By Isaac Lassiter
©Copyright 2021 SDAM.com/Isaac Lassiter
One of the great tests in imitating rock 'n' roll legends
comes down to a question of whether you try to imitate their on-stage fashions
and costumes and copy their music verbatim; or as the best of past-facing bands
do, model yourself on the original rhythms and licks while writing and performing
new music. Good music. Music that you feel from your heart and play hard. If you
were in the band Mercy House, you'd certainly spend a lot of time playing
hard-rocking music that dwells on a 70s and 80s foundation. Who can blame them?
Some of the guys went to Claremont High-School, which gained worldwide celebrity
as its alter ego in the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." That made
this writer think first off of Camaros and loads of Zeppelin, a California-cated
rocker version of the one of the great stoner high-school flicks.
It wasn't all good love and booze for these guys though, as they met at a common church and spent a lot of time playing at the house of prayer. Mercy House's genuine roots and dedication to furthering rock 'n' roll have over the course of 13 years kept them rocking and loving a good time without staying stuck in the late-80s. The big-hair era sound belies the real fetish for towering guitar solos of Van Halen, not Def Leppard. Shawn , the lead singer, croons without playing an instrument, but he pulls it off by hitting solid high and low notes and keeping the Mick Jagger-esque stage maneuvers in check. The pair of guitars, played by original MH members Brian O'Keefe and Jon Jump, kept up solid rounds of solos and call-and-response throughout, and sound like these guys have spent a ton of hours trading their back-yard licks. The new rhythm section, a crucial and oft dangerous personnel decision, has delivered for MH. Mike Santangelo and Bennett Taylor may be a couple of years younger than Jon and Brian, but they certainly get it, and play like they understand where where MH has been but want to step it up to 2002. Bennett said that, "I definitely feel like it is an older sound, but with a new kick to it. They've been together for a while, like thirteen years, with new players now that have the influences of a lot modern music. We give it a little bit of new flavor, yet they still have that older stuff, and it combines really well."
The best thing that the folks in San Diego should know is that for today, we've got a tight new Mercy House line-up that we need to get out and see. Whether you've been a fan since the days when they opened for the Blue Oyster Cult, or just want to go check out some fun rock 'n' roll music in a more chill setting, these guys will deliver the goods. Jon really set the tone for you if you decide to go check out Mercy House. "I call us a 70's-based, current rock alternative. The music we grew up with, we emulate. I'm hoping that rock will come back around stronger than it is now. I want songwriting to come back, and I want to be part of that. We want to have simplicity, well-crafted songs, be a rock band, and expose people to rock. The Cult said that 'We put an album out that we want to save rock 'n' roll'. I really liked that. That is how I feel about our band."
Tio Lio's is a mellow lounge that supports live music here in San Diego, on Morena Blvd. in the area below USD and Linda Vista. I arrived early enough to catch a quirky little solo guitar player that saved some face by covering Pink Floyd fairly well. Mercy House came on to a basically full lounge, and though the dance floor only got moving at a few points, the crowd was attentive and ready to see what the boys had put together. The 60 minute set opened with a couple of guitar driven tunes that I hadn't heard, but had their moments. Jon Jump and his rude-boy style set a stylish tone for the band onstage, but none of them overdid it with their costumes. He played a lighter song that he had written called "I Remember", and then covered "Its Been A While." They stayed focused on the blinding pace, hard drum hits, and full charges that ended and freeze-frame, cut-off ends to the songs. They didn't chore us with laborious cymbal crashing and drawn-out song closers, but rather spent the limited time they had churning out 12 highly energetic tunes that finally got the crowd on their feet and dancing by the end. While that was to the crowd-pleasing cover "Play that Funky Music (White Boy)," to be honest, getting these older folks on their dancing feet at all was pretty incredible. I think that Mike's punishing whallops on the bass made for an awakening of long retired feelings of that deep, dark, funky thump. The walking wounded from the 70s and 80s get moving only for the real thing, and MH has it. Hot guitar trade-offs between Brian and Jon in "Highway 69" combined with Shawn's voice to really make me picture the sad life of the 'Truck-driving woman' and how her dad said "don't live your life, I'm having mine." These guys were bringing out emotions of sadness. They dedicated "Better Days" to fallen rocker Darryl Deloach, and told about a benefit show they were playing the following Monday at the Whiskey on Sunset Strip to help with Darryl's families medical bills. Then they got back to the happy side that Darryl would have wanted, keeping it fresh, kept the feet moving and fingers tapping. They even found a way to fit in a super-tight version of the Beastie Boys, "You Gotta Fight, For Your Right, To Party". While the music really stayed harder edged throughout the show, you really wouldn't feel blown away listening to Mercy House if you were an Indigo Girls fan. They slowed it down, didn't all crush their instruments at the same time, and let professional instrumental work stand out more than anything. I had a good time checking out Mercy House, and not just because they rock out. They keep it real, real toward the past, real with themselves and their spirituality, and real with each other. Anyone who has survived for 11 years in the Southern California music biz, well, we should tip our caps to them. Go check out Mercy House, and don't thank me, thank the boys that keep us connected to the roots that so many of us hold dear. I'll leave you with a quote from bassist Mike Santangelo. "To me, Mercy House, is good old straight forward, rock 'n' roll. Classic rock 'n' roll. That is really all I can say about that."
