Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tender Mercies: A Timeless Essence

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Tender Mercies can be simply summed up in six words: Indie folk rock at its finest!

 The music's stripped down  to the core without the use of today's technological fillers. It sounds like a bunch of friends sitting around a room making homegrown music. The album has this timeless essence like a classic vinyl approach to Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

 From the soft guitar intro in "Safe and Sound" to the beautiful mandolin in "Almighty Trial," this record provides a nostalgic mellow listen. The kind of songs to listen to on an afternoon road trip.

Even though it took twenty years to release the record, Tender Mercies have been around since the early 90's. Dan Vickrey (Vocals/Guitar) met Patrick Winningham (Vocals/Guitar) at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco. The two would soon play many gigs along with Kurt Stevenson (Vocals/Bass), Charley Gillingham (Vocals/Keyboard), and later on Jim Bogios (Vocals/Drums).

 The band came to a halt in 1993 when Vickrey left to join Counting Crows alongside Gillingham. Songs such as "Four White Stallions," "Mercy," and "Wiseblood" have been kept in the Counting Crows set lists throughout the years. It wasn't until last year that Tender Mercies reunited and decided to finally release a record.

It's difficult for me to recommend favorites. I would just end up naming half the record. However, "Scarecrow" and "Angeline" receive honorable mentions.

"Scarecrow" is perhaps the 'bluesiest' song on the record. It stands out among the quieter tracks with the exception of the Honky Tonk-esque "Ball and Chain." Plus, the guitar outro just slays at the end! You can almost feel the raw energy bursting out of the guitar!

 "Angeline" is a song that really strikes a cord in me. It's been a long time since a new song has actually made me cry. This might come across very cheesy but I get teary eyed every time I listen it. Infused with gentle slide guitar, violin, and mandolin among the heartfelt lyrics just makes it such a beautiful song.

Overall, I highly recommend the album. It's a nice listen for the alt-country fans at heart.

I even had the pleasure of talking to Dan Vickrey and Patrick Winningham about the album, musical influences, and upcoming plans.

You guys have had several band names. How did you finally settle on Tender Mercies?

Dan: We didn't have anything else (laughs). At the beginning we took the name Bakery Boys after the bakery we used to rehearse in. For a while we were known as the Patrick Winningham Band. But Tender Mercies just seemed to be the most fitting name.

Patrick: I just really loved that Robert Duvall movie (laughs)...just kidding. Back when I worked at a club, I played in a band with Jeff Trott, Charley, and Kurt. We didn't really have a name. We would just use my name whenever we played mostly my stuff. As far as Tender Mercies, I have no idea where it came from.

How do you divide lead vocal roles?

Dan: I just sing my songs and he sings his songs.

Patrick: We sing our own material. Originally Dan wanted me to sing "Perfect Hour." Jim and I listened to Dan's demo and thought he should sing his songs.

After listening to "Four White Stallions" It sounds like there's a lyric difference in Tender Mercies and the Counting Crows' version. 
This is what it sounds like to me:

Tender Mercies: "There's nothing left of me in her."

Counting Crows: "There's nothing left of me and her."

Dan: The stallions lyric is the same in both versions but the pronunciation is different. The actual lyric your hearing is "There's nothing left of me AND her."

Patrick: I wrote that song in a heartfelt place at the time. We change the interpretations from time to time. We do the same with other songs as well such as "White Freight Liner" by Townes Van Zandt.

How did you become interested in guitar?

Dan: I started playing by ear since I was 14. My neighbor wanted me to join his band. I'd listen to records such as John Mayall, Tom Waits, Eric Clapton, and The Beatles.

Patrick: I started playing around the age of 14-15. I played rhythm guitar in my friends' bands. I was influenced by Neil Young, After the Gold Rush era, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, The Beatles...all the good stuff!

How does the songwriting process work?

Dan: I generally just write my own stuff. Kurt wrote "Mercy" and Patrick just added lyrics on his own to it.

Patrick: Most of the songs such as "Wiseblood" are worked out on the spot. We'll just start playing and decide if we want a guitar solo here or another lyric there. Sometimes we'll even get Dan Eisenberg on piano to add a quieter feel.

What about the recording process?

Dan: It went great! We hired an engineer to set up microphones and Pro Tools in the music room of my house and just recorded everything live in that room.

Patrick: It was a very enjoyable experience! We recorded in Dan's house for a mellower live sound. We sat around in the room and just started playing. That's the beauty of the happening! I think it was Bob Dylan that once said "let it roll because you never know what your going to catch."

Do you have a particular favorite song on the album?

Dan: I'd have to say "Wiseblood." It was the first song I first latched onto around the time I met Patrick. It holds such fond memories for me.

Patrick: It's hard to pick a favorite. The songs are like my children! "Perfect Hour" holds a special place in my heart. I also love "Mercy," "Safe and Sound," "Four White Stallions," and "Almighty Trial." There's also this one song we do that's not on the record called "Penny in the Sky" that I'm real fond of as well.

How do you go about making your set lists?

Dan: Patrick and I usually come up with the songs on the spot that we want to play. Other times we just improvise.

Patrick: Usually Dan and I bang them out, Kurt doesn't care, and Jim will speak up if he doesn't agree with a particular choice.

I really like the album art! Who's the kid on the cover?

Dan: The artwork was done by my friend, Oliver Arms. That's his nephew in the picture. Oliver and I worked together at Tower Records back in the 90's. He's a talented artist so I went to him for the cover art. Inside the album is a picture of a ferris wheel that I took in Australia and my music room.

