Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Interview with Mercy Ties

Andrew Gomez runs a bad-ass label called Glory Kid. He releases a lot of heavy bands that are sort of too smart and arty for most hardcore kids, but still too firmly planted in hardcore and DIY to get noticed by a lot of the somewhat bigger outlets that cover the peripheries of hardcore and punk. Shit rules.

Anyway, he's been working with this band from Seattle called Mercy Ties for a while now. They released their debut LP "A Dim Lit Place" a year or two ago, and are currently set to unleash the follow-up "Proper Corruption" in a couple months here. If the first couple tracks are any indication, it's going to be a monstrous offering, harkening back to the twisting, mangled sounds of bands like Breather Resist, Achilles, and others of that ilk.

I wanted to learn more, so Andrew put me in contact with their bass player Jon, who put me in touch with their guitar player Trevor, who handled most of this and then put me in touch with their singer Andre who put the finishing touches on things. Got all that? Good.

Talk a little bit about your background as it relates to music and falling into punk/hardcore/DIY. Seattle has such a storied history as far as music so on the one hand for me as a kid from the Midwest it sort of seems like you almost couldn't avoid getting exposed to some awesome shit, but at the same time the underground is still the underground so there was probably some level of serendipity/seeking it out that had to occur.

Mike and I are the only ones who grew up in Seattle, I think. I'll do my best to speak for them correctly. But yeah anyway, the first show I ever went to was Sick of it All, DBS, and Himsa when I was 12 or 13 or something. I was really into the BMX scene and had a lot of older friends who got me into HC. My favorite Seattle bands right off the bat as a little kid were Botch, The Blood Brothers, Akimbo and other bands of similar nature. There were a couple bands called March 15th and Drowning in Lethe that I loved too; those guys all ended up being terrible influences on me and later became amazing friends of mine. I would go see The Blood Bros at teen centers and a bunch of kids would get super rowdy every weekend. A lot more kids came out to shows back then too. Cell phones ruined it all.

I started really getting into playing guitar around that time so all of those bands were huge influences on me musically. That's probably why I am a terrible guitar player, but have a distorted perception of what "simple" music is. Mike was a little bit older than me and I think he was able to become a Van Halen fan in time to embed some decent guitar skills. This is why I write riffs and he plays them better than me. Early 2000's HC in Seattle was a huge part of his life too. He actually knows every Botch song on guitar by heart, but then again he knows every Van Halen song too.

Seattle has a lot of history. It's pretty awesome, but sometimes it's hard to get people excited. Everyone at every show has been in bands for 20 years. We have a lot of amazing friends that are still going after years and years of playing to kids in basements and warehouses. Andre, Jon and Chris all got into hardcore at a young age too. When Andre lived in Portland he threw shows for every band ever, Chris was in DC getting wild watchin’ Pg.99 on the weekends, and Jon was in way too many terrible screamo bands so he's seen some shit too.

That's actually pretty awesome to have so many older folks around in your scene. We have some older heads here in Detroit but lots of young kids too which can be both really good and really bad. That said, is it at all nerve-wracking playing in front of people who have been around forever? Like you said, older peeps can be hard to get excited, and sometimes tend to look at bands/music in general with a lot more scrutiny.

I wouldn't ever say it's stressful playing around a bunch of old jaded people, we are like that too. We are the ones that actually don't like any music, honestly. Well, some of us. But yeah a lot of the old folks even like us. Maybe we relate to people that have been around a while more or something. There's an amazing band called Great Falls who has members from Playing Enemy, Undertow, and Jesu and I think they really dig us. They have grown to become homies and I really think they are the best heavy band in Seattle so at least we have each other. We are supposed to do a split with them soon. Hopefully we record for that this winter.

You guys boast a pretty impressive collective resume (Abominable Iron Sloth, Beau Navire, etc.).....how did you come together to form Mercy Ties?

So yeah on our "collective resume" most people forget the best band ever, Tigon. Chris played drums in that band and they were so good. That's why they were never popular, they were too good. Pretty much we are all losers from every walk of hardcore and no one else will have us so we have each other haha. Ok so Mike and I started Mercy Ties with our buddy Jeff King in 2010. Jeff initially wrote most of the music and Mike wrote most of the vocals. We didn't have a drummer, so Jeff would try to play drums. We met the Tigon boys and they put Chris in contact with us when he moved up here from San Francisco. He couldn't find a better band so he joined ours. 

Couple years after that, Jeff didn't want to play with the mercy guys anymore so I started asking around. I knew Andre because I was a Nihilist/ Blowupnihilist fan as a kid and we became friends from mutual friends. He was way into playing bass for us so we went for it. I always had it in my head that he should be our front man. We usually split vocals between Mike and I, but I was tired of doing vocals and I knew Andre was a great vocalist, like a lot better at vocals than bass. He was a drummer so his timing is amazing and his voice is great so that just works. We met Jon through mutual friends and when he wanted to join I was super pumped because then the band would finally be complete. Took 5 years to build a band, by accident.

I noticed a new member has been welcomed to the fold since "A Dim Lit Place". How does a 5th member change both the sound and the dynamics within the band?

As we were adding a 5th member (Jon), I was in the middle of writing “Proper Corruption”. My plan was so write the best record I could, and record and release it as a 5 piece in 2015. Andre played a couple of the songs on bass but throughout the writing process we all knew he would be the vocalist going into the studio. This was the first material written since Jeff wasn't in the band. I wrote some stuff on “Dim Lit…”, but he was still the primary writer. So that dynamic was waaaay different writing this record. I wrote hundreds of riffs, brought them to Chris, he would say yay or nay, then Mike would play them better than me and write split parts. We got that process dialed in good. A lot of the weird transitions and ideas are written collectively by jamming and voting on the spot.  

