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VERSKOTZI on his new album SHIRING, inspired by sobriety and meditation

VERSKOTZI holding an acoustic guitar in front of a mixing board at a recording studio.
VERSKOTZI is the musical project of Joey Verskotzi from New Ulm, Minnesota.

The LA-based indie musician grew up in New Ulm and began his music career in the Twin Cities.

LOS ANGELES — A mantra is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.

For a minute and 19 seconds, Joey Verskotzi repeats his on the opening track of his latest album, SHIRING.

“This album was born out of my decision back in September of 2020 to get sober,” Verskotzi said on Centerstage Minnesota. “ ... That very quickly led me to researching and discovering and finding meditation.”

The LA-based indie musician grew up in New Ulm and began his music career in the Twin Cities. The journey to sobriety and subsequent focus on meditation are explored in depth through the album.

“BEGGING FOR MORE” is a swaggering and riff-heavy rocker that focuses on the chase for thrills and highs. It is followed immediately by "Desert Sun,” a sunny acoustic song with a completely different vibe.

The songs back-to-back are meant to show the exact moment when the singer decided to change his life. Later in the album, there is another shift as the singer began to look toward the world around him.

“It definitely came from seeking more clarity through a clear mind and through a new sense of self,” Verskotzi explained, “feeling like I have so many thoughts and opinions and like I have a lot to say.”

There are critiques of politics and organized religion, and big existential questions about the human experience. Topics that the singer had previously shied away from due to perceived music industry pressures.

When it came time to roll the new album out, he would find himself caught up in industry squabbles anyway, as a casualty in the battle between TikTok and UMG. VERSKOTZI is signed to a small label in LA called Preach, but if you follow the family tree far enough, they fall under Universal Music Group.

Black and white photo of musician VERSKOTZI. He has curly hair pulled back and is wearing a black turtleneck, white pants, and sandals.
LA based musician VERSKOTZI who released his latest album SHIRING in early 2024.

“Starting in December 2023, we started noticing, as did a couple of other Preach artists on TikTok, suddenly a bunch of my videos started getting muted and it was saying sound removed due to copyright restriction,” Verskotzi said. “What could possibly do that? You know, I own the song.”

It turned out TikTok was targeting smaller artists connected to UMG as a negotiating tactic. The two groups were clashing over royalty payments for songs included in TikTok videos, and the common “victims” in the news were huge artists like Taylor Swift and Drake, not the smaller artists like VERSKOTZI.

“They’re basically immune from anything actually hurting them,” he said. “But it’s the small artists, the up-and-comers. We’re the ones that rely on having as much marketing at our disposal as possible.”

For more on VERSKOTZI, SHIRING and life as a working musician, check out the full conversation above.

Centerstage Minnesota, Fridays at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. on KAXE/KBXE, is made possible by the citizens of Minnesota through the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund. 

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Malachy started his radio career at a college radio station, where he played weird music in the middle of the night to possibly no one. On a good night maybe his parents were listening. Nonetheless, he was hooked on public radio and is still doing it today. He joined Northern Community Radio in 2022, where he gets to share his passion for local music as Producer of Centerstage Minnesota, an all Minnesota music show airing Fridays at 2pm.