Ms. Brown is giving away three e-copies of the book to three lucky readers. Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a copy of Loud Is How I Love You.
Dabney: I loved the many acknowledgements in your book.
Mercy: Well, Loud Is How I Love You is based (very loosely) on my real life. There are so many people who turn up in this story, and even more who were instrumental behind the scenes in making it all happen, from my Dad buying me my first guitar when I was a kid, to Alex (my husband), who lived a lot of these music adventures with me, to the music scene where it all happened, and my friend Lo who kept on me until I’d finished a draft of an original novel and got it sold. And I’m an Italian-American Jersey girl, so I’m always here to tell you and everyone I ever meet how I much I love you.
Dabney: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to write this book.
Mercy: I was an indie rock front girl in New Brunswick in the 90s and early 00s. I fell in love with my guitarist, and definitely boned him when it was against the rules. But I’m married to him and we have twin boys now, so it all worked out. Sometimes, you just have to realize the rules are bullshit and your future husband is staring you in the face.
When our kids were first born, playing in a loud indie rock band together became pretty difficult, so I turned to writing as a creative outlet instead. The first novel-length work I ever completed was actually an epic Twilight fan fiction (and by “epic” I simply mean the length of the thing). Writing that and joining the fan fiction community was almost as fun as being in a band, and a lot more manageable with small kids and a job. After I finished that, I wrote a Young Adult fantasy manuscript that was (and still is) in need of a serious overhaul. I decided to take a break to write a short story for this Simon and Schuster New Adult contest, and when I did, most of Loud just popped right out of me. I wrote 28,000 words of it in a weekend (and the word limit was 25,000 words). I sent the short story to my friend Lo (Lauren of Christina Lauren), and she encouraged me to turn it into a novel. I finished the entire first draft in about three weeks! (And my agent is still waiting for me to send him the cleaned up copy of the YA fantasy manuscript… he’s a patient guy.)
Dabney: Your book begins with the line “Don’t fuck anyone in the band.” You say this is rule number one of being in a band. One of my best friends (and the woman who introduced me to my husband) has been a musician for over forty years. She says there is no group with the greater potential for drama than a band.
Mercy: Oh God, is that true. So. Much. DRAMA. Especially when you’re boning your guitarist, and then living with him, and then owning real estate together–you get the idea. But that said, every band is different. In some bands, the members are best friends and do everything together and in other bands, they all hate each other. And then in others, it’s a mixture of people who are simply friendly or who just collaborate because musically, they’re a good match, but socially they don’t really hang out.
But drama and bands go hand in hand because creating music together is a very tricky and intimate pursuit where members have to be vulnerable to one another. And sometimes, your ideas suck and your bandmates are going to have to tell you that, and that creates tension. But the flip side of that is the payoff you get from working so closely with other people you share a common dream with. Good bandmates bring so much to your life–they really do become like family. They’ll go to this other creative, sacred place with you when you’re writing or performing music, but then they’ll also move your couch and water your plants when you fly home to visit your parents. Band mates are there for you in the way that only your closest friends and loved ones are. Well, they usually are your closest friends and loved ones.
Dabney: You write when it comes to bands, people remember the soap opera, not the music. Do you think that’s always the case? What are some examples of that dynamic?
Mercy: I was really thinking about that in terms of those bands who are predominantly a soap opera–not necessarily bands in general. Take a band like Hole, for example, and Courtney Love. Every fan of Nirvana knows Courtney Love. Most people probably know what a circus her life has been. But how many people remember what Hole sounds like? And Live Through This was a decent album, too! Courtney Love is famous for the soap opera–not the music, and she’s not a bad musician. That’s probably the best example I can think of. We definitely had bands around here who were so full of drama, they’d literally brawl on stage. I remember that, but don’t ask me to remember what their music sounded like.
Dabney: You set your book in 1995. Why? What sort of freedoms and limitations did that time give you for your story?
