- by Michael Giordano
The three-piece indie-folk band Mercies took their album Three Thousand Days to the road two weeks ago and stopped by O’Brien’s pub in Allston where I had the pleasure of watching them perform. At first, I had trouble envisioning how the band would translate their acoustic-based, natural sound created in the “Barn” to a live setting, but I was enlightened and pleased once they began playing. With a slew of subtle stomp boxes, some beautiful hollow body electric guitars, and reverberating vocals, Mercies were able to recreate, and take to a new level, the huge sound of the album, inside the confines of a bar with a 70-person capacity. Beforehand, I was able to catch up with the band and ask them a few questions about how they were able to write and record an album in the middle of the winter in a barn and where the band is heading next.
What was the writing process like for this album? Do you feel like the atmosphere, solitude (locking your self away in the “Barn”) affected or influenced you in a unique way?
Josh: Yeah definitely. The Barn—moving back from the city to the country and to the woods, had a huge part in itself then we decided to do it in the barn. We were leaning towards a simpler, more minimalistic kind of approach to writing and the Barn definitely allowed us to achieve that sound and the tones we wanted.
What were some of the difficulties and advantages to recording in a Barn?
Sam: Difficulties right in the beginning: it wasn’t really outfitted with proper electricity to begin with, so when we began recording drums it was in the early winter and it was REALLY cold and wasn’t insulated well. We tried to heat up the barn the best we could and then we would have to turn off the heaters to then plug in all the recording equipment.
Josh: We would try to do both then we would lose one or the other. We were running an extension chord down from the house to the barn with one power strip. So it got sketchy for awhile.
And what was better about it?
Josh: Everything. Everything is better about it. It was really just me, Sam, Jordan, and friends coming by, just working in the barn and working on music. We could do everything on our time, at our own pace. And we weren’t worried about paying a producer and paying for studio time so we could really focus and get the sound we wanted without worrying about a budget or anything.
You both come from very different musical backgrounds, and have both participated in several different projects without a trace of folk, specifically The Dear Hunter. How did Mercies, the indie-prog-folk band come to be? And what were some of the biggest influences behind it?
Josh: It came from being tired of being in a particular scene. And taste changes over the years. I’ve kind of always been into older music from the 50’s and 60’s and really like how sonically it sounded, the recordings and the simplicity of it. It’s kind of going back to the music that made me want to be in a band and pursue music.
Sam: Josh is really the driving force behind this style of the record. But then it kind of comes ahead with my influences as a percussionist and growing up playing in an orchestra and listening to jazz. His kind of simplicity of style and my rhythmic intensity kind of come together in way.
Sam, since you toured with the Dear Hunter you’ve been doing a lot of music composition and arranging that you categorized into specific emotions and situations. That obviously must have had a big influence on the feelings and visions you wanted to instill. Like I said in my review of your album, I felt as if fall was approaching the whole time. Was this the intent? If you were aiming to instill a feeling to the listeners, what was it?
Sam: Well, when I was playing in the band I used to play in, I left and decided I wanted to go back to school and pursue music composition. So, I went to a school where I was able to learn strict classical form, but then also more experimental classical forms. And also I learned how to write for big band and stuff so I’ve kind of set off in a path where I want to do film scores. And that is part of what Mercies wants to do. Not just write songs that are in film scores but actually write film scores. So part of just my education has been broadening my horizons by being able to write for an entire orchestra. So that website is just another facet of my creativity. That’s just something thing I want to do. But I think it definitely it comes into play with Mercies. Josh is, first and foremost, a guitar player. He thinks on the guitar and writes on the guitar as where I have to kind of see things visually because I didn’t grow up playing a melodic instrument or anything so how I perceive music is just through sight. So I think my music helps me think in layers. Our two styles definitely combine, Josh thinking on guitar and me thinking of how to pair it with other sounds. I’m not sure if I answered the question. [laughs]
Jordan: What I can see from the outside looking in, is that I don’t think it was preconceived as far as ‘ok lets make an album that sounds like this,’ or ‘lets sound like this band and do this’ It just happened naturally. They did what came to natural to them, Josh wrote from life experiences and it just happened almost organically.
Is Mercies now the main project for both you guys? Where do you envision Mercies a year or two down the road? How do you see the band progressing?
Josh: Merices is it really. It’s definitely my life, and I know its Sam’s, and hopefully it becomes Jordan’s. Just to be a busy working band and not being close-minded to any avenue. Like Sam was saying earlier doing the scoring, and definitely want to tour, hope to be playing festivals. The record came out a month ago but we’re eager to get back in the barn and start working on more material. Just staying busy.