Interview by Ian Morales.
VersaEmerge began 2010 with high expectations. After coming off a strong 2009 in which the band performed their first South By Southwest and Warped Tour, the next logical step was to add a full-length record to their list of accomplishments. Signed to the popular pop-punk label Fueled By Ramen, the Florida natives released Fixed At Zero this past June after only previously touring off of their debut Perceptions EP.
A year later, VersaEmerge is back on the full leg of Warped, but with a much bigger presence. Lead singer Sierra Kusterbeck made the cover of Alt Press’ famous Warped Edition. It was also earlier in the year the scene-kid taste maker featured Versaemerge in their “Bands You Need To Know” article. Their cinematic power-pop has been winning over fans ever since. We caught up with Kusterbeck and guitarist Blake Harnage at Warped and talked about their new album, the past year and dealing with all the new media interest.
How is life different for you now one year later?
Sierra: Life is different now because it seems as the year went by, things became more legitimate, especially with the release of the full-length. When we first come out with the EP it was like just us kind of supporting ourselves. Then the label helped put us on awesome tours including Warped last year and South By Southwest.
So how are things different in terms of your day to day life?
Sierra: We definitely do a lot more press, especially at Warped. It’s not that no one wanted to talk to us last year, but no one really knew who we were. People were like “What can I work with? You guys have an EP that I can’t even get in stores.”
Blake: I agree. We’re definitely getting more press and recognition. Sierra was on an AP cover this summer, the Warped Edition. I think having our first full length out really puts you on the map. The timing of having that with being on Warped couldn’t be better. More and more people seem to be catching onto us. A year is a long time it feels when you are talking about the life of a band. Still, in no way do I feel we are at a point where we are getting comfortable. I feel like if you get comfortable in the music industry, it will just fly right by and be over with before you know it.
I remember when I first met you guys at South By Southwest last year, you were getting compared to Paramore (“compare-amored”) or seen as a younger version of. Is all that over with besides the media asking about it?
Sierra: It’s very rare. Nowadays it’s more kids fighting on the internet about how we don’t sound Paramore. Either way, we aren’t concerned. When we first came out and that was happening, it just made us strive to try harder.
Blake: I think we have the upper hand on that now. With each CD we are starting to sound more like ourselves. I think the comparisons start to go away as we define our sound more.
Speaking of, what is different on Fixed At Zero that people haven’t heard from you on the self titled EP or on Warped Tour last year?
Blake: I guess all around the sound is a little more typical rock where as we are starting to kind of brand our sound now, mixing cinematic textures bringing in strings and orchestral stuff. It’s sort of like something you would hear in movies. We experimented a lot in the beginning.
Sierra: We more mature now musically. We’re learning about ourselves and still trying new things. As we travel, not only do we pick up influences musically but also from things we see or people we are on tour with. We’re really picking up good tips and seeing things for the first time differently.
So do you feel you are about where you should be at this point in your young career?
Sierra: I think it is a good first step.
What are working on improving then these days?
Blake: We are constantly working on our live show. It is one thing to be a good musician in your own domain where you write or in the studio, but it is another to e a good stage musician. It is not about yourself when you are playing on stage with a band. It is about connecting with the band, especially with member changes. It’s about the forming that unity on stage and various elements having to do with that. With having time off between tours, you have to learn to get back into the swing of it.
Sierra: Our job is to be a live band. If we suck at that, then we are out of a job. Self-criticism here, for me it is obviously about singing for me. My voice has to be top notch. Being at home for I while, I can get lazy. I’ll stop warming up and I don’t sing every day. I’m trying to make sure I focus on that because when it comes time to tour, my voice has to be in shape so to speak.
So how are you handling all the new attention? Is that still surprising or weird for you in any way?
Sierra: I love being the center of attention so it is not weird to me at all. I’ll admit that.
Wow, a lead singer loving the attention. Shocker.
Sierra: [laughs] Right!
Well I guess one never knows. Some of the most eccentric lead singers are also some of the most reserved or awkward people to talk to. So tell me why you chose to do Warped Tour again this year. You could have chosen to go on your own headlining tour if you wanted.
Sierra: While that’s true and everything, kids are either going to spend X amount of money to see a bunch of bands they like or choose between one or two bands they like. Usually kids do have to choose, and the kids will choose Warped Tour.
Blake: We just want to put ourselves out there in front of the largest amount of people that we can. Warped is good for that.
Sierra: Warped is so eclectic with a large pool of different kids. A kid came up to me in New Mexico told me that he was waiting to watch The Casualties when we were playing the stage next to them and he bought the CD. That kid never would have checked us out otherwise.
Did you have to really think hard about it or was it a no brainer? I mean some bands have apprehensions about doing Warped Tour back to back because they don’t want the stigma of being a “Warped band ” if that makes sense.
Sierra: I do understand that point.
Blake: Yeah but last year I feel we weren’t even a prominently featured band because we were new or up and coming.
You played a different stage last year correct?
Blake: Correct. I mean we’re not playing main stage back to back or anything. I think as long we are climbing then we’re alright. I still think we’re sort of a baby band that is up and coming so things are good.
Sierra: I agree. We went from Ernie Ball and this year on GK. I can understand band like Underoath who did Warped so many years and played main stage.
What do you think people are getting wrong about your band now that you have gotten more coverage and press?
Sierra: I think they see us as…I mean we’re still getting compared to Paramore, Flyleaf or Evanescence. We are absolutely none of those genres. I was once asked or told by someone “So you got this dark, goth feel” and I was like “um, no.” Then again we aren’t like happy pop. We feel like you shouldn’t have to be the extreme all black wearing Goths or the extreme pukes of color wearing, love everything kind of band.
I’m going to force you guys to categorize yourselves here. Where would you place your album in a record store?
Blake: Rock section.
Sierra: It’s still alternative rock, although we were in a country section for a little bit in Best Buy.
Blake: That got fixed really quick.
Sierra: I think they labeled it wrong. I think the vulture on the cover threw them off. I don’t know. “This must be country.”
So was that the most WTF moment for you guys on the thus far?
Sierra: That and everyone always asking when did we make it? I don’t believe we have had that moment because our dreams and goals are so farfetched that we never want to get that way. “Okay we made it, so let’s relax.”
I think when people see that you’re signed to Fueled By Ramen, doing two Warped Tours and Alt Press covers the perception to many is that you’ve “made it” so to speak.
Blake: To touch on that, we have had to work so hard for everything we have accomplished to get to this point. It is not like we woke up one morning and everything is the way it is all of a sudden. We all pretty much still live at home except for Devon who has an apartment. We are on the road the majority of the year working our asses off touring and even going into the studio.
What do you do at home to relax when you aren’t touring or recording?
Sierra: The last time I was at home was after the record came out and before Warped. At home, I was preparing for Warped.
How did you prepare for Warped Tour exactly?
Sierra: I’d run every day for one. Warped kicked my ass last year. I would get on stage and be completely out of breath at times. I started going to the gym even, preparing myself mentally for the whole summer that was coming.
So what are your plans post Warped and the rest of 2010?
Sierra: Definitely touring because that’s what we do. We just want to keep the momentum going. We’ll have something planned. We want to see the reception that the album gets over the summer before determining what we do in the fall. I mean, that’s how it works.