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Q&A: Have Mercy singer on progression, new album and big hooks

The Earth Pushed Back, the 2013 debut album by the Baltimore emo quartet Have Mercy, captured a young band flirting with pop potential. Their influences were obvious — Jimmy Eat Worlds soft-to-loud dynamics, The Early Novembers guttural and nearly hoarse vocals and the genres does-he-get-the-girl lyrics — but the music needed more originality to stand out. 

Something was there, but it needed molding and refinement. A Place of Our Own, Have Mercys second album and first for Hopeless Records that dropped on Oct. 27, was written with much more attention to songwriting detail, according to singer and Canton resident Brian Swindle. The difference is noticeable (sturdier hooks, better fleshed-out compositions overall), and now the band is hitting the road to introduce the new material to its growing number of fans. 

Calling from Denver in between shows last week, the 26-year-old frontman discussed the differences between making the first and second albums, wanting to help Charm City Art Space and more.

It's been a couple days since the release of "A Place of Our Own." I often ask artists how the build-up to the release feels, but how does it feel right after?

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Its kind of weird. It feels like all the excitement is gone already, but really its just beginning. Its cool because we just embarked on this tour with the bands Real Friends and Neck Deep, and we get to promote the album and play songs that kids who havent listened to the album yet get to hear first live and then pick it up. Its exciting. Its still going. 

The new album is major step forward from the debut, and based on quotes I've read from the band, it seems safe to assume you all agree. Aside from taking more time to write and record, what do you attribute the progress to?

A lot of it has to do with finally having a producer. We recorded two of the tracks that are on the album back in December or a little bit before. [Producer Paul Leavitt] taught us a lot about songwriting when we were in there the first time [for pre-production]. So when we actually went to go write the new album, we knew how to finally structure a song correctly. It definitely helped form every song and the album in its entirety.

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Tell me about the differences with working with producer J. Robbins on "The Earth Pushed Back" versus working with Paul on "A Place of Our Own." The press release mentioned a "more comfortable recording experience" on this one, which was interesting since both studios are in Baltimore.

With The Earth Pushed Back, we went to J. Robbins and we only had four days to record maybe seven songs. So it was a lot of pressure, and some of the songs werent done. J doesnt have a lot of input – its not in a bad way, he just wants the band to do whatever they feel is right, and once in awhile hell throw out an idea. Paul really just is all about the product and how each song is going to be sold and how the record is going to feel when you listen to it. Its like a whole creative process, which differs from just pressing record and getting good takes.

There's a hope, thematically, on the album of wanting to do better. What was your headspace like while writing the album?

It was definitely just reflection. I got out of a relationship with a girl after two years. After all that time -- we just got off a tour with the band Major League and I knew we needed to get a record together – and I just got inside my own head. Like, What could I have done better there? In my life and in general, what could I have done better? And it just translated into those songs in a bunch of different ways. Its basically just all self-reflection on the album and somehow kids can relate to it, and thats awesome.

In what ways, if any, did the city inspire you lyrically?

Its nice because its not like we went out to California and wrote songs about being in the sun. I dont know – Baltimore is just comfortable. We started writing music here, so when we went in the studio with Paul – who has been a fan for a while – he knew who we were. He didnt adjust lyrics. It was basically however I had it laid out was the way it was going to be with the lyrics. [Baltimore is] just a comfortable place to be in.

You still aren't afraid to go for it on big choruses. Where does your love of full-throated hooks come from?

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I always go back to my favorite albums from back in the day, like Starting Lines Direction or Fall Out Boys Take This to Your Grave. I just look for why they were so catchy to me. I pick out little melodies and try to adjust them, and try to make them bigger. I just love those big hooks. 

Did you listen to the Early November?
Yes. [The bands singer] Ace Enders is on the record — The Place You Love. He sings on the bridge of that.

Your vocal approach reminds me of Ace's.

We grew up on the Early November, so that was where the band was going from the start.

Nationally, Baltimore is known for its experimental indie-rock scene and Club dance music, but we also have bands like Have Mercy, Pianos Become the Teeth, Diamond Youth and others. What's your take on the Baltimore music scene and where your band fits into it?

See, its weird. The scene in Baltimore has always been weird. I never saw strictly a jam-rock scene or an indie-rock scene. You would go to a show and you would play with a hardcore band, an indie band and some acoustic act. We just fit in because we know everybody in Baltimore. If you write any music in Baltimore, people get it. Youre doing whatever you want to do, and youre trying to make it in this world. 

Speaking of Baltimore, are there plans to play a homecoming show this year?

We dont have one planned for the rest of the year. Were going to try to plan one, but thats about it [right now].

So there might be a show before the end of the year?

What we really want to do is – you know Charm City Art Space? Its a struggling arts space, and we have so many friends from around the area who have played there. We thought itd be cool if we got Diamond Youth, Pianos, us, our friends in Major League from New Jersey to come together and help out the space one night, and just raise money with the show. Were trying to get it together.

What's the plan for the rest of the year?

We are on this tour until December, then we have a show planned in New York in December and then were done. Next year we have a bunch of tours lined up, so were just going to be hustling. Going to be [touring in support of the record] for the next year and a half.

INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED

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