Have Mercy Drop a ‘Baby Grand’ of Emotion and ‘Make the Best of It’
Things took a somewhat downward turn for Have Mercy in 2016 when three-quarters of the band departed. That left just vocalist / guitarist Brian Swindle as the sole member of the Baltimore-based outfit. But rather than dwell on the negatives, he marched forward, ensuring that HM's third studio album, Make the Best of It, would do just that. It’s a record that, according to Swindle, looks back at the life of the band since he formed it in 2011, and brims with an emotional vulnerability inspired by the past six years. Yet, while the album very much keeps with Have Mercy’s past, it also captures Swindle’s progressive vision for its future. That’s nowhere more evident than on “Baby Grand,” premiering on CLRVYNT below. Tender but powerful, it conveys both deep loneliness and warm comfort. It's a ballad that tugs at heartstrings with desperate conviction, but also burns with a hopeful urgency.
Have Mercy went through a lot of changes in the run-up to this record — namely the rest of the band leaving. Do you regard it as a turning point?
It’s definitely a new direction for Have Mercy, and it’s weird for me just being the sole member, but I definitely had a lot of creative freedom on this new record, so I’m happy with it. I was the man at the helm, so I could really do whatever I wanted. I did have three other songwriters in the studio with me, but if I didn’t like something, I could be like, “No, we’re going to go this way.” Which was nice. And everything turned out great.
Talk about the meaning of Make the Best of It as an album title.
I took that title from a song that actually didn’t make the cut for the record, which is funny. But being the sole member of the band came out of nowhere. We were supposed to be in the studio for a month and a half, and it turned into a seven-month process — so, that happened, too. And my girlfriend and I were kicked out of the apartment we were living at, and were scrambling to find another one overnight. There was just so much going on during those seven months, so Make the Best of It is kind of just the title of the story. A lot of the songs look over the past six years of the band — I looked over my life and picked out key moments that I wanted to write about. Every song tells a different story about where I was in my life and what was happening, the good times and the bad. It’s really just the story of my life.
So, what specifically does the song “Baby Grand” mean to you?
Well, when we were in the studio, we had a few off days where we couldn’t pump out any songs, so we went in for just an hour to help our producer Paul [Leavitt] move a piano into his house. As we did that, I went into his studio and started playing this guitar lick, and then freestyled this song. It started out being about the piano, but then I made it into something different. But it all just came together. We really wanted to write a ballad for the record, and it ended up being one of the big ballads on it.
Does that happen a lot, where you start writing a song and you think it’s about one thing, but then it changes and becomes about something else?
Oh yeah. I always sit down and freestyle all of my lyrics, and then have to pick out the lines that I really like and tie them around the little hooks and stuff.
With the other members leaving and you becoming the sole member, this record must also have been a bit of a learning curve. How difficult was it?
It could have been very difficult, but luckily I had Paul in the studio, who’s a great producer, and we had Brian McTernan from Thrice, who’s an amazing producer, and then I had a writing partner in my best friend Nate [Nathaniel Gleason] who was in there with me, so it ended up being cohesive to the point that it felt like a band when we were in there. So, we were able to pump out songs pretty frequently, but it was still tough because, at the end of every day, they would look at me and ask, “What do we do next? What direction are we going?” So, that was a little difficult, and it wasn’t as organic, but we made it happen.
Did you like being in that position, of being the person everyone had to rely on? Or was it something of a burden?
I loved it. I’ve always kind of been that guy in Have Mercy who was steering the ship, but I actually felt like I was that guy this time and I felt like I could do whatever I wanted. It was no burden at all. It was great. I loved having the final say on everything.
There was only a year between The Earth Pushed Back and A Place of Our Own, but it’s been three years since A Place of Our Own to this coming out. What took so long?
It was pretty difficult. I didn’t think we’d done enough with A Place of Our Own, and I wasn’t happy with songs. Immediately when that record was released, I was like, “We need to get back in the studio. We need to make something better to make up for this.” And then we just had so much time off not touring — we spent seven months in the studio, but we had two tours in that period. I haven’t toured now for the last seven months, so I’m really trying to get on the road and get this record out.
What are your hopes, both for this song and the album?
With “Baby Grand,” I want people to see that we have diversity on the record. There’s some dark songs; there’s a sappy ballad; there’s a rock hit. I just want everyone to see that we’re not lumped in with pop-punk anymore. We don’t just want to be an emo band. We want to be a fucking good rock band. That’s all we want to be from here on out. I’m very fortunate to be doing music as a career, and I’ve been doing it for four years without a day job now, which is awesome. So, to be able to release a record that I’m completely proud of … if no one likes the record, I still know we did a great job. And I say that confidently, but not with any cockiness. I love this record. It’s a whole fresh start, and we sound really, really good live.