“We’re Not ‘After Rock'”: A Chat with the Mercury Program
The Mercury Program's vibes-laden, melodic prog has been a valuable asset to the instrumental rock scene since the late '90s, but it's been an awful long time since the group kicked out its dreamy jams in D.C. The band has been on hiatus for several years due to all the usual grownup reasons, but it's finally back on the road and ready to move you with its graceful, wordless grandeur. Arts Desk recently snagged a few minutes with drummer Dave Lebleu. The Mercury Program performs with Fin Fang Foom Sunday at the Black at 9 p.m. $10.
Washington City Paper: Seven years is a long time between albums—why the extended break?
Dave Lebleu: Well, in 2003 we did a split with Maserati on Kindercore, and we did a tour later that year. That marked the end of the nonstop playing, writing, and recording we'd been doing since 1999. We decided to take a conscious break, though we had no idea it would be so long. We didn't think it would be longer than a year, but in that time Sander [Travisano, bassist] moved to New York, Tom [Reno, guitarist] got married, had a child, and started a design business, and I also moved to New York after becoming disenchanted with Gainesville.
WCP: Your most recent record, Chez Viking, came out on Lovitt last November. Did it feel odd to go into the studio after so long, or was it like nothing had changed?
DB: We actually recorded it in 2006, and it was like nothing had changed. We were intermittently getting together during that time, and we had some of those tracks including "Chez Viking," the title track, in 2003. There's actually a YouTube video of us playing a then-untitled track in 2004 in Gainesville, which was actually that song. We got a check from Tigerstyle from other records we'd done, and we decided to put that money into a new record. We had no booking agent or label at that point, so we took our time. It was a more refined, simpler music it turned out; we were just going in and enjoying ourselves and let the outcome be what it would be.
WCP: Who did you record with?
DB: Andy Baker, who has a home studio in Athens, Ga. He works with David Barbie of Sugar, and we're really comfortable with him. We liked the results the first time we did it, so we've recorded with him every time since. So, Andy recorded it, and it sat on the shelf for a long time. In November of 2008, I shook the tree enough to get people interested, and I had Jeremy Scott, a mutual friend, mix it. There was no one to release the record, and then Michael Triplet of Fin Fang Foom suggested to Brian Lowit at [the D.C. label] Lovitt that we release it. We've known him for a while and we were friends with Engine Down, who was on the label.
WCP: How long has it been since you've toured?
DB: The first show we played since 2006 was on a small eight-day tour in March, mostly in the South.
WCP: Are you guys ready to hit the road again?
DB: It feels really good. The March tour was better than any of the last few tours we had done. It was better attended, interest seemed to be higher, and it just felt better. It was shocking and awesome.
WCP: Has the process of touring and being in a band changed a lot since you first started?
DB: Things have been simplified. Last time we were out, cell phones were a new thing. Having smart phones and laptops on the road has made transit and communication with venues easier than ever before. It really feels good just to get out and play, period.
WCP: Are you comfortable with the word post-rock as a descriptor of your music?
DB: I never use that word. I don't even really understand it. If you want to use it, that's fine. It's just redundant; we're not "after rock" because rock keeps happening. I don't really know how we would describe our music, I'm just a part of it.
WCP: What would you say your band is about—is there like a particular aesthetic goal or mission?
DB: No. When we started the band it was because we had come together playing music and collectively wanted to make whatever we naturally put out. We weren't trying to sound like anything in particular, though much of our sound can be attributed to our influences. We would get together and just create this sort of energy between us.
WCP: Does the subtlety of it ever get lost in rock clubs?
DB: No. I don't think anything we've done has gotten too quiet and gotten lost. There are quiet parts, but I'd say for the most part we bring the rock.