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For The Singer In Kansas City's Mess, 'Learning How To Talk' Meant Finding A Non-Binary Voice

Anna Selle
Mess band members: (from right) Kevin Briody, Allison Gliesman, Evan Velasquez, and Tanner Pinkerton.

Allison Gliesman studied singing in high school and a little in college and knew the technical ins and outs. It took some distance from those lessons and a little experimenting for Gliesman's voice to take shape.

The singer, whose band has just released an album called "Learning How to Talk," identifies as gender nonbinary. They say finding their voice was a matter of balancing the sound they wanted with what they’d learned was technically correct.

"The further that I got away from that, I feel that I was able to find what my voice was actually supposed to sound like," Gliesman says.

That voice has a clear and expressive quality to it, slightly reminiscent of singer and actress Zooey Deschanel and folk singer Lisa Hannigan.

Stevie Ervay, an independent promoter at The Rino in North Kansas City where Gliesman's band Mess often plays, calls Gliesman's sound "ethereal dream pop." He says they achieve "really deep sounds and big moments in their music."

Gliesman's bandmates are bassist Kevin Briody, guitarist Tanner Pinkerton and drummer Evan Velasquez. On "Learning How to Talk," which includes eight tracks mostly under the four-minute mark, Gliesman explores two other voices — the two people in a couple struggling to come to terms with the trauma one of them endured.

Credit Anna Selle
Mess at a recent performance.

Gliesman says the goal of the album was to represent the perspectives of each person, who, like Gliesman, is also not necessarily gendered. Part of that was figuring out how to differentiate their stories through varying lyrical styles as well as tempo and instrumentation.

"These two people are in a relationship kind of post-all-of-that-trauma and it's all unresolved, and ... how that unresolved trauma can affect your relationships moving forward, your issues with intimacy and things like that," they say. "It kind of ends up being this back and forth dialogue."

Sometimes, as in the song first track, "Becoming," the sound leans toward the acoustic and has a gentle rocking-chair feel to it; other tracks, like "Dead Space," are up-tempo with heavier drums and electric guitar.

The songs are the songs of youth, people grappling with not only finding a path into life, but finding their way in a relationship weighed down by mucked-up innocence.

In "Whole Again" one voice says: "You're the most wonderful thing to be covered in mud … Make me your home and I'll make you whole."

And when "Cave" queues up, they’re looking for escape: "We could move and drink our coffee black in a different state. We could lose everything and let the walls cave. Don't you think it's time to call it off? We could just sleep here in the parking lot."

The themes and conversations embedded in the soulful chord progressions are easy to imagine hearing in a dorm room late at night, but just as easily could be cathartic after a stressful day in an adult’s life.

Aaron Rhodes, who runs the Kansas City music blog Shuttlecock, sees the band going places. “That they’re able to do a weeklong regional tour is already a good sign, and they’ve picked up some national blog coverage,” he notes.

They're set to tour 15 cities in May, including several East Coast dates.

"It was a long journey of writing it and kind of figuring out how it was going to be best conceived," Gliesman says of the album. "So, coming to the end of it and realizing it is the way I want it to be is very rewarding."

Mess, 7-10 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, at The Rino, 314 Armour Road, North Kansas City, Missouri 64116. Tickets $8.

Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.
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