Making Curse of Mercury

Making Curse of Mercury

At the simplest level Curse of Mercury is about boy girl stuff. The songs are collaged together from myriad stories of my near-50 years—some real, some professed, some pure fantasy.

I began the making of Curse of Mercury in earnest in the summer of 2008. My entire studio had been mothballed for nearly three years since my move from St. Louis to Seattle. There was even a period when I wasn’t sure there was any merit to unpacking my boxes of equipment; my studio in Seattle would never match the glory of Icon Studio that I’d left behind in St. Louis. But I succumbed to the charms of my new Seattle home, and eventually matched cables to ports, and settled in again with ProTools HD and the rest of my toys.

One afternoon, I sat surrounded by re-plugged-in equipment and several 3-ring binders of “unfinished” material; I was struck with the novel notion that it might be about time to get something presentable together. So, I began sifting through hundreds of pages of song ideas dating back as far as 1975.

As an album took shape in my mind, two principles emerged which shaped and guided this project:
1. To the best of my ability I would do everything myself: write, record, sing, and play all the instruments.
2. I would make a “concept” album.

As to Principle One, I achieved this—with the exception of enlisting the help of two of my long-time collaborators to be my rhythm section for the last two songs, Milk and Colors of the Sky. I needed the specific dimension that I knew Rob Medcalf’s drumming would bring to those songs. And being in the studio in St. Louis to do this meant that I could engage Michael “Doc” Murphy to contribute his sublime bass playing.

Doc & Jeff in the Studio
Doc & Jeff in the Studio

Fortuitously, Doc was teaching Electronic Music at Webster University, giving us an “in” to book their studio during spring break, and luckily for me this studio is equipped with Pro Tools HD—the only recording medium I use these days. Their SSL Duality console was icing on the cake.

Rob tracking Milk
Rob tracking Milk

I arrived with scratch tracks on my hard drive for Rob and Doc to play to, and within six hours of me darting back and forth between the control room and studio, I had coaxed the takes from Doc and Rob that I’d come mining for. Chief engineer Jeff Allen did an aces job of cutting the tracks.

The other notable and interesting contributions to the record are some bits that came with me to Seattle from my days in Icon Studio back in St Louis. One bit is Doc’s whackity-whack guitar part on track seven, Transformation. Even more important are Doc’s guitar and bass parts on track nine, Aggravations. These we recorded in 2004. I had an a cappella demo of the lyrics and melody but couldn’t quite get the changes right. Doc and his keen ear fleshed them out. I kept his parts and built the rest of the song around those.

Other than these bits, Principle One holds—a long winter of me left to my own devices in the studio, crafting Curse of Mercury.

Humm what happens if I push this blue one ?
Humm what happens if I push this blue one ?

As to Principle Two “a concept album”—I have always been drawn to the lifestyle and culture of making records. My serious involvement with music began of course in my teens, in the 1970s—the heyday of the concept album. These inspired me, and expanded my vision of music and its possibilities. In the making of Curse of Mercury my intent was to harken back to these days of naïve discovery, and to use the storyline or thematic nature of a concept album to give depth and structure to my work at hand.

The underlying theme of this record is a string of stories about affairs of the heart, running the gamut from naive to divine. The title “Curse of Mercury” was originally the working title for what later became the song Aggravations. One might propose that Cupid or Psyche are more accurate harbingers for the theme of this record—relationships and transformation—but in keeping with the greater arc of the story I find “The Trickster” Mercury more apropos.

On another level Curse of Mercury is about aspects of the old Greek god himself. In this respect I particularly mean the bit about Mercury being charged the duty of escorting souls through the Underworld—a realm of transformation—and coming out relatively unscathed himself.

For me, a good concept album extends beyond being a collection of good three-minute songs. I strove for that with “Curse of Mercury”.

Cover photo by Mary Harrsch