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Buddy Mercury: “A Person Has a Choice About Which Path to Take. In Mercury, They Always Follow the More Insane One.”

October 6, 2015

MercuryRadioTheater09Philly veterans Mercury Radio Theater have a big show on Saturday at Bourbon & Branch. The one-time instrumental surf punk band now features a deep bench with a variety of instruments, creating a wonderfully eclectic sound that will make you run to the dance floor.

The show also features New York’s Big Lazy and Gringo Motel from Philly, and two Gretsch guitars will be given away.

We caught up with Mercury Radio Theater’s frontman, Buddy Mercury, and talked about the band, his life in music and his life away music.

MercuryRadioTheater101015Mercury Radio Theater has been around for a while now. What keeps you guys going?

Yup, we’ve been around almost 15 years. I think maybe a little bit of unhealthy compulsion and free drinks?

What’s new with the band? There are more members than in years past, no?

Well, a few years ago we stopped touring as a three-piece full time and when we did, I looked around at all my friends who were amazing musicians and asked them if they wanted to help us make music. They all found their own voice and place in the band, and it really moved from being a band to a community. We added vibraphone, trumpet, farfisa organ, bari-sax, a whole bunch of stuff. I honestly don’t get out of the house much – I tend to be anti-social – and if it weren’t for band practices and shows, I’d never see my friends. It’s a fantastic motivator to make sure I make time for the things that matter to me.

For folks who haven’t experienced a MRT show, can you describe what transpires?

There is usually a lot of dancing, shouting and drinking. We try and tie everything together with a theme or a story. The one we’ve been focusing on lately is about a guy who has a job he doesn’t like and tries to start a revolution. So the songs lately have had a more populist vibe to them. We watched a lot of old Russian propaganda films when we were writing them.

You’re giving away a guitar at the show on Saturday? Cool. How did that come about?

Yeah, two guitars actually! Well, Woods (the other guitarist) and I have been playing Gretsch Guitars for a long time. We love how they sound and feel. They have an aesthetic that matches both our personalities. I’m pretty active on their message board and I frequently post videos of our band or pics from shows and a lot of the folks on there have become fans of Mercury.

We had this show coming up with Big Lazy from NYC – they’re a  three-piece instrumental band that Woods and I just love – and wouldn’t you know it, he plays a vintage Gretsch too. Well, we knew Tom from Gringo plays a vintage Gretsch and we start joking that the show is sponsored by Gretsch. So, I went to the message board and talked about the show and how it was an unofficial Gretsch sponsored event.

Next thing you know, I get a call from one of the folks at Gretsch asking if we want to make it an official event. Of course we jumped on the chance. We’re hoping they decide to make it a regular thing.  We’re hoping that Philly shows them we appreciate good music, so they’ll wanna have a bigger presence in the city.

Anything else on the horizon for the band?

Well, like I said, we got this new Russian propaganda show and we’re dying to make a record with it, so I think in the winter/spring we’re going to find a good studio to record it and finally make a vinyl full length. People have been asking for one for years and I think this group of songs really deserves it.

You are in a Ph.D program, studying criminology? Why crime?

Ah, why crime? In the years I spent touring, the thing I was most likely reading in the back of the van was either a Batman comic or a hard-boiled detective novel. I went into criminology because I wanted to fight crime and dole out justice.

Once I began my studies in earnest, I learned a lot about justice and how screwed up the criminal justice system is and it really changed my view. I became a lot less focused on crime and a lot more focused on justice. I began to read a lot of philosophy and took my career in a different direction. Now, I fight for people to be treated fairly and not fall through the cracks of the system.

Is there a connection between crime and Mercury Radio Theater?

I never really thought to hard about it but now that I do, yeah, there is. Mercury has always been about the outsider, the one stand-out and what extraordinary circumstances will push a person to do.  In that moment, a person has a choice about which path to take. In Mercury, they always follow the more insane one.

You also teach undergrads, right? Are they intrigued by the music side of you?

I do! My undergrads are great. I have a policy of being really honest with my students, so they know all the stuff I did before I was teaching. If they get too rowdy, I usually settle them down by telling them a tour story. They all stare wide-eyed as I tell them about the time we showed up to a show in Minnesota with our car covered in blood from the deer we’d hit.

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