CD Review - Full Throttle
Interview 1 - Brian and Jon
I guess, first of all, tell me your names and what you play in the band...
J: I'm John Jump, and I play guitar.
And we also have sitting with us...
JW: Jeff Wilson, their manager.
Cool. So the first thing I'd like to ask you guys is, how did y'all start playing music together, how did it come together?
B: Me and Johnny knew each other since the 12th grade in high school. I went
to Madison High School together with my manager Jeff, and John went to Claremont...
When you first started playing together, what sort of music were you into?
B: U2, The Cult, Zeppelin, Sabbath, kinda like that.
Where did the name Mercy House come from?
B: Believe it or not, when we started, we all used to go to the same church
together. The first line-up, so we thought of the name, like a church, Mercy House.
Through the years, we have three new members, John and I are the only original
members left, and the sound has changed, and the words have changed a lot, its
a little different
No, not at all, I really enjoyed that song. So there is a lot of spirituality in how you guys are fused together?
J: Absolutely. And plus we write about other things, broken hearts, pain,
Tell me a story about how one of the songs was written or where it came from...
B: John, Why don't you do that, I'm not really sure what the songs
Do you guys lead off, get the musical groove going, and let him take over, and he fills in the words?
B: We usually write the music first, we write the groove first, Shawn comes
in, looks at his lyrics, and it goes from there. We write the words with the music
I like all sorts of bands; from some that play precisely the same thing every night, to improv-rock and jazz bands that play almost anything at any time. Where would you put yourselves on that spectrum?
J: Lately, once we get the parts set, it stays.
If you guys had to pay your own hard earned money to see a national recording act, who would it be?
B: It would be four bands, The Cult, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, but they're
never going to do it again, and Van Halen, the original line-up.
How do you guys feel about heavily produced stuff from digital recording studios. Is that something that you want to use in your music, or do you try to shy away from the overproduction?
B: No, we try to keep it as raw as we can. I like the analog sound better,
because it is warmer. The digital sound is good, because you can manipulate it,
but I like the analog sound better.
Since I'm here with SDAM.com, I'd like to know who your favorite San Diego local bands are...
B: I like The Dragons, because they remind me of the Ramones, and we used
to do a lot of shows with them. I think they should be signed. I used to like
Earl's Son, and I like Joker's Wild a lot. That is my favorite band.
If you were going to describe your band's styles, what would you say? I hate pigeonholing, so I'm not looking for a genre as much as I am for what you feel about the style of music you play.
J: I call us a 70's based, current rock alternative. The music we grew
up with, we emulate. I'm hoping that rock will come back around stronger
than it is now. I want songwriting to come back, and I want to be part of that.
We want to have simplicity, well-crafted songs, and be a rock band, and expose
people to rock. The Cult said that "We put an album out that we want to save
rock 'n' roll."
If you guys were going to hang out together in another city besides San Diego, to play music and hang out, where would you go?
