On June 30th, 2023, Pop-Punk band Mercy Music are releasing their album What You Stand To Lose via Double Helix Records/SBÄM Records. It will arrive in a variety of formats including several vinyl variants. They’ll also be playing on the West Coast to celebrate the release, having been on the road this year already. Mercy Music fulfilled their wish of working with Bill Stevenson (The Descendents, ALL, Black Flag) at The Blasting Room in Colorado to record the new album and deliver some of the most direct and engaging songwriting they’ve released so far.
Mercy Music is made up of songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Brendan Scholz, bassist Jarred Cooper, and drummer Rye Martin. Peeling back the layers of major life changes is part of the overriding idea behind What You Stand To Lose, and it’s something that all the band members, but particularly Scholz can relate to. Each song takes a different journey into in-between states, looking at elements from the past that are falling apart, and looking towards a future where there might be a glimmer of hope. Some of that hope is found in the driving, high-energy approach to sound, but also in humorist twists that remind you of common human sufferings, small and large. I spoke with Brendan Scholz about writing and recording this most honest album yet.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I’ve been following your pretty extreme touring schedule lately, too. Have you been playing these songs?
Brendan Scholz: Yes, we played the two singles that we’ve had out, “Suddenly” and “Love You/Need You”. We’re going to do some West Coast record release shows the week of, too, and incorporate some more songs into those sets since there will be more time.
HMS: I know this record deals with some heavy themes at times, but I also think it brings some humor and perspective to things.
BS: It’s a serious and a sad record, but I also think there’s an echo of hope. There are positives to be found, too. We finished recording the record over a year ago and it’s been the hardest and best year of my life in recent memory.
HMS: The album is so high-energy that it makes me feel like there’s a certain energy that comes from being direct about things with audiences and fans, and with yourself, probably. That can kind of turn the tables on difficult things.
BS: There are touches of sarcasm, too, in some of the songs, saying “Fuck my life” for a minute, but then, “This is it, do the best you can with it.”
HMS: It’s a fine line between criticizing oneself and hating oneself, and I don’t think these songs go into self-hatred. It’s more like a little bit of critique.
BS: With this record, I think there’s a sense in which I know myself as a person, and I know my shortcomings, and I know the amount of work I’ve put in, particularly in the last five years, to being a better human being, in general. I think there are lyrics that touch on that. I’m not so much blaming myself for everything, but saying that it’s a two-way street. It takes time. It’s an uphill battle every day. I’m not my biggest fan, but it’s a work-in-progress, always.
HMS: It may be that a bit of the positivity here is quite an achievement, since that can be hard to come by.
BS: It’s easy to be the victim, so in the lyrics, I own up to my own bullshit, too, as well as noticing that I’m walking in the right direction.
HMS: Are you someone who’s always writing, or did you set out to write an album?
BS: It’s always in my head, and always my goal, to do an album, but there’s been a huge shift in the industry more towards singles. That has benefits, too. You can focus on things without worrying about quantity over quality, but I can honestly say that every song that I work on is one that I make the best that it can be. They all get the same treatment. Not every song is going to be “the song”, but I put in the effort as if it were. I know guys who say that they come to the table with like 60 songs and narrow it down. But I have such a high bar for myself before I even bring a song to a rehearsal that I don’t do that. I probably shut myself down 30 times over before I bring things.
With this record, it started with the process of creating a record as a goal, but right now, I’m working more on a song-by-song basis as the focal point and seeing how it goes. It’s nice that creating singles is more acceptable now.
HMS: Given that your songs are on the shorter side, and high-energy, I feel like you do really have to focus on how the songs are built because there’s no room to meander getting to your point. It has to immediately get the audience.
BS: I don’t think anyone has the attention span for it anymore, unless you’re a band that already has a large following. I’m grateful for everything that we have, as a band, but there is that sense that if you can’t say it in three minutes, maybe you can’t say it. I’m always at war with myself over that, since I like songs that are over three minutes. I want to get to the point as quickly as possible while still making sure that it’s fun for us as a band.
We have a bunch of “quirky” things in every song, though, which makes it more fun for us. I have a hard time repeating things several times, so every verse and chorus is slightly different. It keeps my attention span and it’s something I find joy in. As far as Pop/Rock music, it’s always seemed like the mark to hit.
HMS: It’s interesting that this album was thought of as a whole, too, because I think there are commonalities among the songs as they were written during a similar time period, and then there was the unifying experience of going into the studio with Bill Stevenson and recording with him. Those two things do bring a sense of unity to this group of songs. Even if people hear them as singles, you’re aware of the links there.
BS: I still think that’s very important, even as a listener. I still want that moment that encapsulates everything. With Bill Stevenson, I said, “Give me a time that works for you.” And it lined up this time. We did it in ten days. It was good to go back and work with Bill. I had to prove that I was not that idiot kid anymore.
HMS: I saw a reference to that! I wondered what the story was there. Was that a ghost of the past to dispel?
BS: When you’re 19, you think you’re the greatest thing in the world and you can’t do anything wrong. It was a real humbling experience the first time. [Laughs] I’ve been trying to work with Bill since the last record and I’m glad it worked out this time.
