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Jeremy Messersmith stays in touch with his inner geek

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Jeremy Messersmith's songs possess a tender simplicity and earnestness that's hard to describe as anything other than "sweet."

The Minneapolis singer-songwriter weds uninhibited honesty with keen narratives, an understated folk-pop sound bathed in warm, Beatles-esque hooks. Like Christopher Owens of Girls, he fancies beatific melodies and was raised in a strict evangelical environment.

"Growing up in a small evangelical church, one of the real goals when you're singing is not really performing, but singing it with as much intention, in as worshipful a way as you possibly can," says Messersmith, who confesses to singing "There's Power in the Blood" while doing laundry and housework before our call. "If I don't feel strongly about it, then I don't sing it."

With his soft manner and clever, bespectacled charm, Messersmith has spent time in the friend zone, a forlorn place he captures on "Beautiful Children" off his 2006 debut, The Alcatraz Kid: "We'll be friends forever, but I'm afraid that you'll never love me." Before finishing, he delivers a final withering line, "I hope he loves you / If he doesn't at least you'll have beautiful children."

"I've known that," laughs Messersmith. "And I feel pretty comfortable writing that one on behalf of friend-zone dudes everywhere,"

While the artist has shaken off much of that early awkwardness, he still embraces his inner geek on the road. In fact, bandmates Andy Thompson and Dan Lawonn have agreed to indulge the singer's fascination with Dungeons & Dragons in order to while away time.

"I was like, 'Look, we're going to have hours of driving, why don't we figure out some way to do some gaming,'" he says. "It's remarkably similar to making music with other people. You're doing a group improvisation together. I'm kind of laying out the framework, but everyone is adding their own parts. Things change and it's very collaborative and very fun."

Messersmith's sophomore album, The Silver City, focused more on life among the cubicles, where he'd spent years doing computer tech and help-desk work. In 2010, he followed up with The Reluctant Graveyard, which contemplates life and its purpose. Those are salient subjects for Messersmith, who's come to question what he was taught religiously growing up.

"It's a record about death, but it's also about an existential crisis," he says. "I was talking to someone about it, and they were like, 'So what you're saying is that you feel like you were systematically lied to by virtually everyone you knew until the age of 18?' And I said, 'Sometimes, yeah.'"

Between albums, Messersmith recorded last year's Paper Moon, an uncharacteristically ambient work. A proper full-length is slated for release early next year, a primary inspiration being Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs. Writing a full album of love songs turned out to be more difficult than he'd expected.

"It was actually a fair challenge," he says. "It turns out there have already been a couple songs written on the subject."

scene@csindy.com

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