The women of Warped: VersaEmerge's Sierra Kusterbeck
(With the Vans Warped Tour coming to St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park on July 26, we're spending this week getting to know some of the women on punk's most pop-friendly summer tour. Today: Singer and Redington Shores resident Sierra Kusterbeck of the Port St. Lucie emo group VersaEmerge.)
Age: 18Hometown: Redington Shores VersaEmerge‚Äôs sound: Edgy, dramatic, emo-driven pop-punk. Albums: Three EPs, including their latest, self-titled release in February. They‚Äôre writing their full-length debut. You‚Äôll dig them if you also like: Paramore, Hey Monday, All Time Low, Automatic Loveletter
Their story: Remember in Almost Famous, when the young Rolling Stone reporter lies about his age to get closer to the band? VersaEmerge singer Sierra Kusterbeck can relate.
"I was 16 years old," she says, recalling her 2007 audition for the Port St. Lucie pop-punk group. "I actually told them I was 17, and my birthday was about to come up, so they thought I was turning 18 ‚Äî but I was 16 turning 17. It was really funny."
The lie paid off for the Redington Shores resident. Kusterbeck clicked immediately with the boys of VersaEmerge, and shortly after she joined the band, the group signed with Fueled By Ramen records, and is now traveling the country on the Warped Tour.
Kusterbeck was studying musical theater at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School when she heard on MySpace that VersaEmerge‚Äôs members, whose previous band had recently broken up, were looking for a new singer. She didn‚Äôt have a demo, and the band lived three hours away, but that didn‚Äôt stop Kusterbeck from trying out. Her mom, she said, was cool with it.
"I begged her, for sure, but I didn‚Äôt have to beg her to say yes, because she had a good feeling about it," Kusterbeck said. "She trusted the fact that these are hardworking boys, and we‚Äôre going to do all we can. This isn‚Äôt just some stupid garage band that these kids are doing on the weekend, it‚Äôs every single day of your life, it‚Äôs all you think about, it‚Äôs all you breathe, eat, sleep. It‚Äôs all about the band."
Sunday‚Äôs concert will be the first full-on hometown show for Kusterbeck ‚Äî VersaEmerge has played Tampa before, but not St. Petersburg. The fact that the show is at Vinoy Park for the Warped Tour, a show Kusterbeck attended several times growing up, is all the sweeter.
"All my friends, my mom are going to be there," she said. "It‚Äôs going to be awesome."On comparisons to other female-fronted pop-punk groups: "There‚Äôs no getting past it," Kusterbeck said. "I do it too when I hear a band. I feel like people do it more so because ‚Äòm a girl, and they‚Äôre girls. Especially with Paramore, because we both have powerful voices, and we‚Äôre both on the same label. I don‚Äôt think it‚Äôs a bad thing, it just happens. You‚Äôve just got to make your own name and your own sound in order to change people‚Äôs minds in the long run. I think if we could compare our band to anybody, I would honestly compare it to, like, old Cardigans." Her St. Pete hangouts: "I live in Redington, so I‚Äôm basically over in the Seminole area, but I never, ever go over there. I‚Äôm always going to downtown St. Pete, going to local shows. The thing about St. Pete, especially after touring and seeing all these other towns ‚Äî St. Pete is my favorite place ever. It‚Äôs so artistic. You‚Äôve got the Saturday Morning Market, and it‚Äôs all these awesome local artists, and it‚Äôs a family vibe with everybody in the town, and I absolutely love it. I‚Äôm always at the market, I‚Äôm always downtown, whether it‚Äôs seeing a movie or just hanging out at the park, going to the Pier. Vinoy always has something cool going on; last time I was home I got to go to Taste of Pinellas. There‚Äôs just always something fun to do."
Her most rock ‚Äòn‚Äô roll experience: VersaEmerge was recording in the studio one time when the hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia walked in. "They loved our band," Kusterbeck said. "We wrote a song with them in the studio. Our drummer sat down with their drummer, who does all their drum machine work, and they worked out a really cool beat. Blake (Harnage), our guitarist, is a master on Reason, so he made this awesome orchestral hook. We put a beat to it, and I sang the hook on the chorus. They‚Äôre going to try to release it when they‚Äôre done with it."
If she could spend an hour one-on-one with any musician, it would be ... "I think if I could pick the brain of any musician, it would probably be either Courtney Love or Roger Waters. Courtney Love, because she‚Äôs probably the most punk-rock chick ever, and we recently covered her song (Hole‚Äôs Violet), and I think it‚Äôd be really cool to find out what she‚Äôs all about, and what her take is on things. And also, Roger Waters, because I think he‚Äôs probably crazy."
Wait ‚Äî you don't think Courtney Love is crazy, too? "Oh, she‚Äôs crazy, for sure," Kusterbeck laughs. "But Roger Waters, he‚Äôs psychedelically crazy."
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo by Gage Young.