MINNEAPOLIS - Music and Joey Verschaetse have always seemed to go together, at least as long as he can remember.
The 22-year old Minneapolis musician, who graduated from New Ulm Cathedral High School in 2010, recently released his first full-length album Lemon Heart on November 2.
All in all, the young musician is making a name for himself, and quite a good one at that. The reviews for his latest album have been positive from the many websites that have given his music a listen, and many of them say he's an up-and-comer in the Minneapolis music scene, one that is nationally known for producing talent of various genres.
Submitted photos courtesy of Gretchen Burkhart ?
Verschaetse goes by the stage name "Verskotzi" for phonetic reasons. When he's not in the studio recording or performing shows in the Minneapolis area, he's attending classes at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He's in his last semester, and he'll graduate with a degree in Creative Advertising and a minor in Classical Guitar.
Verschaetse has many influences when it comes to music. He lists John Lennon as one who impacts his songwriting, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke, along with The Roots, Steely Dan, Bright Eyes and Elliot Smith.
Verschaetse was instantly linked to music at a young age. He's taken lessons locally in New Ulm and, like most musicians, he started with the piano.
"I was 6 or 7 when I started taking piano lessons from the Jacobs family," he said. "After that I started drum lessons with Don Jirak at Cathedral High and eventually started teaching myself guitar after I got one when I was 14. The guitar is what inspired me to start writing songs and I can remember feeling an excitement for music more than ever with that instrument specifically."
As a student at Cathedral, he began to focus on music quite a bit. As he got older, the passion grew and it consumed more and more of his time, and this passion came from some of the teachers he had at Cathedral.
"I was a part of the music program there my whole career as a student," Verschaetse said. "I studied under Marijo Sweeney for vocals in junior high and took drum lessons from Don Jirak from fifth grade through my senior year. Mr. Jirak's band room was a solace place for me in High School. I would get lunch to-go and take it back to the band room so that I could play drums as soon as I was done eating. He definitely helped foster a desire to grow musically that I'll never forget."
The dream of becoming a musician
Almost everyone who picks up an instrument dreams of playing in front of a large crowd, on a large stage and making it big. But the reality is that they have to start somewhere, playing small, local shows to almost no fans. Verschaetse's dream started in a small South Central Minnesota town before the Minneapolis scene welcomed him.
While he has become a solo musician now, he's played in many bands, most of them local with friends and classmates that he grew up with. While the former bandmates are scattered, either leaving for college or staying in New Ulm, they all have played an important part of his life and helped him become the person he is today.
"I was in a band called Sisyphus with Jon Braeggelmann, Isaac Rysdahl, and Michael Glawe, a band called Rise Down with Greg Genelin, Mikey Cimino, and Sameeksha Mishra and then that band turned into Crimson Lies," Verschaetse said. "A band called The Goldenborn with Tyler Stuckey, Trevor Hildebrandt, Drew Bunda and Mikey Cimino. Then I joined Hanging on The Floorboards with Kyle Juntunen, Eric Ellingson, Sam and Steve Sveine, which eventually turned into Polis after Kyle went on to do other things."
It was with Polis that Verschaetse began to really hit the big time. There, he and his bandmates got to play some shows on the Vans Warped Tour in 2010, a punk rock tour that travels across the country. It was an experience, both as a person and as an artist, that he still thinks about all the time, and being with close friends made it all that much better for him.
"My time with Polis was when I absolutely knew that this (music) is what I wanted to do with my life," Verschaetse said. "Polis is the group I toured with first. The guys, Steve Sveine, Sam Sveine, and Eric Ellingson, were my best friends and we had a really unique sound together. I'll still listen to that album we made and am proud as ever about it.
"It's fun listening to that stuff I was making in 2008/2009, and then listening to this newest record in 2013 and you can hear so much difference/musical growth, it's cool," he said. "The thing Polis did that was most notable, in my opinion, was play the Vans Warped Tour in 2010. It's those little, or big, accomplishments that were just adding fuel to the fire for me. In retrospect, my perspective has always kind of been, 'Why not do music?' It just has made the most sense for me."
Life as a solo artist
Lemon Heart may be his first full-length album, but Verschaetse released Lesson Learned in August of 2011 and Lights & Love, a holiday single, in December of 2011.
But the release of Lemon Heart was one he really took seriously. He didn't want to just release a collection of songs, but he wanted to make sure that the record was a complete work of art for the listener.