J: I would like to go to New York, Chicago. I heard Dallas has a cool scene,
and also Atlanta. Any major city. Hopefully we will get that opportunity soon.
If I ever had the opportunity, I would like to record in New York. Easterners
seem to be a different kind of breed, and it would be cool to be in a different
environment. Or something southern, a very different region, where there would
be different influences because of the music there.
OK, this is my last question, before you guys go. Is there anything else that I haven't asked that you would like for people to know about the band?
R: We believe in God.
Interview 2 with:
Bennett and Shawn, How long have y'all been with Mercy House?
B: We've been together with Mercy House for about 6 months. Shawn and
I were in a band together before, a band called "Velvet 6"...
He looks like a bass player.
M: We have that mystique, definitely.
So it was a friends relationship...
S: I joined Mercy House first, and they told me they were trying out bass
players, and Mike was one of the guys that they tried, but he took off.
I'm sure you guys have a different set of influences than the other guys, so tell me some of the musicians/ bands that you really love and can feel...
B: The drummers that I've been most influenced by are John Bonham, Tommy Lee, and Neal Peart, as far as the rock drummers, of the older drummers, I like Gene Croupa, Buddy Richards, and Louie Velson. I like the older Jazz drummers.
So you feel the jazz/improv drumming style in your rock?
B: Yeah, I just like the way they influence their music. They put so many
feels in their stuff. They've influenced so many rock drummers today, that
they've made rock so much better because of it.
Since you're a bass player, I'd like to know who is the coolest looking bass player while they are performing?
M: Oh, man. I'd have to say Flea. He is the craziest, coolest, off the wall. Definitely Flea.
If you guys had to pay your hard earned money to see a national touring band, who would it be.
B: To be honest, it would probably be the Dixie Chicks. They are from my hometown,
and I saw what they had to go through, and they only play 7 or 8 dates a year...
As far as rock, it would definitely be Rush, because I heard their new stuff,
and they are definitely reborn...They walk on stage in their t-shirts, flannels,
and they just rock. They are just everyday guys. To me they are the best at what
they play, every one of them.
Just because it sounds like you guys have seen a lot of great shows, could we go around and tell what your favorite show ever was?
B: Mine is gonna be a cross between three. First, Monsters of Rock, with Metallica,
Scorpions, Van Halen, Kindgom Come, and Daka, at the LA Coliseum. The other one
was Living Colour, Guns'N'Roses, and the Rolling Stones. And my favorite
of all time, was the The Who's farewell tour. I was like seven, or eight,
and my dad took me, and that is when I started wanting to get into music.
If you guys could pick a couple of years that frame your musical influences, what would you say?
B: I would have to say the mid 80s...the Police, one of the first bands
I really started listening to, Stewart Copeland.
If you were going to describe Mercy House's sound, what do you feel about where you are going as musicians together.
B: I definitely feel like it is an older sound, but with a new kick to it.
They've been together for a while, like thirteen years, with new players
now that have the influences of a lot modern music, we give it a little bit of
new flavor, yet they still have that older stuff, and it combines really well,
and the chemistry is awesome
That is a good person to sound like.
S: Yes it is. The three of us give it a whole different flavor, we draw from so many different influences. We like the old stuff, but if you want to cross over and be a marketable product, you have to be with the sign of the times. You can't be something you're not, but you have to still draw on some of the influences out there. I think that is something that we are bringing to the table.
So you think that there is something that you are bringing to the table, you are bringing the dynamics in line, and helping Mercy House go forward?
S: Yes...Because you can't sound like yesterday's news if you
want to be today's news. You only get one chance to be the best piece of
white bread. At least we are giving ourselves an opportunity. Classic rock 'n'
roll will never go away, and when you play classic rock, and you soup it up, there
is always going to be an appeal for it. It might not be in your own hometown,
it might be somewhere else, but if you are being true to yourself, and it is coming
out of you, that is all you can ask.
What sort of attitude do you want people to hear in the music?
B: Well, basically I want them to hear something rock. Something new, but
with that old little kick to it. I just love that true rock 'n' roll.
I love when I look out, and see people tapping their feet, shaking their heads