story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: November 21, 2007
w/ Ideal Cleaners, The Monroes
Nov. 24, 9 p.m.
729 No. 14th St.
of Lincoln band Mercy Rule and its rebirth as Domestica is a story
of two people growing up, raising a family and realizing what's
most important in their lives.
a little history lesson:
1991, Mercy Rule was one of a handful of rock bands that defined
Omaha and Lincoln's first Golden Age of indie music, an era that
thrived throughout the last half of the '90s. The band has been
cited by almost every Saddle Creek Records artist as an influence
and an inspiration, proof that a band from the Midwest could write
and record music that was uniquely their own, and perform it all
over the country.
The trio of
guitarist Jon Taylor, his wife, bassist/vocalist Heidi Ore, and
drummer Ron Albertson, exploded out of the gates with their debut
album, God Protects Fools, released by Lincoln's Caulfield
Records in 1993. The album, along with the band's constant touring,
caught the attention of the suits at Relativity Records, home
to such artists as Toto, Stevie Via, Everlasting Colorfast and
Joe Satriani. Relativity signed the band to a three-album deal
and quickly re-mastered and re-released God
along with their follow-up full-length, Providence.
behind their music was a combination of Taylor's turn-it-to-11
guitar angst, Albertson's hard-fisted drumming style, and Ore's
throaty, girlie voice singing lyrics that were personal but not
necessarily confessional. Mercy Rule songs were anthems to individuality,
love songs about hope that any schmuck could understand and identify
with, but without a sticky layer of sentimentality or treacle.
And they rocked.
a big label record deal, the band seemed to be headed for the big
time when Relatively suddenly decided to change course -- switching
its primary format from rock to urban -- and immediately dropping
punk bands from its roster. The bottom fell out just as Mercy Rule
was about to enter the studio with then-unknown producer Lou Giordano,
who would go on to produce hit records by the Goo Goo Dolls and
Paul Westerberg. Despite the label politics, the recording sessions
took place and the result was 1997's Flat Black Chronicles,
released by Mercy Rule's old pals at Caulfield Records. The album
was a masterwork that stands as an icon to mid-'90s Nebraska music.
It certainly was as good as or better than anything released nationally
at the time.
despite their recording triumph, the band's priorities began to
shift. Ore gave birth to the couple's first daughter, Zoie, the
same year that Flat Black Chronicles was released. In fact,
Ore had recorded most of the CD while 8-months pregnant. After Zoie's
birth, the band tried to stay together, even bringing the baby and
a nanny along on the road. But without a new record to support and
with their second daughter, Kira, on the way, the band decided to
hang it up. They performed their final show on Halloween 1999. The
following April, Albertson moved to New York City to pursue an art
career and to form the punk band Liars with fellow Lincoln expatriate
Pat Noecker (formerly of Opium Taylor).
was ready to put it down and leave it be," Ore said from the
dining room table in the couple's gorgeous 1910-era Lincoln home
shortly after serving a delicious dinner of roast chicken and mashed
potatoes. Taylor and Domestica drummer Boz Hicks leaned back in
their chairs while Zoie and Kira watched TV in the living room.
It doesn't get any more domestic than that.
worked full time and still do," Ore continued. "When you
have one child, you think you're a good enough parent to add one
more on top of it. It's not that easy. I didn't have room for music.
Parenting and working were about all I could wrap my brain around."
who had worked at Dietz Music, got a new job building pipe organs
in 2000. He, too, was ready for a change. "It was fun not to
go and play on the weekends," he said. "It was a blast
just to be with the girls; it was a fun time that replaced being
in a band."
couple said they all but turned music off in their lives. "The
focus changed," Taylor said. "It wasn't something we had
time for. We hardly went to any shows. We just dropped out."
But Taylor never
completely left music behind. In 2002, he briefly joined Lincoln
band Drive-By Honky and also contributed to the Floating Opera ensemble.
"After Drive-By Honky ended, I continued to write songs,"
Taylor said, adding that he had bought a copy of Apple's GarageBand
software, which allowed him to keep track of his music. "I
could see these songs piling up."
Mercy Rule circa 1994
you have one child, you think you're a good enough parent
to add one more on top of it. It's not that easy. I didn't
have room for music. Parenting and working were about all
I could wrap my brain around."
