who loved your band in July simply werent there in December.
And we knew it would happen again."
what we sound like when were having a good set, when Im
behind the drums and everythings perfect and were
a lot of stereotypes that go along with having a home, a family
and settling down," Taylor says. "To me, settling
down means having a life, friends, a band and equipment in the
basement. Its easy."
last time I interviewed Mercy Rule was 1993. A photographer and I
hitched a ride with the band to Des Moines to see what life was like
on the road with a punk band. We suffered food poisoning, urination
depravation and mechanical breakdowns that resulted in a sleepless
night at a Flying J truck stop.
My how things have
changed. This time, the interview took place on a warm, spring evening near the horse-shoe
pit outside the Ore-Taylor home in southwest Lincoln. The band gathered around a
tractor-tire sandbox, shooing away mosquitoes and comparing giant-spider stories. Inside
the tire, an 18-month-old squealed and threw sand at a googly-eyed, grinning drummer.
Its hardly a slice of the stereotypical rock-and-roll lifestyle.
But then again, this isnt a story about a band on the rise,
just getting ready to sign its first record contract. Its about three people who
have seen what ugliness lies beneath the music industry, and despite it all, have kept the
band going, for better or worse. Mercy Rules story could act as a primer for anyone
who dreams of making it big in the music world and are unaware of the sharks that lurk
just below the waters.
But first, some history for those who have never heard of what many
believe is the best indie punk rock band in the Midwest. Mercy Rule has been setting
stages on fire since 1991, when guitarist Jon Taylor, 33, his wife, Vocalist Heidi Ore,
34, and Drummer Ron Albertson, 36, hung together after their former band, 13 Nightmares,
hit the skids.
Their first album, God Protects Fools,
as well as a hot performance at New Yorks CBGBs, caught
the eye of industry big-wigs. The next thing they knew, Mercy Rule
was being offered a deal by Relativity Records, home of such great
where-are-they-now acts as Toto, Stevie Via, Everlasting Colorfast
and Joe Satriani. Relativity rereleased God... and a couple
years later, released the bands follow-up, Providence,
a CD loaded with heavy punk-rock anthems that highlighted Ores
angry, angelic voice, Taylors relentless guitars and Albertsons
thick slabs of drum. The critics when wild.
But shortly after Providence, it became painfully
obvious that the band was about to get dropped by the label, Taylor
"As we were getting ready to make our second record, the label
decided to drop all its rock bands because they thought they could make more money with
rap acts," he says. "We kind of knew it was going to happen. We werent
upset. There was always this flickering light at the end of the tunnel that said,
Keep going, go after it."
The band already had lined up the then-unknown
Lou Giordano to produce their next album. Months after the agreement,
Giordano became an industry darling for producing the Goo Goo Dolls
breakthrough CD, A Boy Name Goo, and his work with Paul Westerberg.
Now without a record contract, Mercy Rule could no longer afford
Giordanos services. The producer, however, loved the demos hed heard and
recorded a demo for the band anyway as part of a deal to find new talent for MCA
Records Fort Apache label. MCA liked the demo enough to pay for the entire project.
"The hidden agenda was that MCA wanted to sever ties with Fort
Apache and couldnt take on any more projects," Albertson says. And sure enough,
at the beginning of 1997, MCA notified the band that they were turning down the CD.
Taylor said his lawyer and manager spent most of 97 shopping
the finished CD around to other labels, hoping they could find one that would buy the
project from MCA. They didnt have much luck.
"We werent that anxious to sign another contract
anyway," Taylor said. "Wed already signed two contracts and realized what
we were doing wasnt the reason we were being dropped. It was because of the turnover
at the label. The people who loved your band in July simply werent there in
December. And we knew it would happen again."
What the band really wanted was to release the CD themselves. MCA,
in what can only be called an act of corporate charity, let the band have the CD if they
paid back a $10,000 advance. Though the money already was spent, MCA allowed Mercy Rule to
make payments on the debt. "They could have said, We want $70,000 (the
cost of producing the CD) and it could have sat on a shelf forever. We were very
The band turned to Lincoln music mogul, Bernie McGinn, owner of
Caulfield Records, who put the CD out on his label. Caulfield has become nationally known
for putting out quality indie acts.
