Saturday, April 26, 2014

Interview of the Week; Covering the Basses with Speed the Plough's Cindi Merklee

Cindi Merklee is a New Jersey based musician/bassist currently enlisted in the growing family known as Speed the Plough. Her musical journey can be traced back to the 90's when she joined her brother Joe Merklee in the indie meets power pop act Balloon Squad. Years later she resurfaced with the alt. rock outfit The 65's. Since that time we've crossed paths numerous times at shows, sat for some portraits and kept in touch on Facebook. Since an ill fated 65's interview a few years back. I've wanted to get the scoop on Cindi's musical journey and diverse influences. In part one of our interview, she brings us up to date about her departure from the 65's and becoming a member of STP. Thanks Cindi, 
I can't wait for the sequel. James Damion

James: You recently had the opportunity to play with Mission of Burma at Brooklyn's
Bell House. I remember how excited you were when you first found out. How did the opportunity come about and how did the show go over.

Cindi: Not too long after the
Hoboken Arts & Music Festival last fall J
ohn Baumgartner reached out to Todd and asked him to keep us in mind should he have an opening at The Bell House. Next thing I knew we were on the bill with Mission of Burma in February.  Perfect timing, I suppose. But yes - I was thrilled to be playing the Bell House at all. Having the opportunity to play with Mission of Burma was almost surreal. It didn’t fully sink in until we were loading in.

To be honest I felt we’ve played better shows -
I know I wasn’t in top form, but there were some real good moments where we all really came together. I just wish we had more of those that night. Regardless, our set seemed to go over well and whatever anxiety I had at the end of it was washed away when I crossed paths with
Clint Conley as I headed back stage. He greeted me with a firm handshake and a job well done. Couldn’t ask for a better conclusion to our portion of the night. I’m still smiling about it.

James: Mission was a band that really helped shape my Punk ethos as a teenager.
Their post reunion material has more than cemented that spirit. Did you have any special kinship with the bands music?

Cindi: Sadly they were a band I totally missed the bus on. I knew of them through my older brothers but didn’t familiarize myself with them until Unsound, which is a stellar record.
I’d feel bad about this if they were nothing more than a nostalgia act these days but they’re anything but. They’re still very much relevant and their set at The Bell House ranks among one of the best I’ve ever seen. Inspiring on so many levels.

James: I fondly recall meeting Toni and John through Al Chrisafuli at a 65's show.
How did you come to know them and how did the opportunity to join the band present itself?

Cindi: I’m a little foggy on the details of when exactly we first met but it was definitely a byproduct of being a part of the Dromedary family. It was probably at the first Camelfest or when the 65’s shared the bill with them at Mexicali - I can’t recall which came first.
I’ve known Ed Seifert for years, though. He used to record at my brother’s studio back in the 80s with The Ambivalent Bros.

James: Did leaving the 65's and joining Speed the Plough coincide?

Cindi: There was a bit of a gap between my departure from The 65’s and joining up with Speed the Plough - maybe six months or so. During that time Al Crisafuli had reached out to me to let me know John & Toni were thinking of asking me to contribute vocals to a new song of theirs. Before that came to be, I was invited to their Monday night jam sessions that summer where I found myself among not only my future band mates but also the likes of Dave Weckerman and Glenn Mercer which was kind of crazy for me having more or less grown up in the Hoboken scene. Later that year I wound up recording backing vocals for Speed the Plough on  “Mansion” (which is on the Tag Sale portion of the compilation that was released on Bar None back in September). A few months later I got a phone call from John Baumgartner telling me that Dan Francia had decided to leave the band and asked if I’d be interested in taking over bass duties. I was already on the record so it made sense. Plus I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join them, so it was easy to say yes.

James: As you know, I was very fond of the former and quite disappointed upon hearing you were no longer with them (Recalling your absence at Camelfest II)

Cindi: Thanks, James. The 65’s had persuaded me to stop pushing music on to the back burner. Going to school full time and working 40 hours a week left little time for anything else but Daniel, Joe & John were really supportive. For that I’m grateful. I had been a fan of Shirk Circus, The Dark Brothers, and C.I. Infidels plus Daniel Smith has sort of been a mentor to me over the years (as crazy as that may sound to some, including him) and remains one of my closest friends. Unfortunately the creative relationship within The 65’s ran its course before the potential of that line up was realized, however Dan and I have talked about recording together at some point. The challenge is getting the two of us in the same room at the same time but we haven’t ruled anything out so who knows.

James: I would imagine joining an already established act to be tough. You were joining a family in every sense. What was the process like? Was there any hazing involved?

Cindi: Hazing? HA!! No, none of that but it was a bit intimidating at first trying to familiarize myself with a 30 year catalog (which I’m still becoming familiar with). The family dynamic was another element to consider, though I had been in a band with one of my older brothers for years so it wasn’t a completely foreign concept. Once I got over my initial insecurities it was a matter of finding my place in the band, so to speak. While I haven’t gone in with the intention to re-write every bass part to every song, I’m also not necessarily one for learning a song note for note. I’ll listen to the original and if I feel it the way it was recorded, that’s how I’ll learn it. Otherwise I play what I feel or what I am able to manage while singing. That’s still a challenge for me so in some cases I have dumbed down bass parts so I don’t short circuit. Throughout this everyone has more or less given me a a good amount of leeway - no one has ever said “No, you’re playing it wrong.”

James: What's your involvement / input in writing new songs for the band?
Everyone has encouraged me to bring my own songs to the table which I will get around to but haven’t done yet. As far as the band goes, this is probably the most collaborative atmosphere I’ve had the good fortune to find myself in. Someone will bring an idea in to the room and we all kick it around until it starts to come together (or doesn’t). No one comes in with everyone’s parts charted out. Toni will take notes but on a whole it’s a very organic process. We all come up with our own parts and consider any suggestions that are thrown about. If I come up with a busy bass line for a song John wants to have more of a folk feel to it, he’ll tell me - and has - and I’ll strip it down. Given that our catalog more or less runs the gamut from folk to jazz to psychedelia to indie rock there’s plenty of ground to cover.
My focus is to compliment whatever the song dictates. If that means keeping it simple,
I’ll keep it simple. If it means playing something more propulsive or textured, I’ll take it in that direction. Having the room to stretch out like that from one song to the next is one of my favorite things about this band.

James: How will you be Ploughing forward with the band? Tour, New Record?

Cindi: We’ve played a whole slew of shows over this past year which has been great. We’ve taken a bit of a winter break to get some recording in at Mix-o-lydian but we’re starting to line up shows for the spring. Right now we’ll be heading to Beacon, NY, Brooklyn & Montclair - all in May.  As for the next record - no concrete plans just yet as far as I know. I’m just looking forward to recording the new material and seeing what takes shape.
Speed the Plough For more info on the band

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