Domestica circa 2007.
dawned on me -- I missed those friends, those people in the
bands and the kind of fun we had, all being in the same boat
long cold winter away from music ended in April 2005. Speed! Nebraska
Records released a split single that featured an unreleased Mercy
Rule track alongside an unreleased song by Frontier Trust -- another
seminal '90s-era Nebraska punk band. To commemorate the release,
label executive and former Frontier Trust frontman Gary Dead Davis
asked Ore and Taylor to play a one-off show at The Brothers Lounge,
with Davis and guitarist Bill Thornton performing as half of Frontier
Trust. "We couldn't say no," Ore said. The evening was
a sentimental triumph, and listeners were left wondering, "What
that night at The Brothers reminded him of what he missed most about
being in a band. "Once we did that show with Gary and all those
band people, it dawned on me -- I missed those friends, those people
in the bands and the kind of fun we had, all being in the same boat
together. These days, it's not about making records and playing
shows, it's just fun being with Boz, Heidi and Gary and all the
people in bands. It's such a neat group of people."
he and Ore realized that Zoie and Kira were now at an age where
they no longer needed to find a babysitter for every band practice.
"The family dynamic had changed, and it gave mom and dad a
little more freedom to do things with our time," he said. "And
I thought it would be interesting to the girls to have that kind
of activity in the house -- band practices, making records, going
to a studio. They were old enough to participate in all of that."
So they decided
to try it again, and even agreed to play a show the following August.
The only thing missing was a drummer.
Boz in the cereal aisle of Russ' B & R," Ore said.
At the time,
Hicks was playing drums in three bands -- Her Flyaway Manner, Hem
from the Hurricane and The Golden Age. He recalled their first band
meeting held among the cornflake boxes. "They said, 'I know
you're busy, but would you be interested in playing with us?' Having
seen Mercy Rule, I was enamored, and said, 'Of course. I don't care
how little time I have, I'll make more.'"
But Hicks also
was aware of what a dynamic force Ron Albertson had been on drums,
and how it would be difficult if not impossible to take his place.
"Ron was the essence of a pure drummer," he said. "Not
too many people have what he has. I clammed up at those first practices.
My wrists were tight. I couldn't get loose enough to even play.
I would go home afterward and think, 'I don't know if I can even
Ore and Taylor,
however, welcomed the change. "I had never played with any
drummer other than Ron," Ore said. "The beauty of Ron
was that you could hide behind him; he could make you sound good
no matter what you did. Both Jon and I had to learn to play better."
interesting to see what Boz came up with," Taylor said. "Domestica
with someone like Ron wouldn't have been as exciting because Boz
is more unpredictable. That's how your band can sound fresh even
though you're playing the same chords you played 10 years ago."
said it's taken a year for the band to develop its own identity.
"Our songs are written for Heidi, Boz and Jon," he said.
"It's not written from the Mercy Rule template at all."
Black Chronicles, Jon's guitar was very riff driven, and we
placed the vocals on top," Ore said. "This band is easing
up on the riffs and the vocals are becoming more prominent. Jon
even learned how to sing."
aside, Domestica is a natural evolution, picking up where Mercy
Rule left off so many years ago. The band's just-released 5-song
debut EP on Speed! Nebraska Records -- recorded over three days
at ARC Studio by Ian Aeillo -- takes their power punk to the next
level thanks to a new appreciation of dynamics. Songs like infectious
rocker "Complicated," rise and fall on the tide of Taylor's
seething guitar, pulling back to reveal Ore at her most vocally
vulnerable, only to pound right back in a fog of rolling feedback.
And though Mercy Rule had its share of hook-heavy rockers (Who remembers
the sexy, swinging crowd favorite "Summer" off their first
album?), it never recorded anything quite as poppy as the laid-back
"Superman," or the howling "Generator."
continue to reflect the inner workings of her and Taylor's relationship,
but with the added depth that comes from raising a family together.
"Everything we play has an emotional connection to it,"
EP opener "Word
4 It," for example, is a blazing life lesson for Ore's daughters
(specifically Zoie), where Ore reflects on her constant battle with
her patience, ending the argument with the line, "You can question
anyone but me."
satisfying to sing these songs loudly, especially songs that I have
a connection with as a parent," she said.
The songs' messages
perfectly underscore the band's name -- a name that just happens
to also be the title of Cursive's most famous album. "If I
was aware of the Cursive record, I had long ago forgotten it,"
Taylor said. "What else could a couple married for 22 years
with two kids name their band?"
Saturday night's show at Slowdown is the first that Domestica set
up themselves. "All the others were accepting invitations to
play," he said. "In Mercy Rule, the goal was to get a
booking agent to tour the country. This band doesn't have any of
those goals, but it'll be fun to see what opportunities can arise."
To this day,
they only practice once a week -- on Sunday afternoons. "Boz
lives in Omaha and that's all that's necessary right now,"
to be into this thing that you and your people create out of thin
air," he said. "You get to decide how much of a priority
that obsession gets to be. I think about music and the band all
the time, but it's not what my life is centered on, not as much
as it was with Mercy Rule. That band got to a level where we devoted
every brain cell to it. This band is not the center of our existence,
but it is something that is fun enough to merit one practice a week."
Published in The Omaha Reader Nov 22, 2007.
Copyright © 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
think about music and the band all the time, but it's not
what my life is centered on, not as much as it was with Mercy