At Perbix’s expense, the “Star Wars” themes repeatedly popped up on guitar during sound check at the High Noon. The best joke, however, came when Thompson asked to tweak one part in the new album’s rousing opener, “It’s Only Dancing,” to add a little more oomph.
“Are you asking permission to rock out tonight?” Messersmith asked. “I don’t know. We’re going to have to go to committee on that.”
The self-described wuss-rocker made a conscious decision to amp things up on “Heart Murmurs.” (The bulk of the record was finished before he signed with Glassnote.) He said, “When we played First Ave after the last record, I realized I only had four songs that actually rocked.”
That album, “The Reluctant Graveyard” (his third), was all about death, and yet many of the songs proved to be surprisingly upbeat and sweet. “Heart Murmurs” is less so.
“I tried writing a bunch of happy love songs this time,” Messersmith told the High Noon crowd a few songs into the set. “About half of them are that, and the others are the heartbreaking kind. Sorry, it’s the best I could do.”
Talking backstage between sound check and set time, he explained how the love-song idea was a reaction to the death-song idea.
“A lot of people liked that record, but even some of them were like, ‘What’s with this death theme?’ ” he said. “So yeah: I wanted to do something intentionally more accessible. Everybody likes a good love song.”
He cites the 1999 three-album opus “69 Love Songs” by New York’s Magnetic Fields as his primary influence — “how it can go from playful and incredibly goofy to heartfelt and serious in just a few songs,” he said. Still, he added, “I realized there’ve been so many love songs written, the only real way I could bring something new to the equation was to keep it personal.”
And that’s the real surprise of “Heart Murmurs”: Nearly all of the songs are pulled from real life, in one way or another. It’s a bit of a shock given the darker and really kind of twisted tone of such songs as “Bridges” (sample lyric: “I’m gonna hurt you, make you cry / Only thing I need is time / I’m gonna hurt you, bleed you dry”).
There’s even a personal story behind the swooning, goosebump-inducing piano ballad about falling in love with a guy named “Steve” (see sidebar). The song’s gay subtext isn’t autobiographical, but it’s not unintentional either, coming from someone whom R.T. Rybak asked to lead the music for the first round of same-sex marriages at Minneapolis City Hall.
Asked to explain if and how the new songs relate to his own marriage — wife Vanessa recently shut her Blacklist Vintage store in south Minneapolis and plans to travel with her hubby on a promotional solo trek to London next week — Messersmith uncharacteristically clammed up.
“I really don’t know how to address that yet,” he said. “Vanessa and I have talked about it, and at some point you think, ‘I don’t want to put everything out there.’ ”
He offered up plenty about himself, though. “I’m not incredibly skillful when it comes to emotions,” he said. “I’m an introvert by trait and profession. Songs are a way for me to process and understand things.”
Part of the processing in this case reached way back to his conservative Christian upbringing. He originally moved to Minneapolis from his native Washington state to attend a Bible college, North Central University. While he’s hardly the long-lost, bespectacled, bow-tie-wearing member of Mötley Crüe — his semifamous drunk tweets during the Grammy Awards are about as wild as he gets — Messersmith did forsake his Christian past before turning to songwriting for a career in the mid-’00s.
“It played out a lot more on this album than I’d probably like to admit,” he said, noting that the theme of love songs “takes on different meanings when you start talking about it in Christian terms, and what does and doesn’t constitute love.”
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For the last night of a tour, the lack of debauchery was comical. I caught bassist Ian Allison sneaking into the bathroom pre-show — to floss his teeth. After the performance, he and Sieve snuck out an item from a secret stash in one of their guitar cases.