Dynamic yet unclassifiable woman-fronted trio Mercury Dimes has gone from an invigorating, somewhat enigmatic blast of energy to a powerful and inventive force in the Charlotte music scene — and possibly beyond.
Bursting out of the Queen City’s open mic scene in 2014, the band harnessed their acoustic punk folk to lyrics dealing with the discord and alienation of daily life. By 2016, Mercury Dimes had transmogrified into a louder and electrified art punk outfit whose questioning outlook remained undimmed. Then, in 2017, the band’s explosive trajectory was interrupted and Mercury Dimes went missing.
“I had a pretty bad drug problem at the time, and I had to go to rehab,” bassist Wesley Mauldin offers without hesitation.
“It was kind of shaky there for a minute,” drummer Nathan Curlee says. “We had to just let [the band] sit.”
“We definitely kept in touch,” says vocalist/guitarist Laura Staples. “There was no, ‘We’re going to play as Mercury Dimes without Wesley.’”
“One day they just asked if I wanted to keep playing, and I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’” Mauldin says.
Beginning in 2014, the band launched gradually. Curlee met Staples, who had just moved to Charlotte to start a teaching job, at an Evening Muse open mic. Then Curlee recruited fellow Albemarle native and childhood friend Mauldin to play bass for the acoustic act, which practiced at Curlee’s father’s house. The band made it’s first indelible mark with songwriter Staples’ tune “Wool.”
“I’m not rough around the edges/I’m jagged on the inside/I’m jagged as the tree line…”
“The whole [song] is autobiographical,” Staples says.
The agitated raw-edged rant is Staples’ reaction to landing in an indifferent-seeming city, losing the community she forged at University of Virginia at Charlottesville, and feeling isolated, depressed and broke. The same attitudes and concerns carried over to the band’s self-titled EP, released in 2016, three rough recordings of tunes intended for the band’s soon-to-be-released, self-recorded album.
It wouldn’t see the light of day for five years.
Then Mercury Dimes came back stronger than ever in 2018, a development that’s only surprising if you’ve never met them. Talking on the phone with the band members, they come across as three funny and successful people in their 30s. Staples has just completed her 10th year teaching high school English at Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences in the Belmont neighborhood, and on July 30, the 2022-Gether Festival at South End Common Market will feature Mercury Dimes’ unclassifiable music along with six other acts plus a raffle to raise money for Planned Parenthood.
Upon re-forming, Mercury Dimes decided they needed to finally release their long-delayed debut album, Broken Down Everything. The band ran into obstacles accessing their old recordings. The stories of transferring invisible files from a broken computer to be mixed by Travis Brown from Anchor Detail sound like the beats of an absurdist Samuel Beckett play, but they eventually made it work and were able to put out their LP.
“It’s like constipation,” Curlee says. “[The songs] needed to come out so we could mentally move on.”
“The songs we’ve been playing out live now are still about what we don’t like, but [they are] more social,” Staples says. Those songs will be heard on Mercury Dimes’ second album, Better Never, slated for release later this year.
“Our new album is a lot about inequality, and most of the lyrics are about that have-and-have-not dichotomy,” Staples says.
The new songs will also reflect the band’s evolving sound, which is a long way from their punk-folk roots. Staples admits that it’s hard to describe Mercury Dimes’ music, which has been compared to classic alternative bands like The Pixies and Sonic Youth — comparisons she says miss the mark.
“Art punk is a fairly safe genre for us to subscribe to,” Mauldin says.
“I’ve been putting a lot of time in practicing guitar, and putting more energy into learning about it,” says Staples, who also plays drums in queer-friendly feminist hard-rock band Hey RICHARD.
Moving forward, Staples says Mercury Dimes’ upcoming tunes will benefit from a change in the band’s songwriting process. (She also says songs are already taking shape for a forthcoming third Mercury Dimes record.) In the past, Staples wrote lyrics first and music second.
“Then, I brought it to the guys, and said, ‘Here’s the song. Y’all figure out what you want to do next.’ We want to change that for this next album,” Staples says. Ideally, music will be written before the lyrics, and the writing process will be more collaborative.
“Nathan and Wesley have both been playing music a hell of a lot longer than I have, so I want to tap more into their abilities.”
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