One of the benefits of raising children who are serious music fans is that eventually they grow up and start getting into music that they discovered on their own. When my kids were little, they listened to “my” music but now that two of them are grown, I’m at a point in my life where I find myself listening to “their” music.
One of the bands that I learned about through my son is VersaEmerge. See, there’s this compilation series entitled Punk Goes Pop which is basically cover versions of pop songs performed by artists from other genres, mostly post-hardcore, metalcore, and pop-punk. There have also been a few spin-off compilations like Punk Goes ’90s and Punk Goes Classic Rock. On the Punk Goes Classic Rock album (yes, I still call them albums, now get off my lawn!) there’s a cover version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black.”
The first time I heard it, I absolutely loved it. It’s one of my favorite Stones tunes and hearing it performed by a female vocalist gave it a new vibe. So of course I asked my son “Who IS this?” and he said “That’s Sierra Kusterbeck from VersaEmerge.”
Sierra Kusterbeck, 22, is just one-half of progressive/experimental pop-rock duo VersaEmerge, with Blake Harnage being the other half. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, Sierra attended a performing arts high school as a Musical Theater major. She later dropped out after successfully auditioning for lead vocalist of VersaEmerge. (She sort of told a little white lie about her age, saying to Harnage “I’m 17, my birthday is in a week,” which had him thinking she would be 18 soon when she was actually about to turn 17.) At that time, VersaEmerge had six members and had recorded only one EP before Sierra joined them.
Since then, Sierra has performed lead vocals on four EPs and two full-length albums with VersaEmerge which, over the years, has gone through several lineup changes and eventually lost four members, leaving Kusterbeck and Harnage as the sole survivors. But the duo not only survived, they thrived. In 2009, they were chosen to play at the UK’s Give it a Name festival and New Jersey’s Bamboozle music festival before heading out on the Warped tour. The Warped lineup that year included acts like Bad Religion, Alien Ant Farm, Flogging Molly, Paramore, and Underoath.
In addition to her “day job” with VersaEmerge, Sierra has performed as a guest vocalist on tracks by A Day to Remember, Anarbor, and Professor Green. My personal favorite? “If It Means a Lot to You” with A Day to Remember. It’s a bittersweet song, featuring Sierra and ADTR lead vocalist Jeremy McKinnon, that tells the story of a musician torn between love and life on the road. It’s one of those where it feels like you’re intruding on an intimate part of someone else’s life, reading their texts and listening in on their phone calls.
If you’d like to listen to more of Sierra’s beautiful voice, you can stream some of VersaEmerge’s latest songs on their Soundcloud page and if you like what you hear, order or download their albums and EPs via their website, VersaEmergeMusic.com.