Myths and legends are often rooted in truth, or at least some version of it. When Chase Park Transduction co-owner, producer and engineer David Barbe asks why the music of his heavily mythologized post-punk trio Mercyland from the mid to late ’80s went unavailable for decades. decades, he doesn’t miss a beat when he explains Why.
“For so long I’ve heard people’s fuzzy, gold-tinged memories of Mercyland that the legend has become too good,” Barbe says. “When I was a kid, I remember my grandfather telling me great stories about growing up in logging camps in Wisconsin in the early 1900s. this is true, but when something is only anecdotally available, it becomes larger than life.
“It’s like Pecos Bill hitting a tornado and disappearing into the sky,” he adds. “I loved Mercyland, so of course we can be someone’s Pecos Bill.”
All of that will change, however, on Friday, September 16, when Propeller Sound Recordings releases We never lost a single gamethe second and final proper album from the long-lost Mercyland, recorded in 1990. The album’s arrival marks the first step in a campaign to preserve and breathe new life into Mercyland’s music, presenting as it was meant to be heard – in reverse chronological order.
We never lost a single game was recorded towards the end of Mercyland’s first five-year run, starting in 1985. Vocalist and bassist Barbe, along with the band’s original drummer Harry Joiner and guitarist Mark Craig, filled clubs from the start. For their third show, they shared the stage with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at UGA.
Over the years the band went through a turnover, Barbe later enlisting drummer Joel Suttles and guitarist Andrew Donaldson. By 1990, the group existed in its own self-taught way. After getting close but never getting a record deal, they realized Mercyland was in a state of perpetual near miss. Barbe and his wife had their first child, life was moving on and it was time for the band to break up.
For six months, Mercyland continued to play shows, but only doing what they really wanted to do: playing clubs in New York, shows at the beach or wherever that were fun and well attended, and shows universities where they were well paid. No more banging your head against the wall, routing tour dates and trying to build an audience by playing weeknights in small towns along the way to bigger places.
“There’s a nice line in the Minutemen’s ‘Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing’,” Barbe says. “‘If we heard mortar shells, we would swear more in our songs and reduce the guitar solos.'”
The message being, if the world is coming to an end, we let loose. It is the spirit that is at the heart of We never lost a single game. “We drop everything,” Barbe says.
Along the way, the band further honed their melodic hardcore and Southern alt-rock songwriting, evoking allusions to everything from Mission of Burma and the Buzzcocks to Minutemen and Hüsker Dü.
If songs such as “Guessing Time Is Gone”, “Big Wind From E. Jesus” and “White Cross” by No feet on the hood wind up the meter on the fun and fast-paced energy of Mercyland, We never lost a single game simply and powerfully delivers a deluge of songs honed by Barbe’s infectious vocals and fast beats.
In 1991, four songs – “Minutes And Parts”, “Tough Ass Knives”, “John D. White” and “Freight Truck” – appeared on the Enter the cunning bear 7 inches (planned obsolescence). In 1994, all Mercyland songs were collected for the Spill Compilation CD (Rykodisc), after Barbe joined drummer Malcolm Travis and former Hüsker Dü vocalist and guitarist Bob Mold in the band Sugar.
Here, the album’s nine songs are stripped of their original stark, clean hue. The reissue of We never lost a single game offers a slightly less polished take, as evidenced by the first three singles to surface, “Freight Truck”, “Uncle” and “Service Economy”. Each comes across as full-bodied, more direct and stronger than ever.
Since 1997, Beard, Andy Baker and Andy LeMaster have run Chase Park Transduction, where he has produced, engineered and performed on countless hundreds of albums. After working on We never lost a single game nine songs, he handed over mastering duties to Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound in Nashville. Calbi mastered Mercyland’s 1987 debut single, “Black On Black On Black b/w Ciderhead”.
Suttles and Donaldson will round out the band for two upcoming album release shows at 529 in Atlanta on Friday, September 16 and 40 Watt Club in Athens on Saturday, September 17.
“If Mark or Harry showed up and wanted to play a few songs, I would be delighted and they would be welcome,” Barbe said.
In Spring, Mercyland’s debut album, No feet on the hood (Tupelo Recording Company) will receive a proper reissue, mastered by Joe Lambert at Joe Lambert Mastering in Cortlandt, NY. Over the years, Lambert has mastered dozens of Barbe productions, including The Glands’ I can see my house from here box set, Deerhunter’s Summary of Halcyon and Barbe’s solo album in 2017 10th of the seas.
A third version of Mercyland will be mastered by Jason NeSmith at Chase Park Transduction, collecting songs from various singles and time-stamping songs written by both band line-ups.
“What Mercyland needed in his twenties was for David Barbe in his fifties to come and knock this concept out of our heads and make it sound like it’s supposed to sound,” Barbe says. “This is who we are, and this is what it looks like.”
WHO: Mercyland, Elf Power, Nuclear Tourism
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 17, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Club 40 watts
HOW MANY: $15 (advanced), $20
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