Do you remember, when you were young, how accessible your dreams felt? When they asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, it was easy to say “astronaut,” “painter,” or “rockstar.” It was a guarantee that one day you would achieve everything you wanted – fame and success were sparkling within reach, gloriously available. Do you remember the first time you went to see live music? Every nerve ending would zing with pent up excitement as you’d watch your idols prance around onstage, captivating a sea of souls with charisma and bass lines that shook you to your core.
For Mel Bryant, “this youthful fantasy of what a cool musician was” became the focus of her band’s debut album, Mel Bryant & The Mercy Makers. They unpack this fascination and idolization that is “almost adolescent, with grandiose themes of what I wish I could be, what I strived for as a younger person when I thought about my life as a musician.” The album explores the tension between creating ~art~ and creating ~content~. How it is difficult to maintain artistic integrity while still giving people something that is engaging, relatable, and shiny.
“People love faces. You want my face, here’s my fucking face,
but then there’s this underlying resentment
that this is even something I need to do to make my voice heard.”
Self-recorded and produced in a converted barn in their backyard, the album was “two and a half years in the making.” Like many in quarantine, the band has had to get creative, utilizing unconventional methods – dropping glass bottles on the floor & breaking drumsticks to simulate gunshots – to create unique musical samples. The band met in college at the University of Miami, and “initially bonded over our mutual love of blues and classic rock.” When Mel met the two guitarists, Aaron John Hicks & Conor McCarthy and drummer Brendan Bird, the four of them “would just work together. We were very tight knit…everyone dated each other.” This connection is so strong that the entire band now lives together in East Nashville.
Their sound is inspired by the “girl-grunge, indie-modern, even female folk writers. We wanted to meld those things into a modern sound – think Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. There are still blues-rock elements, but we like to think that its a little more modern, cleaner, and shinier – more pop-punk.” Mel giggles, “I am inherently very emo, punk, and political.” This mindset can also be found in the band’s approach to branding and staging. “The more you overthink it, the more you try to make it look shiny, the less accessible it becomes. There’s this weird spectrum with artists where it’s either so shiny, so beautiful and crisp, and then there’s the other end of things where they just don’t give a shit!”
As a group, they are committed to utilizing their artistic platform to explore and elucidate messages of justice, engagement, and self-reflection, ideals that can be heard throughout the entire album.
“The reason I make music at all is because I hope
it will create positive change in my community, even globally”
“I honestly want to share messages of justice between classes and races – hippy dippy liberal stuff. At the end of the day, creating effective change isn’t necessarily about solving world poverty. At the end of the day, everyone’s feelings are valid, and sharing that message of inclusion is the most important thing to me.”
The Mercy Makers have played venues from The Basement to Exit/In, and their debut single “In My Head” premiered on Nashville’s independent radio station Lightning 100. Stream their new album, their message is something we all need right now.