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Domestica: Domestic Bliss

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: November 21, 2007

w/ Ideal Cleaners, The Monroes
Nov. 24, 9 p.m.
729 No. 14th St.

The demise 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.

But first, a little history lesson:

Formed in 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… in 1994, along with their follow-up full-length, Providence.

The magic 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.




With 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.

But 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).

"I 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.

"I 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."

Taylor, 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."

The 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

"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."













Domestica circa 2007.



"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."

Their 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 if?"

Taylor said 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."

Taylor said 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.

"We found 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 do this.'"

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."

"It was 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."



Taylor 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."

"With Flat 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."

Those differences 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."

Ore's lyrics 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," Ore said.

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."

"It's very 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?"

Taylor said 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," Taylor said.

"It's fun 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."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Nov 22, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

















"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."