Interview: Mercer Avenue

bill bodkin speaks with Patrick Hynes of pop-punk band Mercer Avenue on the night of their performance at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J. …

At Pop-Break, we’re very proud of our young writers. One such writer is Joe Zorzi, a Rutgers University student, who mentioned to us he had a band. Before we knew it, his band, Mercer Avenue was tapped to perform on an extremely important night in the New Jersey original music scene — the final performance for The Youth Ahead.

A few months back, we spoke with The Youth Ahead’s Chris Leone, (who will also be having a record release party for his album Where The Pieces Lie), and he mentioned this to our own Maxwell Barna about The Youth Ahead — “We broke up and never did a last show — we never gave our fans what they deserved.” So tonight at The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J., this pop-punk local legend will be saying goodbye.

And while The Youth Ahead says goodbye, Mercer Avenue, a fantastic pop-punk band in their own right, will be introducing themselves to the masses who will be at the celebrated Central Jersey rock club.

Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Patrick Hynes, guitarist and vocalist of Mercer Avenue about Starland, pop-punk and making it in the business …

Pop-Break: When and how did the band come together?

Patrick Hynes: After fooling around with this band for about two years, Tom [Smeaton], Dan [Lisi] and myself decided to get serious and look for competent musicians to bring in on bass and drums that dug our sound and wanted to help us build and refine it further. Respectively, Joe [Zorzi] and James [Tittel] were perfect fits for us.

PB: Explain the origin of the name of the band.

PH: Dan fell off his bike one day. The street where it happened was called Mercer Avenue. A 17-year-old fell on a leisure bike ride … yikes.

PB: You have a definite, upbeat, pop-punk sound. Who are some of the bands that inspired your sound, and what is it about the pop-punk genre that made you want to form a band performing that style of music?

PH: Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, Taking Back Sunday, The Gaslight Anthem, and tons of other bands have definitely influenced the way I contribute to Mercer Avenue. We do the trade off lead vocals kinda deal where Tom does about 80 percent of the lead vocals and I take the rest just for the sake of adding a different color to some parts. We are very “riffy” and we don’t like to settle on repetitive chord progressions. We also come from a lot of different places musically though, I like hip-hop a lot, and some of the other guys are into indie and really modern pop-punk/alternative also.

PB: In March, you released your first EP, Nothing Left Behind, which was produced by Tim Flanzbaum, who worked on Paramore’s platinum album Riot! How did you end up working with him, and what did he bring to the table?

PH: We met Tim through our first producer, Paul Gruensfelder, who really helped shaped the songs on that first EP. Tim was invaluable in teaching us the ins and outs of the studio process that you just don’t know until you go in for the first time.

We got good sounds with Tim on that record and we had a great time working with and learning from someone who already had their foot in the door in this business.

PB: In May you released another EP, More Than A Statement. Why release two albums so close together, and how do you feel the two records differ?

PH: More Than A Statement is our true debut. When I listen to that record, I feel it represents us exactly how we want to be seen. That album is Mercer Avenue.

The albums may have been released just two months apart from each other but they really represent two different bands from two separate years. From the get-go we envisioned that became Nothing Left Behind to be part of a full length album that we would release in the summer of 2010. As we began recording the final three songs of that supposed full length, we realized that everything had changed. The new songs and the old songs did not fit into one big picture and we agreed to follow the direction that our newer material was steering us towards, which eventually became More Than A Statement. Instead of just throwing away what we had worked on before that time, we released Nothing Left Behind as a kind of prequel to what we’ve got out now. Those were some of the first songs we wrote, and we wanted people to see the growth from where we started and how those original songs helped us tweak our sound and get us to where we’ve ended up.

PB: Tonight, you’ll perform at the farewell performance of New Jersey pop-punk icons The Youth Ahead at The Starland Ballroom. How did you guys score a gig like this? And what kind of emotions are you experiencing since this is the biggest show you’ve performed?

PH: Annoy, annoy, annoy. We emailed Starland Ballroom’s booking manager about a million times, and they finally offered us a slot on this huge show. Like you said, it will be our biggest ever, and I’m confident it will be our best ever. This is the most rehearsed the band has ever been and this is the best setlist we’ve ever played. We’re thrilled to have this opportunity.

PB: I’ve heard rumors that after your performance in May at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J., you might be featured on bills with some pretty big names. Can you confirm or deny this?

PH: No names to be confirmed yet, but it looks like we’re going to score something. We’re in talks now. We’ll see.

PB: Are you guys heading back to the studio to record again in 2011?

PH: That is a real stretch and we don’t want to make any promises we can’t keep. Ideas have been thrown around for a few things, like some acoustic songs or something. We’re all pretty much burnt out from the studio though and would like to focus on promoting our new record.

PB: You’re all pretty young guys. What are your plans for Mercer Avenue? Is this a band just to have fun with, or are you guys plan on making a serious run with it — touring, full length albums, etc.?

PH: Planning ahead with us is tricky. We all go to different schools, and worst of all, I go to school in Florida. Being in a band full time is a tremendous commitment and one we can’t make lightly. We want to leave the door open on Mercer Avenue, though, and see where are hearts take us on how serious we get with this band.

PB: With the rock and indie scene trending towards a more electro-inspired sound, do you think there’s still a place in the scene and in people’s hearts for the pop-punk sound Mercer Avenue creates?

PH: I don’t think it really matters what kind of music we’re talking about. If a song is really, really good, people will still like it. Pop-punk is kind of a dead horse right now. We know that. I think that the genre is just stale right now and needs a breath of fresh air. That’s what we hope to be. this is the kind of music we love, and we worked damn hard on it, trying to make an album that listeners will love too.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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