In my opinion it is a very drum and vocal oriented band now. I try to bring riffs that allow Chris to flip and do his thing with. Mike brings split parts to throw on top, and Andre just listens and writes. I really tried to make the songs simpler. We are trying to write songs now, not just stack parts on parts. Jon joined our band as we were gearing up to go into the studio, so he was just trying to learn material in time to track.

The dynamic of the band has changed a lot over the years too. At this point we just wanna go out and have fun. We all think we are funny and witty. We're just trying to have a good time. We're all good dudes who are all very different. We all are too old to take things too seriously. When Jon joined the band there was a little hazing here and there, but he knows we love him. These guys make fun of me every time I see them, but that would be weird if they didn't. A lot of younger super hungry hardcore bands take shit too seriously, I've been there too. But god damn just take it easy on each other. It's not that serious. Paying rent in Seattle is serious, going on tour is fun.

I was super pumped when I read you recorded the new record with the Scott (?) from Kowloon Walled City. I'm not a real big tone guy per se, but even my ears can recognize the fact that he's been capturing some really amazing sounds and textures the last couple records. How was the experience there and what did he bring to the table both as an engineer and fellow musician?

Recording with Scott was an amazing time. We made a trip down there in February to record at Sharkbite in Oakland. It was fun to take a vacation/tour away from home and just focus on recording. He was very encouraging while tracking. I thought we were super unprepared and didn't have it together, but he thought we were easy to record and were real solid. That felt good hearing that, I still don't know if he was just being cool or what. He understood what we were going for right away, I remember it immediately sounding good on playback. He did a good job capturing how we should sound without much editing. 

I spent the whole time co-producing and going over things in the box with him. It was fun. He was pretty hands on actually when it came to bass ideas and little stereo ideas and stuff. Like our 6th member! I like that he didn't over edit anything and left a lot of "realness" on the record. Sounds like a band. “A Dim Lit Place” was also like that, but that was a different engineer, different line up, different writing style, and different dynamic in the band. There was an extreme difference within the band between “A Dim Lit Place” and “Proper Corruption”. Mostly on our end, but Scott did make it fun too.

Last year I know you guys did some touring with Divider, who are one of my faves. How was that run and how many times did Fusco cause the power to blow (last time I saw them it was twice during one set, at which point, they just stopped playing, haha)?

Yea we did two tours with Divider. We flew out there and did the northeast with them and they flew out here and we did the west coast. It was super fun. That was the only time we have toured with another band. Tour is usually for us, and we like going alone, but we all had a great time with Divider. Anthony is definitely very jealous of my taco bell eating abilities and my Peavey tone. Other than that, those are solid bros. We hope to do another run with them sometime.

Alright, talk to me about your waxlord Andrew Gomez. Aside from his bad-ass label, stunning curly locks and beautiful acrylic drum kit, what else can you tell the people about this fine lad that will make the masses give him all their money so he can continue to do his thing?

I have a special place in my heart for Andrew because he liked our band before anyone else did. He approached us at this show years ago with the saddest landscape and calculator and wanted us to join the label. We played bad and Chris had the flu so I didn't know why he would want to put out a record for us. It took us like a year to commit to doing a record with him. Our band has changed line ups and styles with every recording. We sound different every year. I'm glad he liked us back when we sucked and I'm glad he still likes us with the change in sound. Solid dude. He's kinda quiet though and that's scary sometimes.

So I know you mentioned earlier the main focus of the band is to have fun. At the same time, I know you guys don't hesitate to delve into social and political issues in your lyrics. Are the lyrics Andre's department or does everybody collaborate here and there?

Andre here, I write a lot in general. Aside from any Jungian unconscious bits, what I say on the album are things I've personally written down in notebooks. The words to the opening track on our album, Proper Corruption,"You Have The Right To Remain Violent" were borne the very night that verdict came out on the Eric Garner killing. I'm of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, my father's from Brooklyn and I've experienced my share of racism as a child and a teenager. Before 18, I'd been a victim of police brutality myself, and give credence to my white passing privilege to my survival, rather than becoming another statistic. 

Some people write about ex-girlfriends, and I understand people have their hearts broken, we all have. But it's a waste of my time to write about things of that nature when there is so much more than deserves our attention. Of the ten songs on the album, I wrote 9 and Mike wrote one. He sings on it as well, which ties in with our last EP in which he'd been the main singer. It's a great way to transition, or pass the torch if you will, to me.

I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about what you're suggesting with the title "Proper Corruption". It's a really cool, vague title, so maybe you want to keep an aura of mystery around it, but at least give us some general ideas.

The album's title comes from a sentence I've always liked from “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” by film theorist and critic, AndrĂ© Bazin."...photography does not create eternity, as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption."

It's a play on words, sort of a double entendre. Not content to be cased in amber for an eternity, our intent was to craft a relevant, timeless album. One that may live on long past we exist as a band.

However, when one reads into the lyrics and thematic elements criticized; the structured impregnable proper corruption of organized religion, of a fractured justice system, our ethically corrupt imperialist Americanism, you soon begin to recognize and loathe the proper corruption in and around your everyday existence. And if you don't, you're sleepwalking and need our album to help wake you up to reality. Even if it is, perhaps, only ours.

What sort of things do you guys have cued up for "Proper Corruption" once it drops?

“Proper Corruption” will be out in November. We won't be able to tour in the winter, but we plan to do a fair amount of touring in 2016 to support the record. Hopefully we do a European tour and a couple regional US tours. Nothing in concrete yet, but we have some things in the works, and we plan on playing a lot.

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