"Well, I was nervous about the fact that this album was going to be my first full length," he said. "I always look at full length albums like they're a movie. From start to finish I was set out to make a record that feels complete by the time track number 10 is all done. There shouldn't be any confusion for the listener. There's a tremendous amount of stress that comes along with putting your name on something that anyone in the world can consume and, ultimately, judge. Being an artist, in that sense, is one of the most vulnerable things I think a person can choose to be."
While playing the Vans Warped Tour was a big event in his life, he also had a career-changing moment when some of his songs were played on MTV's "The Real World" in 2011.
Since then, he's had his music licensed for networks like Showtime, E!TV, other MTV programs, and TPT (Twin Cities Public Television). In addition to using his songs, MTV added him to their official Artist Roster, meaning he is an MTV Artist.
"Whenever I have some sort of achievement in radio or TV and I get to hear myself on broadcast media I just feel really humbled and blessed," he said. "The first time that I was on MTV was a pinnacle moment for me. It's this bizarre feeling of overwhelming gratitude that it is actually happening. And the important part to me is that every time since then that my song has been on any other TV program or radio station I still get that feeling of being extremely blessed."
His recent album, Lemon Heart, is getting airplay on several stations in the cities and has been a hit thus far.
The process to recording Lemon Heart took a while, but in the end, he and producer Izaac Burkhart were pleased with the finished product.
"It took a little over a year for the entire process of recording Lemon Heart," he said. "I was writing the songs for about three to four months and it was during that writing phase that the vision started to become more clear for where the album was headed stylistically. I ended up writing around 50 songs that I then brought to my producer to start sorting through. It was sort of like I just spilled every color of paint into one bucket and said to him, 'Okay, let's paint something out of these colors.'
"Once we had recorded four songs I started to get an even better, more clear vision for where the album was headed and I found a lot of new inspiration in that," he said. "So with the clearer big picture in mind I wrote songs like "Honey", "8th Street Train", "Luck", and "The Flying Piano." Finding inspiration is the most unpredictable thing but when it shows up it's very obvious and I just run with it."
As a current member and fan of the Minneapolis music scene, Verschaetse gets to see live acts often and he gets a chance to meet them and get to know them on a personal level. That is one reward that the music fan in him looks forward to the most.
"The music scene here is so supportive of the music being made here," he said. "It's pretty much guaranteed that you could see live music every night if you wanted, and that's awesome. Just being in the same community as so many talented musicians is inspiring in itself. The constant flow of great music being put out here is amazing to me. It's a great place to make music and be a part of."
Down the road
One gets the sense from Verschaetse that he always knew he was going to do something with music. He's not entirely surprised that he's working in the music business, in fact he somewhat expected it.
"I would've believed them but been very excited to get to that future," he said. "I think that I've always sort of known that I wanted to do something along these lines of entertainment, it was just a matter of finding exactly where that niche existed for me."
As a singer/songwriter, he admits that it can be difficult to find the right lyrics to go with the music. That constant struggle keeps him guessing a lot, and it sometimes can be dangerous to say what he's really thinking.
"I think that it's more difficult for me to write lyrics than the music," he said. "But sometimes I'll just start singing some words that mean nothing to me initially that end up having a really meaningful place in what's going on around me at the time. Lyrics are the thing I tend to get obsessive over more than anything because I look at them as my statement to the listener of who I am or what I'm thinking. Again, it's super vulnerable to put your name on something like a record that has lyrics attached to your name. People can be very critical and I'm very sensitive to that."
He has plans to tour for Lemon Heart in 2014. He's also looking to explore into different genres of music, something that will keep the creative juices flowing for the rising star.
"I am looking to tour this spring and hit the road fairly hard to promote the new album and push it beyond Minneapolis," he said. "There are a ton of great festivals in Minneapolis every summer that I hope to play in 2014 for sure. As far as exploring more styles I hope that I can put out as many different records in my life as possible. Not necessarily change my sound completely every time, but I want to always be growing musically in a way that is obvious in my songwriting. I've recently been really into 70's R&B and hip hop sampling, so we'll see how long that lasts or where it takes me."
Although he's not entirely sure what he will do in the future, music will more than likely be a part of it.
"Music will most definitely be my focus," he said. "I actually have a job right now as a composer at a music studio downtown Minneapolis called Egg Music where I create original music for film, TV series, video games, and advertising. It's a perfect blend between my degree in creative advertising and music but more heavy on the music side of that coin. So I plan to continue working there as well as tour and make more records."