HMS: Are there things about his magic touch that you can articulate?
BS: I think with Bill, he has childhood hero status as a writer. The way that he writes had a profound effect on me. It has affected me since I first heard Descendants and ALL. Naturally, The Blasting Room sounds pretty fucking flawless and you expect that doing a record there because Bill is that way. We made sure that we were as good as we could be. We didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. We take pride in being good musicians who work hard. Bill always will be in my head so it’s an amazing thing for him to like anything that I write, and I’m grateful.
HMS: I think there’s a real crispness in the Production that brings more nuance out in the vocals and that’s really powerful.
BS: I think they really honed-in on the vocals. I hate hearing my voice [Laughs] but that’s just me. There was a little bit of a battle over how high it would be in the mix, and they won out! I do think there’s something about the vocals on this, though. I gave it my all.
HMS: Given how emotive a lot of these subjects are, I think that really works. I can see how it would make you self-conscious, but it’s a little like the singer/songwriter thing where the mic is right in their face. Little details come out that can catch peoples’ attention in interesting ways.
BS: That makes me happy to hear because I worry sometimes about whether an actual performance can capture the subject matter. When you’re in the vocal booth, you’re most concerned about giving a good performance, but there’s so much to that beyond correctness or key. You need that emotion. You may get takes that aren’t as clean but convey the emotion better. It’s something I over-analyze!
HMS: Is it challenging to decide how to perform vocals live? You could change it every time.
BS: Live, you want to do it true to form as much as possible, but on the day, maybe the adrenaline gets to you and it comes out, maybe, a little harder than intended. I definitely make an effort. It’s a life-goal not to just scream. [Laughs]
HMS: I thought the song “Love You/Need You” was interesting because there’s a feeling of being stuck in terms of communication between these two people. And you cause that by repetition of the phrase. It’s like a computer stuck in a loop. That’s very real in relationship conflicts.
BS: I’m agreeing!
HMS: It’s almost like people are speaking a different language and can’t get an outcome.
BS: Yes, and sometimes one person tries, and it’s not reciprocated. The chorus of the song is like me having it said to me. Of course, they are both stuck in different perspectives. That’s what I mean about playing the victim because I don’t want to do that. It takes two people to get there. That was a rough song to write. The irony of the video is that it was the first time that we did one that reflects the subject matter of the song. The guy who is actually in the video had just gone through a divorce, so that added to the realness of the situation.
HMS: There’s the moving of the boxes, too, which is a potential symbol. The band is being unveiled, but also moving with boxes is a transition in life.
BS: It’s open to interpretation, but it’s literal also. I can see that.
HMS: So, it was hard for you to write this song, but in some sense necessary for you. What do you hope that audiences might get out of hearing it?
BS: I say this a lot, but it is my general outlook, that there is, hopefully, a light at the end of the tunnel. I tell that to myself. There is always something of that to the lyrics, as sad as they might be. It says to keep going. The joy I derive from it is hearing people tell me that a song really got them through something or that they can relate. That’s my win. That’s what makes me happy. If I can give that same feeling to someone else that I feel when I listen to something I connect with. I’m always thinking about that, too, when I’m writing.
HMS: That makes sense, too, in terms of the sound of the music, which is often more upbeat. By combining the heavier ideas with the upbeat sound, I think it gives audiences a place to explore those feelings. And people also like to have fun.
BS: [Laughs] Right, because that’s what music is about! Just kidding.
HMS: The song and video for “Suddenly” has got the humor, definitely. The video is excruciating but quite funny. That’s an example of when the speaker questions and critiques themselves. But the humor there keeps it from seeming dark. I think something about this song is true in life: We bring a lot on ourselves, but there’s also stuff that just happens. Then it becomes about how you react to that and face the next thing.
BS: Yes, it’s like despite your best efforts, sometimes shit’s just going to drop. Sometimes enduring and continuing to move is what you can do, like in that song. It touches on different aspects of my life, but a lot of that has to do with the music business and not quitting. The lyrics are universal, though, to anyone who’s going through something and doesn’t want to give up even though it might be common sense to do that.
HMS: There’s something to be said for commiseration, too. Something that human beings have in common is all the bullshit we go through and sometimes you just want to say all the things that went wrong, and list them.
BS: 100 percent! Absolutely.
HMS: The last song on the album, “Waiting To Begin”, is quite different. It’s more of a ballad. That’s very reflective and somewhat uncertain in tone.
BS: That song almost didn’t make it on the record, but it was at Bill’s insistence that we recorded it. In my head, it was just going to be a guy in a room with a guitar, but they took it to the next level, and I love it. I think it adds a haunting thing to it. That was probably the hardest song of all of them to write because it was the most honest and reflective of my life at the time of writing. It was super fucking depressing, so I don’t know if there’s anything positive there. The theme of the record is kind of “knowing better but persisting anyway.” Maybe that song is about not persisting.
HMS: The lyrics are very detailed, with whole lines of poetry, really.
BS: It was probably the most personal, the most real, not speaking in metaphors. It’s very literal.