Patrick: The cover art was a picture from Dan's friend, Oliver. We were looking for album art ideas while searching on Dan's computer one day. I was looking for a picture of a guitar but stumbled across that ferris wheel picture. I thought it was the coolest thing and told Dan we had to have it on the album!

Are there any upcoming plans for the Tender Mercies?

Dan: Patrick is the process of assembling live recordings of some of our shows.

Patrick: We hope to start working on a second album sometime in October or September. The newer stuff will be a bit darker than our old stuff.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tetrarch's Will to Fight

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Hailing from Atlanta, GA, Tetrarch is a thrash band like no other. The sound can best be described as an old school mix of Metallica with a newer twist of Bullet for my Valentine.

 The style is similar to Disturbed in that the music has heavy riffs but doesn't over do it. Tetrarch formed in 2006 by Josh Fore (Vocals/Rythmn guitar), Diamond Rowe (Lead guitar), and Tyler Wesley (Drums).

 Wesley was replaced by Jared Vann and Ryan Lerner (Bass) was later added to the line up. 

Their first EP, The Will to Fight was released June 5, 2011. I'm usually not too big into the thrash scene but these guys are well worth the listen! They focus more on singing than the screaming aspect as opposed to the traditional death metal format. I also found the lyrics to be intense with profound underlying themes.

For example, one of my favorites is the title track, "The Will to Fight." The narrator sings of the human nature to fight for something to believe in. A never ending struggle in which we can all relate to. You can almost feel the intensity in Fore's voice.

 Ryan Lerner and Diamond Rowe took time off in the studio to chat about their musical influences, songwriting and their new upcoming EP!

Tell me about the uniqueness of Tetrarch's style?

Diamond:  Well I think today a lot of bands focus more on how heavy and "brutal" they can be, or how many breakdowns they can have. I feel like we are different because we try to focus as much as possible on writing great, memorable songs. We love to mix the heavy parts of modern metal with the structures and catchiness of older bands. 

Ryan: I think we definitely stand out. We sound a mixture of the old school with the new school. We're not too extreme but we do have something for heavier listeners.

I recently read that you guys are releasing a new EP. What can you tell me about it? 

Diamond:  Yes! It's called Relentless and its going to be released early September We recorded our new EP at Audiohammer Studios in Sanford, FL with producers Jason Suecof and Eyal Levi. It is definitely something that we have wanted to do for a while now and it is great that we have finally gotten the chance to. The songs definitely sound different than anything we have ever done but they also have Tetrarch written all over them. We really wanted to focus more on song writting on this one. Really catering to the songs and trying to make people feel something more so then riffing out like we used to. There's still some great riffs on this EP but they are done really tastefully!

Ryan: The new stuff will be a bit heavier than our previous work but it'll be more singable. The theme deals more with wrath and angst. We draw our inspiration on experiences that have happened around us.

How do you approach the songwriting process?

Diamond:  When it comes to songwriting, usually Josh and I will sit down together and look through some of the ideas that each of us have. One of us may have a riff that we want to build on or even a full song. Once the music is done, we try to ask ourselves "how is this going to make people feel something". Whether its the dynamics of the songs or the lyricsthe most important thing is that people feel an emotion while listening. That is the best way to connect with anyone

Ryan: It's mainly a mixture of swapping/passing demos between each other. We try to figure out how we want them to sound before getting in practice. Josh and Diamond do most of the songwriting. Occasionally, Jared and I throw in suggestions. It can be a bit distracting to build a song when everyone's around. Josh is an independent songwriter and comes back to share what he's got then we all put together what we have each worked on. When I'm creating my bass lines, I listen carefully to the rythmn to emulate sounds that reflect the tempo. 

Diamond Rowe (Photo by Angelo Valentine)
 Diamond, How do you approach writing your guitar parts?

Diamond: When writing guitar parts, neither me or Josh approach it as if we are super technical guitar 
players. We like cool, intricate riffs, but riffs that you can sing back. We kind of compliment each other though because I always like things to be super heavy, and Josh is the complete opposite (laughs). So we generally meet in the middle.

 Diamond, I know that on top of your duties as lead guitarist you have also pulled doing double duty as the band's publicist. What kind of responsibilities do you carry out for the band?

Diamond:  Well, fortunately we just joined with a new Management. We are now with Outerloop Management so that is going to be GREAT! But I just try to get the bands name out there in anyway I can. That can be getting us interviews, posting things on our facebook page, spreading the word at shows etc. You really start to see the benefits from promoting and its very rewarding.

What are your musical inspirations?

Ryan: As a group we are inspired by Metallica and Bullet for My Valentine. I love Rush and Iron Maiden. Josh likes Green Day, Jared is a huge death metal fan and Diamond is more into the hardcore bands as well.

Ryan, Do you have a favorite song to play live?

Ryan: My favorite song would have to be "Set the Flames." We usually open up our shows with this song. It's a great song to get pumped.

Ryan, What kind of challenges did you guys face in the studio and on the road?

Ryan Lerner (Photo by Angelo Valentine)
Ryan: Cramming everything into a time limit. Bass and rythmn guitar takes a couple of hours but vocals and drums take a while. As far as being on tour its mostly just learning to live in a van and how to be an entertainer. 

You recently completed a mini tour last summer. Were there any memorable moments?

Ryan: It was a big turning point in our lives. We really came together as a live band. With our new drummer, Jared, our music has become tighter and flows more smoothly. Our goal is to tour a longtime and to take over the world!

Diamond: (Laughs). Well there are definitely a lot of memorable moments. We went on a thirty two day tour of the east coats. Basically the whole trip was amazing. We definitely learned a lot about each other and played a lot of fantastic shows. We cant wait to get back out there.