By Sean Moeller
Cobble together an image of Chris Farley telling David Spade that he's the one with the thin candy shell after a left-hand turn rolls an entire bag of M&Ms into his car's ventilation system and then hand mix it with an image of vein-popping Lewis Black doing an impression of The Hold Steady's Craig Finn or Dee Snider singing "We're Not Going To Take It," beet red and looking to kill or at least sounding like the look to kill. You're getting close to the methods of the controlled and combustible mayhem that Frog Eyes lead singer Carey Mercer grills with. Were he fireside making s' mores, he'd probably keep the marshmallow in the flames too long, leaving the white glob of sugar stemming with orange heat. He's a furnace who acts like the audience and every listener on the other side of his records was a dartboard and every single word he slings forward is a deadly projectile seeking a mushy bed of cork to rest in. This kind of music cannot come from anywhere but the heart of someone whose lungs act as machine gun fire and constructively rational irrationality, if that makes an inch of sense.
Carey Mercer is the Godfather or one of the godfathers of much of the indie rock and roll coming out of Canada and so few people know it. He once roomed with Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown vocalist Spencer Krug for a spell. (Mercer's complaints of Krug as a roommate are as follows: ate lots, stayed up late watching TV while I was trying to sleep, ordered in Dairy Queen burgers, cooked ground beef, played in our band, listened to Ligeti all the fucking time, rented "Titanic.") His band tours regularly with both of those bands, partly out of convenience because of a shared band member and partly because whether it's spoken or unspoken there's a debt of gratitude being paid to Mercer's gift of slippery wordplay, wildly entrancing jitteriness and more urgent, needle-ish songs - that just knock the piss out of themselves - than any one person should rightly possess. You know how guys like Oscar Robertson, Jesse Owens and Bob Feller never made much money when they were athletic heroes, but lesser heroes like Dwayne Wade, Maurice Greene and Brad Radke will live handsomely off of lesser talents many years later? That fate should never happen to Mercer, wife and drummer Melanie Campbell, sometime keyboardist Krug and bassist Michael Rak, who were visionaries before they knew it back six years ago when they released "The Bloody Hand," "Blue Pine," "The Golden River" and "Emboldened Navigator and the Seagull Dots" within a two-year period. These records pre-dated what came next, two years ago and especially on last year's ballyhooed "Apologies to the Queen Mary," Wolf Parade's debut full-length.
The truth is that Mercer doesn't hear the reference points and doesn't see the imprint or the impression left. He doesn't think there's any connection to what he does and did and what's going on with those Wolves and their parade. People can make all they want about similarities to the urgencies that carry over, but he'd set things straight in a hurry.
"Good for them," he says of the people who tie the bands at the ankles, like Siamese triplets. "They are wrong."
It's curt and probably called for, but it's interesting curtness that you always get out of Mercer. When he's at a microphone, no one throws a hissy fit like he does or makes it look as if it were the most soothing catharsis next to drunk dialing an ex, acupuncture or skydiving. He's a hissy fitter. And for all of the fits that have already lived, there are two waiting in the wings for their green lights. There are no blood pressure worries that we can gather and it's a shocker. He sings - belts is a better word - like a manic about to blow a fuse.
"I care about it, except for about one show a tour when I don't/can't," he said about the texture and the graphic quality his emotional singing takes on. "I feel horrible about it but sometimes I ask myself why I want to get up in front of people and "sing." Conversely, most nights -- even though I must admit to not always winning the audience's favor -- I feel wonderful to just hear it all clanging about."
He doesn't feel he ever needs to be worked up to write songs that leave blisters and scars and burn marks as if you'd just been in a bad tug of war accident. These songs of his - on the two newly re-released and expanded older records, 2004's "The Folded Palm," those on the soon-to-be-released EP "The Future Is Inter-Disciplinary Or Not At All" and the three new, unreleased Daytrotter session songs - are always fuming, but he never needs to actually have that feeling to create it. He can write the whiplash when he's happy and he can write the whiplash when he's other.
"I just work away everyday and they unfold," he said about the matter. "Being "worked up," to paraphrase Chuck Close, is for fucking posers."
Mercer will never be confused for a poser and his work deserves some version of the worship that comes to artists who labor to create a body of work that is personally descriptive, unmistakably identifiable as the work of no other and traffics a mood that's intellectually stimulating and jarring in the same measurement. This is a man who giggles like the late Farley out of the lights and away from the stage, but is as serious as a heart attack those other moments when he has a crowd before him. His banter at any given show comes off as some Tony Clifton and some Johnny Rotten, though he won't insult pregnant women, throw ice water on people and he's never a fucking prick like Rotten was/is. He's kind of a son of a bitch in the playfully unruly, abrasive sense that's comedic and entertaining. Following a recent show at a college campus in Iowa, Krug told him, on the backside of the stage, that his between song knock-about with the audience was much better than it was the night before in Fargo. Mercer asked, "Why? What did I saw last night?" To which Krug replied, "You just told them to fuck off."
It sounds like something he'd say. Over a year ago the band played on a Spanish television show, on a set that was a functioning bar, and there was a similar conclusion. As Mercer tells it, "How the fuck could a TV experience ever be good? I threw down my guitar and told everyone to go fuck themselves. I am normally polite."
We need more of this. We need more guys like Mercer, sweet gals like Campbell and great people like Rak and Krug. They've played as Dan Bejar's Destroyer backing band in the recent past ("There is no notoriety. My only regret is in not doing a better job in turning Dan's masterful songs into something close to gold. I think we did better with the Swan Lake though. I did get an e-mail from a psycho that read, "Stop poisoning destroyer," said Mercer of the experience). But we especially need Mercer, a guy who makes us feel anxious and unstable - kind of unsafe, who tells us to fuck ourselves (he's got to be right some of the time when he suggests it), who snarkily says that his ideal form of relaxation is "lying on my golden couch on the porch while the sun sets" and who offers that the Swan Lake collaboration between he, Bejar and Krug (out this fall on Jagjaguwar) is going to sound like "wrestling with a dying boar in a tar pit."
It's about what you'd expect as an everyday occurrence from this son of a gun. The boar stands no chance.