Interview with Sierra Kusterbeck from VersaEmerge: Feeding Vultures

There seemed to be some stardust still left in Sierra Kusterbeck’s eyes the day before setting out on the first headlining tour for band VersaEmerge. Having just ended a full run on this year’s Warped Tour, there was only a bit of time for Kusterbeck, vocals, guitarist Blake Harnage and bassist Devin Ingelido to regroup before hitting the road again.

With their first full-length album, Fixed At Zero, released early this summer, this young band hasn’t been slowing down and is excited to give fans an intricate stage show on this tour. Kusterbeck’s chill demeanor made it apparent how VersaEmerge seems so naturally in sync. It isn’t easy to overlook her growing status as a cult leader, either.

It’s your first headlining tour. Did you do anything special to prepare?

Yeah, we wanted to make this show a little different. It’s our first time playing an hour-long set, so we constructed the set in a certain way to make it flow and it never really has a stopping point. We have lots of interludes and things like that.

I heard this tour was going to be a ‘cinematic presentation.’ Are you creating a big stage set-up?

There’s really only so much we can do with the venues we’re playing in. We did get a big, welded, light-up tress for the stage and that’s one thing which we can create a feel with to go with the songs. We definitely tried to make it more visual—as much as we can possibly work with.

What would be your ultimate dream in building up a stage set-up if you had the resources?

Blake and I, we actually write down ideas all the time. We think of all these different cool production ideas when we actually have the money and the stage to do it. Crazy set ideas that will give your eyes something to feast on while you watch the show.

Did you do anything after Warped Tour to recharge and get ready for this tour?

We took a month off afterwards—it was much needed. We had to get back into a sleeping schedule and remember how to be real humans again.

Blake and Devin were in bands before VersaEmerge, but what were you doing musically before joining the band?

I was going to an art school in Florida and majoring in musical theater. I really love theater and singing and I took a lot of music theory classes. My main goal after high school was to go to New York and become this Broadway star. I’ve been training for that since elementary school. And then there’s this, you get to high school and you get influenced by other things and you realize that maybe that’s not what you want anymore. I was kind of terrified at first, I was like ‘What if I don’t want to do this anymore? I haven’t worked on anything else.’ So, I’m kind of lucky that I have a band and I get to sing.

Do you feel you’re sometimes on Broadway with your music being influenced by theatrics and movies?

Yeah, I definitely think that about the music. It still has the theatrical thing that I’m use to and more. But the beauty of it is that it’s our own material. In theater, you’re usually doing the classics and going off what people have already done, so that’s what I didn’t like about it anymore. I love that we can make our own music and creativeness.

Fixed At Zero is your first full-length. So how was the mindset like during the writing process, having to transition from short EPs to a full album?

It went really well because usually we go into the studio for two weeks and only do like five songs. So we got to be in there for a month and work on like 14 songs and that was so exciting. It was time to really work on every single song and delve into all the things we could try. We really discovered ourselves, more than we thought we would.

Were there any new techniques you were trying on Fixed At Zero?

We just like tried to go about writing songs differently. When I was first in the band, Blake would have the music already and I would have to work around it. But this time was so way more collaborative and for songwriting, it was like ‘Let’s try starting it like this. Let’s try going in this direction.’ We definitely had a lot of chances to experiment.

Have there ever been any big disagreements over how things piece together?

No, not really. Blake and I, when it comes to writing, we click really, really well. We usually read each other’s minds and finish each other’s sentences. It’s a lot of fun when we write together.

With the music leaning in a theatrical direction, is there a storyline that plays out on the album?

The story of Fixed At Zero is looking into yourself and discovering your insecurities. So instead of hiding them, just embracing them and Fixed At Zero means to be stuck at zero and stuck in this one spot and you feel you just can’t get out and can’t move forward. That’s how I felt recently and that’s why I wrote about it. I wanted to also write about it because I know our fan base goes through the same thing and basically the whole state of the record is being lost and just trying to find yourself.

That’s a heavy topic. Do you think people are surprised to hear a younger band talking about these types of feelings?

No, I don’t know if they’re surprised, I hope they aren’t though because even though we are young, we still have wondering minds that keep thinking about the heavier things in life. Sometimes when we get into thinking about stuff, you can’t stop thinking about it. I hope that people like that it is a little deeper and has substance and that’s what we’re all about. We’re never going to skim along the surface and we’re going to go as deep into the water as we can.

Do you feel that’s a big part of your success; how your fans can really connect with what you’re saying?

I think that it’s most important that you connect with your fans. And they’re going to stick with you and they’re going to stay behind you and push you to the top. If you don’t connect with anybody, no one’s going to feel and stay with you or listen to you.

It’s funny you saying that word. I read somewhere that you don’t like calling your fans ‘fans.’

Yeah, I didn’t like calling them that because I felt, not that it’s degrading because it’s the definition of the word, but I feel like a lot of bands say ‘fans’ in a condescending way. I hate the way some of the bands treat their fans, that they don’t have time for them or that they’re annoying or this or that, but it’s the reason why we’re here. So I like to call them ‘supporters’ or ‘Versa vultures’ [laughs] we call them our ‘vultures’ because it’s one of the themes and a vulture, it’s the album’s artwork, and they like to be called that. I think it’s awesome; it’s this cult-like feeling.

It sounds like Lady Gaga and her ‘monsters.’

Exactly! Like I am a huge Lady Gaga fan and when she started calling us ‘little monsters,’ I felt more connected with her and that gave me the idea to call them ‘Versa vultures.’

You were featured recently on a World of Jenks episode. What was that like having him follow you around?

Well, we went out on Warped Tour and you had all these cameras following you everywhere and they’re in your face. It’s like, you don’t realize when you watch reality TV and these documentaries that there’s cameras everywhere. So it was just odd, but Jenks is really, really cool and he’s super chill and he was down for anything. He asked great questions and he almost became my therapist for a second out on the road, so it was good to have him there. It’s a good experience, I think what he’s doing, it’s a really good show.

Would you ever think about having a documentary made of you guys even after having the cameras all around you?

I think that would be really cool because it’s a chance for the kids to see their bands in that way. I’ve had so much feedback since the show aired from people who were like ‘I feel so much more connected with you’ and it’s a good feeling to have that.

VersaEmerge will be playing three area shows. They will be at the Highline Ballroom on Nov. 16, the North Star Bar in Philly on Nov. 17 and the School of Rock in South Hackensack on Nov. 18. Their full-length, Fixed At Zero is available now.