Mercy: I set the book in the 90s because I wanted to take readers to a time before cell phones and the Internet were a part of everyday life. Looking back now, I feel a real sense of adventure and boldness that came from taking a road trip and using a damn atlas to find your way around. Back then, unsigned bands had to go basement to basement, club to club, fan to fan, to build an audience–there was no Tumblr or Bandcamp or Bands in Town. It was a media wilderness, but in hindsight, I feel like we also had all this freedom. You could throw up in a bar and not have someone capture it and make a Vine out of it, you know? Er, not that I did that. The stories of our embarrassing moments would get around, but it wouldn’t be there for your mother to see on Facebook. I sometimes wonder if back then we were more in the moment because we weren’t as self-conscious of how we were going to come across on social media. Did we live differently because we didn’t have the ability to permanently capture every moment on our cell phones? I wonder if we took bigger risks, made bigger fools out of ourselves. Anyway, I wanted to impart what it felt like to come of age in that particular time period simply because it was different and now it feels a little magical to me. I guess I’m sentimental.
Dabney: The band in your book is called Stars on the Floor. Nickname: Soft. Was there ever a real band called Stars on the Floor? ( Because if not, there should be.)
Mercy: Not that I know of. “Stars on the Floor” is just a line a from a song I wrote many years ago. It would make a great band name! Making up band names for Loud was so much easier than naming my bands (or my books) in real life.
Dabney: What do Soft sound like? Is there a video or audio clip that would give a sense of the band’s sound?
Mercy: I’ve put a lot of thought into what Soft sound like, and have considered writing and recording the song Loud Is How I Love You, but I’ve shied away from that because music is very subjective, and I really want readers to hear their own favorite 90s flavored song here.
But not to cop out on this, I will say that to me, Soft has a lot of loud, thick, distorted guitar tones without a lot of fancy lead playing, and female vocals that are sort of Mazzy Star-ish but not quite country. Crushing bass by Cole, and I hear Joey’s drumming as both machine precise and fluid.
In terms of something sort of in the ballpark, I’d say Serpents by Sharon Van Etten comes pretty close to how Soft might sound, even though it’s not a 90s song. Soft definitely have a different guitar tone and more driving rhythm section, but I like how angsty this song is and feels like something Soft would write. (Listen here.) I also have a great story about sleeping on Sharon Van Etten’s floor when she was only 20 and my band played in Murfreesboro, but that’s a story I’ll tell when my next book, Stay Until We Break, launches.
Dabney: Emmy, your heroine, seems like a feminist to me. Do you think she would’ve called herself that?
Mercy: Hell yes. In fact, not only is Emmy a feminist, so are her bandmates Travis, Joey, and Cole and pretty much all her friends in the music scene. Emmy’s mother and her grandmother were card-carrying, button-wearing ERA supporters in the 70s. But here’s the thing–in a college town in New Jersey in 1995, this wasn’t some big, controversial political statement. People would have assumed that a young, educated woman was a feminist because seriously, why wouldn’t she be? What’s not to embrace about respect and equality and equal pay and opportunity for women?
In fact, I have to say that in general, the independent music scene around here was like some sort of feminist utopia. You could go into most shows around here as a young woman and feel perfectly safe and respected. Not the college bars or the frats, mind you. I’m talking about indie rock shows, whether they were at clubs or house parties or basements. That’s because the men in the music scene did not tolerate bullshit from other guys towards the women. If a guy got out of line with a woman at a show, the other guys would drag him out of the bar. Didn’t matter who it was, either. That was the culture. As a woman musician in that scene, I was always treated with as much respect as the men. When I went out to Sam Ash, the guys in the guitar department would treat me like I was clueless and had no idea what I was doing. And my bandmates would pity them as they anticipated my reaction.
Dabney: If you were going to pick three words to describe Travis what would they be? What would they be for Emmy?
Mercy: Oh, this is so difficult! For Travis, it’s really difficult to pick only three. He’s so many things, you know? But in terms of this story, I’d have to go with loyal, steady, and (infinitely) patient. For Emmy, I’d have to say loud, anxious, and determined.
Dabney: The level of writing this book is awesome for any novel, let alone a debut. Is this the first book you tried to write?
Mercy: I’m going to print that question out and sleep with it under my pillow. Thank you, and no, as I sort of already discussed. But it is the first book I wrote that I felt was in good enough shape to query.
Dabney: I have to ask, are you secretly a Michael Bolton lover like Emmy’s old boyfriend?
Mercy: Hahaha, no.
Dabney: In the book, there’s a band from the New Brunswick scene (where the book is set) that made it big called Ween. Who were you thinking of when you envisioned that band?
