Hiss & Chambers’s 2007 EP, “Making Eyes,” sends me to a happy place reserved for ’80s bands like The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen. It’s hard to find a better Maine-made alternative rock song out there than “Decay.”
They followed it with two maxi-singles and a remix EP, all within 2007. But then it seemed like Hiss & Chambers disappeared.
Fast-forward to now when, seemingly out of nowhere, came the news of their Friday night show at Portland House of Music. I reached out to drummer Ryan Dolan to find out what the deal was.
“We never really broke up, we just got busy with 40ish-year-old life stuff. We had babies, finished degrees, etc.,” he told me.
Along with Dolan, Hiss & Chambers is singer-guitarist Shawn Saindon, guitarist J Hjort and bassist/backing vocalist Ian Riley.
This past spring, the band got a chance to record their song “Devil Having Fun” at Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Boston and that got them jazzed up to do a show.
“Unless you’re seeing exceeding professional success, there are times in life when you have to put the music thing down for a bit,” said Dolan.
But he also said that, when you come out the other end and get some time to pick it back up and everyone is in that mode too, you should jump on the chance to have some fun – hence, this show.
“The great thing about music in that head space is that it all happens so earnestly. There’s no career aspirations clouding your judgment,” he said.
According to Dolan, the show is just a 40-something musician’s version of a book club, basketball team or knitting circle.
Hiss & Chambers with John Hughes Radio and Tiger Bomb
9 p.m. Friday. Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, $8 in advance, $10 at the door, 21-plus. portlandhouseofmusic.com
Can you imagine meeting the love of your life, marrying her and then, two years later, losing her to a fatal car accident?
Me neither. But that’s exactly what happened to Tim Mercer.
He met Casey Hill in 2006. They were engaged in 2008 and married in 2009. On June 11 of 2011, Casey Mercer was in a car accident. After spending a few days in a coma, she died on June 16, just shy of her 29th birthday.
On Saturday, Mercer, a longtime musician, is holding a release party for his album “Casey” at Empire in Portland. He spoke last week about how it came to be. When the doctors told Mercer that Casey wasn’t going to survive, they let him sleep with her in her hospital bed, and that’s when the power of music took over.
“Words just kind of flew at me. Immediately, I grabbed a buddy of mine who I was in a band with and we went down to the hospital lobby, and there was a piano down there, and we started working it out,” he said. “I blazed a song out on a piece of paper. It was like somebody was talking to me. Then I re-looked at the words, and there was no mistaking it was clearly her talking to me, just based on the words. Whether that’s my subconscious or whether it actually happened, I guess that’s up to whomever.”
A week after taking Casey off of life support, Mercer wrote the song “Afterlife” with the chorus: “I walk between the tear drops, I live for the both of us/With what little piece of mind I have, I hope you’re heart’s alright/All because of yours and all because of mine.” The mostly acoustic and tranquil song has a lightness to it, despite the obvious heartbreak.
The rest of the songs on the “Casey” album were formed over the next few years. Mercer said there were times he’d go six months without writing anything and then another song would come to him. He told me he can play the songs just fine because the music acts as a distraction, but typing or speaking the lyrics is difficult.
“A lot of times I tear up, and I can’t do it,” he said. “When it’s just words, then the reality kicks in, and emotion gets the best of me.”
Despite going to – and, in many ways, still being in – a very dark place, Mercer said that the “Casey” album is ultimately about true love and connection.
The song “Get On Up” is, according to Mercer, the most depressing song on the whole record, but it’s also super catchy. The lyrics speak of being paralyzed by depression and grief but also picking yourself up off the ground: “What’s my role in the bittersweet kind of life?/As your chauffeur we’re going to live a little life now, and it’s time to go.”
The foot stomp-inducing track shows that Mercer’s got sturdy pipes and knows how to write a radio-friendly pop song. I would not be the least bit surprised if, at some point, Mercer hears from some big country star wanting to record it.
You don’t need to know the backstory to appreciate that “Casey” is a special record; you just need to open year ears and your heart to pick up on the thread and vibe of it. It’s also a very well produced album that goes down easy.
There’s also a gorgeous slow rocker called “Silhouettes” that Mercer recorded as a duet with singer Sara Hallie Richardson. This one might catch you off guard and leave your eyes welled up.
“This record is more about lifting people up into the light than it is about resigning to a life of darkness,” said Mercer. “You can take the boy out of rock and roll, but you can’t take the rock and roll out of the boy. There are some rockers on this bad boy.”
Tim Mercer, who is as open and honest as they come, explained how grief is a complicated thing.
“Grief is like having a hundred gallons of water, and the way you can process it is through this tiny little funnel, and there’s only so much that you’re gonna be able to take in,” he said. “I think that’s what’s happening with me. I think I’m still in shock, and I don’t know if I’m ever gonna actually completely accept it.”
He also said he doesn’t like to be told that he needs to “move on.”
“I’m moving forward,” he said.
Hear for yourself what his moving forward sounds like at Empire on Saturday night. “Casey” will be available for sale at the show and copies are also at local Bull Moose stores.
Tim Mercer CD Release Show with Ben Kilcollins, The Vargas Twins and Love to Burn
9 p.m. Saturday. Empire, 575 Congress St., Portland, $7, 21-plus. portlandempire.com