Chalkboard Confessional: Sierra Kusterbeck of VersaEmerge

December 20, 2009
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There’s something about VERSA EMERGE vocalist SIERRA KUSTERBECK that makes you think she’s a little older than she actually is. Maybe it’s the fact that she grew up influenced by bands like Pink Floyd and the Stray Cats. Maybe it’s the depth in lyricism you can hear on the band’s self-titled EP. Or maybe it’s because when she auditioned for Versa, she told the guys she was 17 when she was actually 16. Now just a few days into her 19th year, Kusterbeck tells us how getting her hands on an early Saosin EP and going to shows around St. Petersburg, Florida, got her to where she is today. Oh, and she also reveals her true thoughts on Paramore (if you’re into that sorta thing.)


What are your earliest memories of music?
I remember my dad always used to have me listening to [Frank] Sinatra, Judy Garland and just like classics like that. He was also an Elvis fanatic. I remember the day he had me listening to the Stray Cats. I wanted to be in a band just like that. I still listen to the Stray Cats and I think they’re amazing. My mom, she was a little hippie. She was always listening to Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival and lots of Pink Floyd and stuff like that. I feel like I got a really eclectic fix growing up. My mom would also always listen to movie soundtracks and one she would always listen to was Pulp Fiction. I don’t know every artist on the CD, but I know that album front to back. If I hear any of those songs, I know exactly where it’s from.

You don’t really hear a lot of younger musicians referencing the Stray Cats…
Really? Not even among guitar players? When I hear [vocalist/guitarist Brian Setzer] play guitar, I want to get a hollow body guitar and learn how to play.

Did you get into the Brian Setzer Orchestra, too?
I had [1998’s The Dirty Boogie] when I was younger. My dad bought it for me because I was so into the Stray Cats. But I wasn’t that into it. I definitely preferred the Stray Cats.

What did you like so much about them?
Just the whole image that they put into my head. When you listen to music, you get this image, this new personality. It makes you walk differently. I love the whole greaser theme and stand-up bass. My sister–she’s an older punk rock chick–introduced me to a lot of really great psychobilly. Well, they were great back then but now when I listen to them, they’re shitty as hell. [Laughs.] A lot of people wouldn’t expect that from me, I guess. When you look at a person, you think you know what they listen to because it plays out to the way you are and what you wear.

Did anyone in your family play instruments or perform?
Nobody plays instruments or sings or anything. When my mom was the same age I was when I tried out for [VersaEmerge], she tried out for a band. She said that she completely embarrassed herself because she couldn’t sing or anything. But my mom definitely has a deep passionate love for music. My dad–he’s just a complete ’80s rock kind-of-guy, and he loves music as well. But nobody really did anything with music.

Do you remember the first album that you bought yourself?
No I don’t at all. I really don’t. My mom just has the biggest library of music and I would always listen to that. I wish I could remember the first album that I bought. [Laughs.]

What kind of artists started speaking to you when you got a little older?
I remember in ninth grade, I would listen to Sublime every single day. Sublime definitely impacted me when I started listening to music and led me in a direction. When I got into high school, I started going to shows and I started experiencing what’s out there more. I realized that there’s more out there than what’s on my mom’s computer. I loved Poison The Well and I got into post-hardcore and hardcore. I loved Blood Brothers; I remember skipping school and going to their shows. Against Me! are another band I got into. And the [2003] Saosin EP [Translating The Name] changed my life. [Vocalist] Anthony Green went into my brain and scrambled it up, and that led me into Circa Survive and stuff. I remember waiting for the bus at 6 a.m., listening to that and feeling awesome.

Were you bummed when you heard Anthony wasn’t in the band anymore?
Honestly, I don’t remember. I was probably like, “No! I just found this band!” But when I heard Circa, I was like, “All right, I’m cool.” But I still have that Saosin EP and it’s just amazing.

When you were going to shows, what kind of music was it?
I just really liked to help support the local bands and went to shows like that. A lot of shows at this venue near me had a lot of reggae shows. I would always go to with my mom. I also remember going to see Dance Gavin Dance, Tiger Army, Thrice…

Were you always in the pit or kind of hanging back?
If it was a band I loved, I was right in the middle of the crowd going nuts. When you love a band and they’re there and it’s happening around you, you can’t sit there and hold it in because you think someone might think you look stupid. I was there in the middle of the crowd going fucking crazy.

What pushed you to start performing?
Just going to shows every weekend and seeing it onstage and being right there. Everyone is sweating their ass off, the adrenaline is high and nobody gives a shit about anything else. Just watching all that energy, I fell in love with it. There was nothing else I wanted to do. What’s better than touring and playing music for kids that love your band?

What do you listen for in music now that you’re a musician yourself?
I listen for just something real. I want raw emotion and real sound. I’ve always liked that. I don’t like very many of the bands that are up there today just because when I listen to them, I don’t feel it and it makes no sense to me. I guess that’s what I’m listening for. I also want something smart. I’m tired of hearing the same shit over and over again.

What do you listen to now?
Right now, at this very moment, I’m listening to a band called Iron Age. They just came out with The Sleeping Eye, and it’s fucking awesome. It’s just a really, really good hardcore record. I also like Metric’s [Fantasies] and Manchester Orchestra’s [Mean Everything To Nothing]. My guilty pleasure is Lady Gaga’s [The Fame Monster]. It so, so crazy. I love it.

You guys are playing Bamboozle alongside bands like Angels And Airwaves and Paramore. Especially stoked to see anyone?
I definitely want to see Paramore. It’s always cool to watch other girls perform. That’s awesome. People freak out when I say that I like Paramore. Like it’s this big thing that I’m supposed to be upset about comparisons or whatever. But they’re awesome. I can’t wait to see them.

Any advice for kids who haven’t quite found the band that will change their life?
Go out of your box and listen to something you normally wouldn’t. There’s so much shit being fed to kids–this music and that music–and I feel like one day it’s just gonna click with everyone that, “Oh, we don’t have to listen to this. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me. I’m just gonna listen to what makes me feel good.” alt

Written by Tim Karan