The band name Mess is a misnomer. Built around lead vocalist Allison Gliesman's deeply personal lyrics and songwriting, Mess actually sound like indie-pop veterans on their debut EP, heartswithholes. Along with guitarists Kevin Briody, Tanner Pinkerton, and drummer Evan Velasquez, Gliesman creates a sound that is at once textured, sprawling and intimate. We're honored to share an exclusive interview with the band, along with their book recommendations.
Please introduce the band. Describe your music for new listeners.
Mess is the blood, sweat, and (mostly) tears of Kevin Briody, Tanner Pinkerton, Evan Velasquez, and Allison Gliesman. We’re an independent rock band with emo, shoegaze, and folk influences.
Talk about the road to the release of your first EP, heartswithholes. What were some of the challenges – foreseen or otherwise – that came with the recording it?
The entire process of writing and recording heartswithholes was such a uniquely beautiful experience. We started writing the songs for the EP right when we formed as a band, and it’s so special to me because it documents us getting to know each other as musicians as well as just human beings. Once we had everything written, we traveled to Edwardsville, IL, and recorded it all in one weekend. It was stressful and tedious because we had to get it all tracked so quickly and we ran into some unforeseen issues, but even in the most frustrating moments of recording, I felt such an overwhelming sense of joy. It was such an immersive experience to really live inside the bubble of what we were creating. We would sleep in the studio, wake up early, go to the YMCA to shower, eat breakfast, and then just hit it hard all day. The things we learned that weekend and throughout our entire release process really helped shaped how we’re approaching our next release, and I am super grateful for that experience.
How does songwriting work with Mess? Who brings what to the table?
Whenever we start work on a new song, especially when writing this new record, we always keep in mind the bigger picture. We talk about what’s being said and what part of a larger story is being told through the song. All of our music is very lyrically driven, so we’re intentional and conscious of how the instruments can best lend themselves to the narrative that’s being built. There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into a song before we even pick up our instruments. For example, the record we’re currently writing is a traceable storyline, so, as I’m sure you can imagine, it doesn’t just naturally come together perfectly, and sometimes it’s a challenge to make all of the pieces fit. I have this master document with every tiny detail about each song as well as the overarching storyline. When I look at it, it kind of feels like watching one of those murder mystery movies where the overly-obsessive detective has a massive wall with all of the evidence pinned up, and he’s so close yet so far away from cracking the whole case. It’s frustrating at times but extremely rewarding and fulfilling when we get to finally bring those pages of details to life.
Allison, you have quite an archive of solo material on your SoundCloud page, most of which are performed on ukulele. How would you say your songwriting has evolved since you posted those earlier songs?
I would say it’s gotten a lot better haha. I am really proud of the songs I’ve written and posted on SoundCloud because I wrote them during a time of my life that I needed to be writing. It was the first time that I saw writing music as a solely selfish act. I wasn’t doing it to impress anyone, and it probably wasn’t, which is okay. I just had a lot of things to work through, and I didn’t know any other way to do that. Ukulele was the only instrument I felt like I “knew” how to play at the time, which worked because it was more about the content I was writing than what it sounded like. As for the songwriting itself, I knew with Mess that I wanted to push myself as a writer, and so I’m constantly trying to challenge myself to be more creative lyrically and conceptually, probably to a fault. My hope is that the songwriting will constantly be evolving to reflect how I am constantly evolving as a person. I think that if I ever reach a point where I am confident and comfortable in the same style of writing, it’ll mean that I’ve become complacent in my own personal growth.
What’s ahead for the band in 2018?
Glad you asked! We are currently working on our first full-length record, Learning How to Talk, that’s due later this year. We’ve all been slaving away to make it the best version of itself it can be, and we are very proud of it. Right now, we have a single out from the forthcoming record called “Cave,” which is a small glimpse into what you can expect.
Book recommendations from the band:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. My favorite book of all time. Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel that offers extremely insightful commentary on mental health issues, especially as they affected women in the 1950s.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth. Queer YA fiction coming-of-age story about a young girl who is sent to conversion therapy. Reading this when I was younger really changed my perspective on myself and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Room by Emma Donoghue. Really heavy fictional novel written from the perspective of a young boy who was born in his mother’s kidnapper’s shed. It made me cry multiple times. It was made into a movie, but the book is so uniquely and beautifully written.
The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism . A collection of essays on how intersectional feminism as it relates to many different groups of people. It’s really inspiring to see how feminism has changed even since these essays were written and how heavily activism relies on perspective.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read this book at a transitional time during high school. I was trading in my semi-decent adolescent soccer career to play guitar poorly with my friends. At this time, my favorite bands were writing songs inspired by J.D. Salinger, and so this high school english assignment became genuinely connected to the world I cared about. Reading it helped inspire my energy towards making music.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski . One of my favorite horror novels. Experimental writing at it’s finest. Danielewski is a fine craftsman, threading narrative and concrete poetry that is haunting and thrilling.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. This novel has always been my favorite. It taught me that sometimes you have to sacrifice everything for the well being of someone you care about.