with aesthetic things; that’s why beauty and why these fleeting types of beauty are so powerful for people. It’s inexplicable how it takes you by storm, and then maybe you won’t always feel that way either, when you hear it or see it. Things that are intensely fashionable go out of fashion hard. And then you’re like, “Oh, what was I thinking?”

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So when you write, do you do multiple drafts of your songs? Or you sit down and in 10 minutes you have a song and you already know it’s going to work?
CM: No. We’re talking like 50 drafts. Like crazy drafts.

I feel like I want to see your notebooks some day.
CM: Actually, it’s all on the computer. Oh my God. That’s what would keep me up at night when watching Felicity. I had such bad insomnia and I watched Felicity stuff in the middle of the night. It was so truly crazy.

When you’re writing, how do you take the things that you’re thinking about and feeling and put them in? Your songs always feel very metaphorical and metaphysical, even.
CM: There are so many instances of that happening and also clearer moments where it’s like, “I feel this.” In my music, there’s so much going on with the songs and the sounds and I think there’s twice as much going on with Interiors, but like I said before, it’s a bit smoother. There is somewhat of a departure, slightly more into diva territory. But not like Mariah Carey’s Mimi alter-ego. Just me, singing more about me. But I still do that sort of thing of singing in metaphor and that kind of thing.

Where does that come from?
CM: Well, on Ring, I would say that it comes from a guarded place. On Interiors it’s more of a cerebral experience. I’m not really a stoner or anything but I deal with a lot of the stone-y questions in my work, and in my life I’m thinking about that “What does it all mean?” things all the time. One of the things that I wrote about this time was the change of the city and the way that that cyclical movement involves every person regardless of their intention of being involved. You know, there’s the real-estate mogul who wants to make a profit and fix up a neighborhood, and then there are the original people who are in the neighborhood, and this neighborhood and every neighborhood here. Artists who are not trying to move anybody anywhere but they need to afford the rent, and they’re the reason that the real-estate mogul is like, “Let’s buy up that area with all of those lofts.” Every single person is involved without being aware of it sometimes. I wanted to write about that which is not necessarily what people want to write songs about all the time. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but it’s what was on my mind—architecture as a metaphor for a person and how it can be out of place. Like a fancy new building in a crappy neighborhood can be out of place. I guess the way I write about it is starting with a blank page and just kind of, words. Like one word that stems a lot of things. That’s where a lot of the song titles come from.

How long have you been singing?
CM: Just since I made Ring.

Wow, that’s so impressive.
CM: I mean, I’ve been singing all my life, but I didn’t really think about doing…

You weren’t in a pop group before this? You weren’t in a Spice Girls startup?
CM: No, no, like a Spice Girls cover band? No, I wish I had been because I feel like I would have known a lot more of what I’m doing.

And how do you feel about performing now? Are you more comfortable with it or does it still freak you out sometimes?
CM: I’m pretty comfortable with it. There is the odd time when I’m like, “Oh my God, what am I doing here? This is horrible.” But in general I feel like I got some kind of gene like I’m supposed to be here.

That sounds fun.
CM: You’re going to be a performer, I’ll bet.

CM: In the next year, I swear to God. You don’t need fancy technology or anything. Raw is what people are attracted to. Confidence is also what people are attracted to.

Additional reporting by: Libby Peterson
Photos by: Jonathan Turner
For more information on Glasser, including her 2013 tour dates, please visit her official website, here.