Mercy: It’s really the band Ween! They’re on the stoner end of alternative rock, and they are local legends and all around nice guys. Ween are Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman (Dean and Gene Ween). They are actually from New Hope, Pennsylvania, but Ween used to play New Brunswick a lot when they were starting out. Their other bandmates were all from the New Brunswick scene and their regular soundman was the house soundman at the Court Tavern, where we all played all the time, who is also a friend of mine. I agonized a lot over whether to change it to a fake band, but in the end I decided the book was just cooler with Ween in it. And we really did play a big outdoor show with Ween and Juliana Hatfield at Rutgers! But we didn’t have a storm, luckily.
Dabney: Your book catapulted me back to the 90s. The Kinko’s reference alone sent me back to a life before home printers . What do you miss most about the 90s?
Mercy: Jolt Cola. All the time I had before Twitter was invented. Hanging out watching bands every weekend. (And lots of weekdays.) Not being addicted to my phone. The Simpsons. Pinball nights at McCormick’s. Overnight Sensations radio show. My Honda CRX that would run two weeks on a $7 tank of gas. Wide legged pants. The economy.
Dabney: You clearly know your music. You cite sub genres I ‘ve never heard of. What exactly is jangle pop? What’s your favorite kind of music in your life now?
Mercy: I’m definitely a music nerd, but far less of an expert than one might think. My tastes have always been pretty narrow for a musician, but I love what I love very, very much. Fangirl to the extreme. Anyway, jangle pop was a term used to describe bands like the Sundays (I’d forgotten how much I love this song.) basically sort of indie/alterna pop with clean guitar tones and a lot of strumming. I don’t know how much it’s used as a music genre today.
I still love very dark-sounding, heavy guitar-nerd music, quite a lot, and I probably always will. A few of my favorite national bands today are Russian Circles, Failure, Foals, Waters, and a shout out to New Brunswick’s own Screaming Females.
Dabney: In ascending order, what are the top five songs you want played at your memorial service?
This epic Russian Circles song, 1777. It just sounds badass.
Faith by the Cure
Reckoner by Radiohead
Daylight by Failure
and for my boys, Sons of Thunder by High on Fire so that they’ll feel compelled to go forth and rock the world in my honor.
Dabney: If your child wanted to grow up and be a musician, what would you say to her?
Mercy: I would say separate your art from your ability to survive financially. If creating music is what makes your brain and your heart and your soul feel right, you have to do it. It’s not a question and not up for debate. You have to organize your life in such a way that you can make music and take it seriously. But sadly, you really can’t count on being able to make enough money to survive and support a family doing that, and one day you’ll likely want those things. So I think the best thing young artists can do is to take their art seriously, but also understand that they can be serious artists *with* day jobs. Having a job doesn’t make you any less of an artist.
So I’d say, get some other skill you can use to earn a living, preferably a career where you’re not trading your time for money (ie; working an hourly wage or service job), and you’re not miserable, either. And always, for the rest of your life, plan on making music. Make it important. Make time for it. Nurture your talent and your skill. Take yourself seriously but don’t expect to be able to pay your bills from it, and then plan accordingly.
Dabney: What phrases from the 90s are you sad that have gone out of common parlance?
Mercy: Wait, they have? Balls.
Dabney: So, is there a video that shows you how to unbutton jeans with your teeth? Because after reading your book, it feels like something that would be good to know.
Mercy: I may never forgive you for that Google search, Dabney. I never did find a decent video of it, so I tried doing this myself and failed pretty stunningly. However, Mr. Brown gave it a shot and was successful. I’ll talk him into taking a video next time.
Dabney: If there’s a moral of Loud is How I Love You it’s trust yourself to dream big, really big. Did I get that right?
Mercy: Definitely. And I’d also add that it’s about being exactly who you are, even when you’re broken and flawed to the teeth, and learning that you’re still loveable. If you’re putting your whole heart into whatever matters most to you, into what makes you YOU, the right kind of people will love you for it. For Emmy, that’s Travis. It’s also Millie and Cole and Joey and Sonia—all the people who see Emmy’s faults and stick by her no matter what. Emmy doesn’t get the awesome guy because she’s perfect. She gets the awesome guy because he’s the right guy for her, and she’s the right girl for him. I believe in that stuff.
Thank you so much for having me!
Dabney: Thanks for talking to me. I love the book!