In 2002 my primary form of hearing new music was friends burning me CDs and saying, “You have to listen to this.” I was in 8th grade when my friend Ryan handed me a copy of The Mercury Program’s A Data Learn the Language and my worldview was completely turned up on its head. The only instrumental albums I'd heard up until that point were jazz, and as a percussionist, I'd never heard a band that relied so heavily on the rhythm section to drive the narrative of a song. David Lebleu’s driving, complex, groove based drum patterns were hypnotic, and perfectly underscored by Sander Travisano’s full, round, melodic bass lines. Paired with Whit Travisano’s Rhodes keyboard and Thomas Reno’s ambient and subtle guitar licks and, occasionally, Lebleu’s impressive use of a vibraphone, you’d be hard pressed to find any listener not smiling in blissful contentment. All these years later, ADLTL is one of my most listened to albums.
Most of my youth was spent going to shows in the tri-state area surrounding Philadelphia, and The Mercury Program was one band I was determined to see live. Unfortunately I soon learned that they were more or less on a sort of hiatus, no tours, no new music, and no social media presence to speak of, until seven years later, in 2009 they surprised everyone with a week-long tour and a fourth studio album, Chez Viking. I saw The Mercury Program at an intimate show at Kung Fu Neck in Philly’s then up and coming Fish Town neighborhood. It remains the best show I've ever had the luxury of attending. The music was no longer simply beautifully arranged sounds coming through my headphones, but a powerful and emotional display of what music can communicate even without words.
It's surreal that I find myself in a position all these years later to not only learn that The Mercury Program will be releasing a new EP, New Myths on May 20th, but below is the premiere of the title track—the first new music from the band in seven years. The new track is a departure from the ambient, trance-like tracks of my youth, but the groove and the raw energy is still very much alive. I caught up with bassist Sander Travisano shed some light on the new album and the on again, off again relationship they have with their music.
Noisey: Can you give me the abridged history of The Mercury Program leading up to the release of the new album?
Sander Travisano: The Mercury Program was formed in 1997 shortly after the breakup of Yusef's Well. Yusef's Well was a band that Tom Reno and I had been playing in with a couple of friends. We quickly moved our rehearsal spot from a music store space to Tom's uncles landscaping business warehouse, it was the beginning of a new sound for us and we made some home recordings which we self released as 45s. In 1998 Tom moved to Gainesville FL to be with his girlfriend (now wife) who was to attend school at the University of Florida. Tom would call Dave and I constantly badgering us to move up there and finally we gave in. I moved in the summer of 1999 and then Dave followed shortly thereafter. This began our stint as a local Gainesville band.
Also, around this time my younger brother Whitney was accepted to the school of music at Florida State University. Whitney had been coming to our rehearsals since he was in middle school. Given the relatively close proximity Gainesville this eventually gave way to Whitney missing enough school for us to write songs together.
With the first record in circulation it got the attention of an aspiring new label from NYC called Tiger Style Records. They approached us to see how serious we were about our project and having never even seen us live they asked us to sign a deal with them. We agreed and shortly thereafter began writing another full length, Whitney had dropped out of college at this point and became a full-time member of the band.
The band has been seemingly inactive since 2003's Confines of Heat until late 2009 when Chez Viking was released, why the long gap between releases and tours?
With signing to a record label came the obligation to tour and support for each release. We spent a majority of the following years on the road touring the country and I think that it eventually took its toll on our friendships. Driving all over North America in van with your best friends and brother for six weeks can really tax your relationships. I can remember coming home from a long stretch of touring back in 2003 ,and us all agreeing that we needed a little time to get grounded. Not long after we had that conversation my girlfriend, (now wife), asked me to move with her to NYC, I jumped at the offer wanting a change and The Mercury Program kinda went cold for a while.
Was there similar reasoning behind the seven years between that album and New Myths?
We managed to get together and write Chez Viking a couple years into my living in NYC. Around this time was when Dave Lebleu and Whitney decided to leave Florida and move to NYC. We did a scant amount of touring to support Chez Viking and then things went cold again. We all kinda moved around a bit. Tom and I both got married and had children. Years passed and the dialogue started again, we eventually convinced one another that we needed to get back together for another round of writing and recording. A decision was made to get together where my brother was living at the time in Vermont to do a home writing/ recording session. A few of us from NYC piled all the gear we could into my van and a Jeep and we drove the six hours from NYC into the remoteness of the northeast kingdom. It was hands down the most enjoyable recording experience I have been apart of yet. Being snowed in and alone in the woods with no disturbances makes for great creativity.
What was the writing and recording process for New Myths like?
New Myths was written and recorded over the course of five days. It differs from pretty much all other Mercury Program recordings in that we had no pre-written material going into the session. Once our home studio was set up we sort of hit the ground running knowing we had a short amount of time to get a lot done. There were hours of us just noodling around until something cohesive was formed and then Dave and I would lay down the drums and bass and Tom and Whitney would come back and work their magic with overdubs. Having a deadline sort of made it easy for us to say, "That's good enough and lets move on." That is what I think sets this record apart from our previous releases.
What can we expect to hear on New Myths?
It is a much more spontaneous and less refined sounding record in my opinion, having been the first time in years that we had all been in the same room made for a very excitable mood. I believe that that energy is apparent on this record. We took a more aggressive approach to writing these songs because they had to get written or we were all in the woods wasting our time. It was sort of a test to see if it was all still worth doing.
Can we expect resurgence in TMP activity with the release of the new album?
With the release of this album The Mercury Program does plan on doing some limited US touring. There has already been talk of more writing sessions. We are all very excited that it is something that we can still enjoy and plan on enjoying it for many more years to come. In defense of our criticized slow pace I would like to say that maybe some things do get better with age, but perhaps tend not to be as spry.
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