The Funeral Sessions
The Roman god Mercury is well known for his benevolent oversight of bouquet delivery, but less so for his patronage of danceable synth-pop. That may soon change. A new EP by Minneapolis foursome Mercurial Rage pays tribute to the immortal messenger god, and to the band's decidedly mortal sources of artistic inspiration.
"New Order, Depeche Mode—we're trying to pay homage to our childhoods," explains singer Michael Di'Greggario when I visit the lads Mercurial at their practice space near the municipal impound lot. Earlier in the week, coincidently, the long-suspected death of New Order was confirmed in the media.
Di'Greggario has a smile like the Joker and a puckish anglo-'fro. (The rococo surname, by the way, replaces "Grey," which actually could work on the stage in a half-assed way; imagine if his first name was Dove, for instance.) He spent years pushing caffeine to undergrads at a Dinkytown coffee shop with the other Mercurial Rage principal, Christopher Church. ("Christopher Church" is the alter ego of Chris Hill; he is listed in the band roster under his assumed name, but the liner notes of Funeral Sessions credit him for the lyrics under his real name, prompting this reporter to ask, "Why are all of your lyrics written by some guy who's not even in the band?" Part of the answer involved a very rewarding detour into the career arc of Meatloaf, and may possibly be made available as a web-only extra.)
Church, with his washed-out aqua shirt and white trousers, is like a Midwesterner made worldly—but uncorrupted!—by a few years in Miami. And in his downplayed, English-major way, the 34-year-old bassist is the soul of the band. When they all sit for a photo later in the interview, the other members notice lint on his shirt, and three pairs of hands reach out simultaneously to groom him. Three-fourths of the band is from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a place that Church compares to "a suburb with no city attached to it. We still always knew about the fun bands, and we'd rent out the basement of the Nordic Hall for shows."
Here in Minneapolis, Church had been in groups "that dissolved right after we started to get good," he says, "before we had a chance to put anything out." But what began as a two-man operation, with Di'Greggario and Church writing songs on synthesizer, has blossomed, with the addition of Butch McQueen (better known as local producer and TV Sound guitarist Brandon Delida) and keyboardist Brock Landers (b. Specht).
The Funeral Sessions is six songs' worth of gloomy electronic missives from your romantically complicated year abroad. Hollow drum-machine beats mark the time between first making eye contact and making out on the dance floor, while bass lines throb with the next morning's regrets. Di'Greggario sings reproaches to characters seeking solace in false embraces—with the pursuit of fame, with clubbing every night, with devil women who offer sex but steal your soul. Yet these tunes can't bring themselves to practice abstinence. Instead, they delight in the skittery, ever-changing rush of digitalized distortion, popping one electronic effect after another for a high that's always shifting shapes.
This makes the band computer a sort-of honorary member, albeit one that has a hard time getting respect when they set up their equipment for shows here in rock-prejudiced Mill City. "Everything that's drums and preprogrammed keyboards is on an Apple," Di'Greggario says.
"Sometimes the sound guys get mad that you don't have a drummer," interrupts Church, "but then they start to like it when they don't have to put down eight mics for the drum set."
The lack of a drummer isn't the only thing that draws looks—the nattily dressed band cultivates an omnisexual mystique that serves their aesthetic orientation, if not their true sexual orientation. "I want to put on a Depeche Mode arena rock show—people chuckle at first, but then they get it," Di'Greggario explains. "It's an androgynous performance, like an Hacienda party kind of vibe"—a reference to the famous Manchester club depicted in 24 Hour Party People.
Their original first choice for a band name was going to reflect their camp sensibility. "We were going to be called 'Fashion!'" says Church regretfully, "but another band had already taken it." Perhaps the Roman god of atrocious monikers mercifully decided not to further burden a town that has to deal with the Electric Fetus.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss City Pages' biggest stories.