Without a doubt, The Flat Black Chronicles,
is the bands most polished, pop-sensitive, and listener friendly
CD. It chronicles a bands efforts to stay together in the
face of music industry barricades. "Theres songs about
radio, getting dropped, Bob Stinson, good bands, crappy bands. Its
a tour diary," Taylor says. "It sounds shallow, but you
cant be in a band and not write about what its like
to be in a band."
Mercy Rule credits Giordano for the recordings true-to-life
sound and pop sensibility. "He really pushed us," Albertson says. "And
its our best CD. Its what we sound like when were having a good set,
when Im behind the drums and everythings perfect and were nailing
But in addition to the new CD, the band also welcomed a new defacto
member, Zoie Taylore. Thats right, the names a combination of Heidi and
Jons last names. "You can put anything you want on a birth certificate,"
Taylor says, "even if you want to name your kid Can of Peas."
Zoie was the product of perfect planning, the couple say. After
Relativity dropped the band, they realized it would take a year or two to get another
deal. "At the beginning of 96, I said to Heidi, Lets have a baby
now. because we knew it would be about a year before we would sign another deal.
Nine months later, we had a baby, and at the same time, we finished the deal with
In fact, Ore recorded most of the CD 8-months pregnant. When just
two weeks from her due date, she was putting down tracks at Smart Studio in Madison, Wis.,
some seven hours away from her doctor.
With Zoie, life on the road would never be the same. Last November,
Mercy Rule played 10 shows in 12 days on the East Coast. Along for the ride in the same
van that made the perilous trip to Des Moines five years earlier were the band, the
bands equipment, the sound guy, Zoie, and a friend whos job was to watch Zoie
"We had done weekend trips to see how Zoie would take it and
she did great," Taylor says. "We wanted to make sure she was having a good
"They all loved the New York trip," Ore says, "I
personally almost died. I was staying up until 3 a.m., then getting up at 7 a.m. with
Zoie. I was a little too freaked out about watching her and never got much sleep. I ended
up passing out in New York from exhaustion."
Taylor says that the only time they questioned if they were doing
the right thing was in Cincinnati, when the band didnt have a place to stay. Zoie
fell asleep in the van and "we played just a sidewalk away, we were parked right in
front," he said. "Heidi and I just stared at each other and said, What are
we doing? Is this parenting? Is this what youre suppose to do? Weve got
a baby sleeping in a stinky band van. There has to be something wrong. But, heres
this kid, surrounded by people who love her, and were only seconds away. You have to
say to yourself, Its just like camping."
The band says they never considered breaking up because of the baby.
"There are a lot of stereotypes that go along with having a home, a family and
settling down," Taylor says. "To me, settling down means having a life, friends,
a band and equipment in the basement. Its easy. If it got complicated or if Zoie
didnt benefit from it, we wouldnt do it."
The ease will be put to a test this summer, when the band tours the
great Midwest, including Duluth, parts of Colorado, Chicago, St. Louis, Lawrence and
Champaign, Ill. "Our strategy is to build on our strengths, which is in the
Midwest," Ore says. "Were not in a position to take over Boca Raton, Fla.,
but we can be happy focusing on places we know.
"Our goal has always been to play music and be happy doing
it," Ore says. "I dont care about the money or fame. Its amazing to
be with people you like and play music you like for this length of time."
"I was misguided when we started out," Taylor says.
"I thought if you had a couple people like your song, it could be a hit. Thats
not how it works at all. When you see the reality behind the dreams, you realize it may be
a silly dream, especially with the amount of luck and money it takes."
"Sure, everyone wants to be rich and famous," Albertson
"Weve already had a microcosm of the life of musicians in
popular culture. We signed with record labels; weve been wined and dined by people
in New York. Weve done every stereotypical thing that kids who want to be in rock
bands hear about. Weve seen what its all about, and when you get down to it,
its still a 9-to-5 job. Like anything else, it has its perks, its minuses and
"Weve been fortunate that were one of the few bands
around here that actually got to experience it. So regardless of what has and hasnt
happened, weve had a taste of everything that this lifestyle has to offer, and
its gratifying to be able to say you have been -- and are -- a part of it."
Originally printed in The Reader May 14, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Photo by Mike Malone, Copyright © 1998 Mike
Malone. Used by permission.