Wednesday, January 12, 2011

VersaEmerge Interview with Sierra Kusterbeck and Blake Harnage

Photo by Amanda Elsberry
After releasing there first full-length record six months ago, "Fixed At Zero," with the very successful Fueld BY Ramen record company, VersaEmerge has been tearing up with scene with there high energy shows and hard-hitting music. I got a chance to briefly speak with two of the three members of VersaEmerge, before a show in Atlanta...
How is this mini-tour going? Just five dates right?
 Kusterbeck: Just five days. In our headlining tour, we didn’t get a chance to come to Florida. With it being our home state, we had to find a way to come somehow. When we did this run, it was just making up for it. Due to all of this weather our got stuck up in Pennsylvania, so the first two days we played acoustic. This is going to be our first night with the full band.
How did the acoustic shows go?
 Kusterbeck: Pretty good!
 Harnage: Yeah! Especially Fort Lauderdale, but they were both awesome, with a lot of people singing along. It just felt really good.
You guys have the U.K. after this right?
 Kusterbeck: That is correct.
 Harnage: Yeah, last time we were there was just for a little while in 2009. It was a short tour, but we got to go outside of the U.K. as well. We did Whales, Scotland and Belgium, but this tour is only going to be the U.K. though. Still going to be awesome and we are really excited. The first time that we went over there it blew our minds. The kids were awesome.
Is there a completely different crowd response when playing shows over there?
 Kusterbeck: Not completely different, but the kids seem to just appreciate the shows a lot more, especially American bands. They are just very, very supportive over there and they have a lot of fun.
Now you guys have done some of the biggest tours in the scene, (Bamboozle, Warped, SXSW etc.) so which one is your favorite?
 Harnage: Bamboozle is fun, because it is only two days and it is every band just hanging out.
 Kusterbeck: It is so overwhelming! When you are pulling up in your van, it feels like you are going to Disney World! It’s all of your friends coming back together, and there are so many people to meet, and there are some many things to do and bands to see. Warped Tour is so long, so imagine taking Warped and scrunching it into two days, that’s kind of how it is. It’s a lot of fun!
With the writing process for your full-length, “Fixed at Zero,” I heard that you guys tried to write on the road, but were unable to. Did you guys just go home and crank the songs out?
 Harnage: Writing on the road is tough because you think there will be a lot of free time, but it turns out you are sleeping, showering and eating in the time that you are not playing. It’s really tough to write on the road, unless you are in a bus full-time and have the luxury of playing a normal tour and not Warped Tour. We did come off of the road and go straight to start experimenting on writing with some different writers, which worked awesome for us and kick-started the whole writing kind of thing. It helped us to get some ideas going.
Was that the first time that you guys had co-written songs?
 Harnage We co-wrote a little on our self-titled EP, but we did branch out and try a bunch of different writers for the full-length.
 Kusterbeck: It’s interesting, because we write a majority of the songs and then you have this “third brain” that is thrown in to spark these new ideas. It is really cool to collaborate with other people like that, and it brings out something new in us and even in them, and brings some many new elements to the music.
 Harnage: We definitely like writing with writers that are a little more laid back, and open to letting us do our thing, but just mediating and making sure that everything sticks to the game plan.
Is co-writing something that you would do again?
 Harnage: Of course.
Are you guys working on any kind of writing right now? You thinking about it yet?
 Harnage: Yeah, not hardcore but we are defiantly thinking about it.
 Kusterbeck: Every winter I always seem to write a lot, just lyrically. We talk about it a lot, we always talk about ideas and get creative about it. We like to be on the same page, but at the same time we don’t want to lose focus on what we are trying to do with this current record.
When you were writing the lyrics for “Fixed At Zero,” did you guys sit down and decide what you wanted it to say as a whole? There seem to be trends and an overall theme…
 Kusterbeck: Yeah it just kind of fell into place, because I had no idea what I wanted to say. I had absolutely no clue, and it was just a bunch of mumbled jumble. You don’t really know what you are talking about, until you are talking about it. As it all fell into place, it was like “it all makes sense now.” It’s like your mind is talking for you when you consciously don’t know. I didn’t really have a set theme, but as it all fell into place it created its own theme. If that makes any sense…
I haven’t seen you guys live in person, but I have seen a bunch of clips and it seems like you guys have a great connection to the crowd. What kind of advice would you have to a newer band in terms of connecting with a crowd in a live setting?
 Harnage: Thank you! It kind of came naturally for us. You know, when you are first starting a band one of the hardest things to do is creating that vibe and hype for the live show. First the first two or three years as a band, that was the hardest part…
 Kusterbeck: It is really important for us to make a good live show, because that is what we do for a living, we tour. Especially me just starting off in the band, we were trying to work everything out, and go through and make it great. At the same time, we were taking advantage of getting to be there (with fans) and meet people. The people that were at the shows (in the beginning) were there to see other bands, so we just tried to connect with them and get them to come back and see us. There are people out there that have been with us since the beginning, and now they are even at this show today. So it is really cool to see that connection show, and onstage they love it.
 Harnage: There was so much hype on the last tour we just did (their first headlining tour), and the vibe was incredible. We would come out every night, and people would be just super stoked and singing along to every song! It’s the greatest feeling ever.
 Kusterbeck: It’s so unreal, that it is surreal! Ha
That’s so good to hear! Changing it up a little bit, how important do you think social media/networking is to building a fan base?
 Harnage: I think that it is really important, especially for getting it started, but there really is no substitute for getting out there on the road and doing it. That is a big thing that a lot of new bands are missing in the big picture, which is just getting out on the road and just touring. It is a slow build. You see bands that will come out of nowhere and blow up. That happens every once and a while, but if you want your band to have longevity and be a real band, you just need to get out there and do it.
 Kusterbeck: Social networking helped us out a ton in the beginning, because MySpace was huge at the time. That’s how I got hooked up with them, that’s how we got our stuff(music) out there and that’s how we promoted, that’s how everything kind of went.
How did you guys think about the outcome of the World of Jenks episode that featured you guys?
 Harnage: It was entertaining…
 Kusterbeck: Yeah, it was entertaining. Of course, not everything is what it seems due to editing, and you kind of need that dramatic element. It was kind of cool because they got this part of touring out there that not many people know about. I definitely don’t think that it made a “bad thing” for us, but made people feel like they could relate to me and the band which is true. We are just people on the road, we are just like everyone else, but we are doing it a little bit differently. We still go through our problems and have our hard time, mine just happen to be on T.V. (laughs).
When they came to you guys originally, were they looking to focus on you(Sierra)?
 Harnage: They were. When we first got on a conference call with them, they said that the show would be based around following Sierra, because the whole premise of the show was based around what it was like to be in a female-fronted rock band. We did know about that beforehand.
Have you had fans come up to you and say “I could really relate to you in the episode…?" Kusterbeck: Yeah, all of the time. It’s really interesting though, because I will being the most random place in the country and someone will come up to me and be like “I saw you on MTV! You are in that band!”
Perfect day, driving in your car with the windows down, what are you listening to?
 Harnage: The first thing I thought of was Imogen Heap, but I will have to go with Bjork because I can play it anytime really.
 Kusterbeck: I will have to say MuteMath’s “Armistice”. Perfect on a sunny day!

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