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Todd Bell

Almost exactly a month away from the release date of Hey Mercedes first full-length, Everynight Fire Works, I had the opportunity to talk with bassist Todd Bell


- How do you feel about the new album?
Iím pretty excited about it. I listened to it the other day after not hearing it for awhile. It flows pretty well, sequencing is really important to all of us. Trying to put together an album rather than just a group of songs. It is a good album, I think. Its a grower. The more I listen to it even though Iíve heard it alot, the more I like it. It grows on ya. Like moss.

- What was is like working with J Robbins again?
Nothing short of amazing. He's fun, knows his business and likes our band. That part is important when youíre asking someone for advice in the recording process. J is knowledgeable about us and our direction and can make educated suggestions if we need them. Itís good to have a relationship with your engineer before recording, and weíve all known J for awhile. Heís not a bad Scrabble player either.

- You've been taking over some backing vocals responsibilities...Have you ever thought about taking that further, maybe sharing lead vocals on songs or anything like that? What about writing lyrics?
No! Bob is the professional. And his voice and lyric ability is leagues above mine. Heís been singing in bands since day-one. I prefer doing back-up parts. Mark and I are both doing them now here and there. Itís fun. Lyric writing is Bobsí specialty, before I could even fathom a melody or part heíd have a book full of potential lyrics and ideas. He has books full. Iím not kidding.

- It's been said before that, even when you and Bob and Damon were in Braid, you three have a musical connection. How much did that have to do with the breakup of Braid? When did you three realize you had this connection with each other? And how has Mark fit into all of that?
We all love to play and knew we wanted to continue after the break-up, on a more sane-level.. We saw the end coming and it was inevitable. The band couldn't have stayed together unless we stayed in it unhappy. That's the direct opposite of why anyone should be in a band in the first place. The fun should always come first, and we where missing alot of that by stressing ourselves out, overworking the band, and touring too much. We wanted to do something a little more straight forward with Hey Mercedes than what all over our past bands had done, including Braid. We knew Mark was the man for the job in helping us go that direction, it just kind of clicked, and with the falling out of our old bands it allowed us to start fresh, a good feeling really.

- I know Bob writes most or all of the lyrics, but how much input do you and the rest of the band have about conceptual elements in Hey Mercedes? Does Bob ever run concepts or lyric ideas by the rest of the band?
Sometimes. Usually we get close to finishing a song musically and weíll start throwing out ideas for a title, or Bob will be like "How about calling it this.." based on a few words he's worked out in the melody. The lyrics are seldom set in stone at the beginning, then an idea for a title helps focus the direction of the story. Everything else musically is a democracy. Bobs talent is writing lyrics and we let him because itís one of the few things he canít break. Man, that guy is clumsy.

- What musical background do you have?
Personally, Iíve zero Ďeducated musical schoolingí. Iíve been in bands for around 8 years though, all working bands, touring and stuff.

- How would you describe your bass playing tecnique?
Whats technique? Just kidding. Hmmm.. minimalist I guess. Playing out in the right parts and locking up with that kick drum. The trick to being a good bass player I think is not knowing what to play, but when not to play. Overkill ruins it for me everytime. That business is best left for guitar players, unless your Steve Harris.

- It seems that many indie rock bands these days break up and reform later, and those new bands usually have to live somewhat, at least for a time, in the previous bands shadow, such as Hey Mercedes has with Braid. Why do you think that happens?
It depends on if the band acknowledges and accepts that comparison. It could be useful for a new band that noone has ever heard of. The Ďexí title could possibly pull a few more people to your show, if your old band was somewhat successful. When you use that old band business for a new band you are kind of setting yourself up for comparison. Hey Mercedes tried our best to get rid of the title from the get-go. Itís hard though. We thought it was pretty different musically so we asked our booking agent to stress to the club owners to not put any of it on the flyers. It never worked. It was never our doing, always the promoters. Some kid is always going to be bitching about some band Ďmilkingí their old bands name, or, complaining that the new band isínt as good or punk rock as the old band was or whatever.. Those are the people that just donít get it. Progression is important, who want to write the same album twice? BORING! Itís not that we are denying our past or anything, we just don't want to mis-represent. We are just trying to move on. Personally I donít think we sound anything like Little Elvis, Alligator Gun, Slaphappy or Mary Me.

