I remember the first time I read about Braid. It was spring 1998, as my freshman year of college was wrapping up. Between the monthly trips to the local Bookstop, I read Alternative Press religiously. I forget which issue it was, but I remember reading Aaron Burgess' article on Braid and their newest release, Frame and Canvas. I think what really caught my eye was seeing their friendly expressions on their faces. I thought Damon was the frontman because he looked a little different from the other guys (the usual test of deciphering who's who didn't apply). I think I became very interested after reading that their sound was inspired by Jawbox and Shudder to Think. Reading about how much they toured also sounded exciting.
Just my luck, the only locally-owned record store in the Kingwood/Humble area had a copy of Frame and Canvas. Without hearing a note, I picked it up. I still remember hearing the opening of the record (with the hum and distorted drumbeat) in my '92 Toyota Camry. I think I got to listen to the first four songs before I got home. I was not let down and continued to follow the band through college. I often visited their Prairienet.org website to see what was up in their world. Reading Bob's updates was always very interesting. The fact that he saw 365 movies in one year seemed really cool. I tried doing that, but only got around to 120.
When Braid announced that they were breaking up 1999, I was bummed that I didn't get to see them play live. Adding insult to injury, I found out years later that they played an acoustic set in Kingwood in 1998. Luckily there were three posthumous Braid releases in 2000: the live You're Lucky to Be Alive, and both volumes of Movie Music.
Then the line-up for Hey Mercedes was announced and I was very curious to hear their stuff. Shortly thereafter, the band's four-song EP on Polyvinyl arrived in the mail at KTCU. I really dug it even more than what I had heard of Braid. I wanted to hear more. I found a site that had MP3s of Hey Mercedes' first show and I downloaded all of the songs. The sound quality was not very good but getting to hear more songs like "That's Right, I Said It," "Save a Life" and "Let's Go Blue" made me really excited about their upcoming first LP.
The band set up this thing called Are You Wearing a Wire, which was kind of online journal, on their webpage. This was a blog before blog was a commonplace word. I always enjoyed reading whatever was posted on it by Bob or Todd (from recording updates to touring experiences to working at a temp agency). It wasn't trivial or redundant stuff, it was just what these guys were going through.
I saw Hey Mercedes play three times in Dallas (with Saves the Day, No Motiv, and Dashboard Confessional at Deep Ellum Live in 2001, with Koufax and Schatzi in 2002 at the Galaxy Club, and with Sense Field at the Gypsy Tea Room in 2003). Every time they played, it was always a great show. These guys were very sincere and friendly, just how I thought they were. Before I saw them in 2003, I downloaded an unmastered copy of Loses Control. The record wouldn't be in stores for a few months, but I spent a lot of time listening to this not-so-great-sounding copy. When they played the in tea room, they played a lot of new material. I knew almost all of the words and I sang along. Standing in front of the stage, I just let go. I couldn't help it. I loved the record and couldn't wait to get an official copy. Talking with Mike and Bob for the first time, they recognized me from the set. Both were very appreciative of the support.
Loses Control was my overall favorite record of 2003. The songs flow so well and I felt a very strong reaction to certain lyrics. The line, "Quality time with the unkind/is better than being alone" seemed to sum up quite a few experiences during the year. I still think highly of the record.
When I got the idea to write this book last March, I figured I should talk to all of Braid's members and Mike from Hey Mercedes for the Braid chapter. They came through Dallas and Houston in July and I had the pleasure of interviewing them. I got to talk to Bob, Chris, Todd, Damon and Mike at great length about their experiences of growing up with touring and recording. All five understood my project and were very gracious to tell their stories. "This is so awesome that you're doing this," as Damon told me. Hearing that line still brings a smile to my face.
Seeing the news that Hey Mercedes will be ending later this year, I'm still bummed. However, experiences that make a strong impact on you don't leave your memory.