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After prolonged negotiations with big-time record companies -- and taking time off to have a baby -- Lincoln’s Mercy Rule is back, a little older, a little wiser, and with the best CD of the band’s storied career. Mercy.jpg (16755 bytes)

Mercy Rule’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Lessons

by Tim McMahan
























  "The people who loved your band in July simply weren’t there in December. And we knew it would happen again."  

















mercycov.gif (23117 bytes)


  "It’s what we sound like when we’re having a good set, when I’m behind the drums and everything’s perfect and we’re nailing stuff."  

















  "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. It’s easy."  
















The 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. It’s hardly a slice of the stereotypical rock-and-roll lifestyle.

But then again, this isn’t a story about a band on the rise, just getting ready to sign its first record contract. It’s 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 Rule’s 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 York’s CBGB’s, 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 band’s follow-up, Providence, a CD loaded with heavy punk-rock anthems that highlighted Ore’s angry, angelic voice, Taylor’s relentless guitars and Albertson’s 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 says.

"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 weren’t 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 Giordano’s services. The producer, however, loved the demos he’d 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t have much luck.

"We weren’t that anxious to sign another contract anyway," Taylor said. "We’d already signed two contracts and realized what we were doing wasn’t the reason we were being dropped. It was because of the turnover at the label. The people who loved your band in July simply weren’t 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 lucky."

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 band’s most polished, pop-sensitive, and listener friendly CD. It chronicles a band’s efforts to stay together in the face of music industry barricades. "There’s songs about radio, getting dropped, Bob Stinson, good bands, crappy bands. It’s a tour diary," Taylor says. "It sounds shallow, but you can’t be in a band and not write about what it’s like to be in a band."

Mercy Rule credits Giordano for the recording’s true-to-life sound and pop sensibility. "He really pushed us," Albertson says. "And it’s our best CD. It’s what we sound like when we’re having a good set, when I’m behind the drums and everything’s perfect and we’re nailing stuff."

But in addition to the new CD, the band also welcomed a new defacto member, Zoie Taylore. That’s right, the name’s a combination of Heidi and Jon’s 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, ‘Let’s 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 MCA."

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 band’s equipment, the sound guy, Zoie, and a friend who’s job was to watch Zoie during shows.

"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 time."

"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 didn’t 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 you’re suppose to do? We’ve got a baby sleeping in a stinky band van. There has to be something wrong. But, here’s this kid, surrounded by people who love her, and we’re only seconds away. You have to say to yourself, ‘It’s 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. It’s easy. If it got complicated or if Zoie didn’t benefit from it, we wouldn’t 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. "We’re 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 don’t care about the money or fame. It’s 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. That’s 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 says.

"We’ve already had a microcosm of the life of musicians in popular culture. We signed with record labels; we’ve been wined and dined by people in New York. We’ve done every stereotypical thing that kids who want to be in rock bands hear about. We’ve seen what it’s all about, and when you get down to it, it’s still a 9-to-5 job. Like anything else, it has its perks, its minuses and pluses.

"We’ve been fortunate that we’re one of the few bands around here that actually got to experience it. So regardless of what has and hasn’t happened, we’ve had a taste of everything that this lifestyle has to offer, and it’s gratifying to be able to say you have been -- and are -- a part of it."

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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.