- How long do you see Hey Mercedes being around?
Until we get bored with it or stop progressing. I canít see that happening anytime soon. We all just love to play.

- Do you see yourself living off Hey Mercedes in the near future?
No. Maybe someday. There is always a dream to do something you truly love and make a living.

- Being in a full time serious touring band, you obviously sacrifice a lot of the stability in life that other people around you have. What motivates you to do this? Do you ever get think you will settle down, get married, that kind of thing?
Yes eventually, some of us sooner than others! We all have girlfriends. I think all of our priorities are for the R.O.C.K. right now. Motivation touring-wise is supplied by the people that come and see us and appriciate what we do. Sometimes motivation is also supplied by cookies.

- You obviously love what you do and put your heart and soul into it. Was there a moment in your life where you decided that music is what you're going to do? What is your inspiration?
There was never a defining moment for me that was recognizable, because if you love to do something and itís what you do for fun anyways, sometimes you donít really realize it. Looking back now I think itís easy to see, but back then, remembering when I was in 4 bands at once, itís pretty clear. I was doing sooo much, and i loved it. That was probably the moment if i had to pinpoint it. Inspiration= cookies.

- What do you think of current popular music today?
Itís sad. I usually listen to the local station if Iím in the van, or tapes. Donít care much about modern radio.

- How was touring through Florida on the last tour? (I missed it.)
Hot. Humid. Buggy. Bugs are no good. Good shows, old friends. Are show at the Sapphire Supper Club was awesome. The Itchatucknee river is rad, gotta get back there again soon.

- What's the best and worst thing that has happened on tour with Hey Mercedes so far?
Sickness is bad. Itís like a plague when your in a van for a long time. Everyone will get it, just depends on when. Advancing shows and having the promoters say things like "Well I think itís going to thunder storm on the night of your show, you might want to cancel, plus, "everyone is going over to the (insert bad band here) show that night" shit like that. The guy in Memphis said that. The one who promoted our show @ Last Place On Earth, Memphis TN. Thats where Harlow had a bad show on Bands On The Run. Donít ask us to play if you know there is no demand for our music, you know? Traveling, hanging with your buddies, having shows where everyone is totally on, those are the best things.

- What's going on with Grand Theft Autumn right now?
It's good. Roy and I have slowed down alot with it, we are both pretty busy and none of our bands are that active right now. We are really only focusing on a few projects. The next record being The Lassie Foundation/Duraluxe split titled: I Duel Sioux and the Ale of Saturn. Itís sooo good, Iím proud to be involved with it. Itíll be out by the time people are reading this interview, I promise! Weíve had some trouble with the art, and itís finally being manufactured now. For more info contact our exclusive distributor here: Roy works there too. Ask for him, heís the best. I spend too much money at that place. If you look deep enough into indie-rock in the right places, not just on the surface of known labels, there is a TON of stuff out there that fits your ideal music, fresh stuff too, you just have to know where to look. I get tired of people complaining there is no good new music. Stop whining and shopping at Tower and go find it! 2 of my new favorite bands Iíve discovered in the last 4 months: Ester Drang and Electro Group. Check them out.

- How do you decide what bands you will release on the GTA label?
Roy and I play the demo tapes on a tape recorder in the middle of a dark room with candles burning while chanting, if the candles blow out during a certain bands demo, then we know our master wants us to make those songs available to the masses. Just ask Camden about their contract with us, the one with the bloody signatures all over it.

- What have you been listening to lately?
Well lets see.. I listen to a ton of music. Lately Iíve been stuck in an old school mood, lots of Marvin Gaye, Shirley Bassey, Sarah Vaughn stuff like that. Al Green explores your mind is a fantastic record. More rock stuff has been: Travis, Starflyer 59, Bad Brains, Ride, Buffalo Tom, Dinosaur Jr, The Telescopes, Death Cab, The Electro Group, Queens of the Stone Age, The Darling Buds, Jeff Buckley.. then there are old staples like The Clash, Wire, Smiths, Television and bands like that rotate in and out quite a bit..

- Where do you see Hey Mercedes going in the future?
On Tour alot. Maybe going to the store to get chips.

Any last words?
Come see us on tour. Please bring us chips.

-Todd Bell/ Hey Mercedes

P. O. Box 511806 - Milwaukee, WI 53203