The Mercury Tree
If a space dragon got together with Sigur Ros' cousin, and they had a baby that liked to explore the emotional and cinematic dynamics of Stanley Kubrick's films while incredibly sleep deprived... then that baby might grow up to be a metaphor for the music of The Mercury Tree. This experimental Portland trio, formed in 2006, specialize in creative overuse of their effect pedals. Their latest material includes extensive live looping work, creating huge enveloping layers of sound. At best, they fuse the oddball rhythms and technicality of progressive music with a genuine sense of melody and emotion. Their newest album, Countenance, was released in September 2014
Hamster Theatre is an ensemble that plays a fusion of jazz, rock, folk and world music and is influenced by 20th century musicians. There is no way to easily put them into a particular category as they seem to cross borders between these various genres. This group was formed back in 1993 by Dave Wiley and Jon Stubbs formerly of Big Foot Torso (Mark Fuller's band). Dave left that band and traveled Europe where he presumably was influenced by music not commonly heard in the USA. The first lineup consisted of Dave on guitar, keyboards and melodeon, Jon on bass, greg LaLiberte on saxophones and flute, Deborah Perry on keyboards and performing the vocals, Steve Doyle on guitar, and Josh Wright on drums. This lineup did some local gigs and released a low recording-quality cd called Songs From The Hamster Theatre (1995, Prolific Records). Eventually this lineup dissolved. A new revamped lineup was formed in 1996 by Dave and Jon. In addition to them both it included Mark Harris (Thinking plague) on winds and reeds, Mike Johnson (Thinking plague) on guitar, Mike Fitzmaurice on bass and Raoul Rossiter on drums.
This lineup recorded the live record Siege On Hamburger City which was recorded at the Mercury Café in 1998. This also marks the time when work on what was to become their first studio album began. This album was to be released on Cuneiform Records and therefore got the band to work on it with extra attention to details and they put into it much hard work. Released in 2001 it was called Carnival Detournement and mixed by Bob Drake (who also did it on The Public Execution. release). After the release of this album, the bass position experienced some frequent changes. Dave had Mike Fitzmaurice replaced and at first Dave and Jon performed the bass part in alternation. Then Raoul recommended that Brian MacDougal take over the bass part (he is heard on the Quasi Day Room: Live at the Moore Theatre). However, Brian moved on and was replaced by Erik Thorin who later joined Open Road and went on to tour with them leaving HT again without a bass player (only to come back to the lineup at the end of the tour). He was replaced by Matt Spencer who can be heard on The Public Execution of Mister Personality (along with Dave and Jon doing some bass playing). When he left to California, Erik came back.
So what do they play? Well, with their use of some wind instruments such as saxophones, clarinets, flutes and other exotic instruments such as accordion, banjo, mandolin, marimba and viola and of course the basic rock instruments, they manage to deliver a fascinating mixture of folk and 20th century classic music as well as a generous amount of avant-garde but with good measure and not too much to frighten the uninitiated. The music is rather cheerful and it is smooth and easy on the ear. They have created their own unique sound and their musicianship is evident.
Neil Haverstick was born on September 22, 1951, in St. Louis, Missouri, and started playing guitar in 1965, being highly moved by the music of the Beatles, Yardbirds, Cream, and the general musical atmosphere of the 1960’s. Haverstick is a guitarist, composer, author, and instructor… here’s a few essentials for you press folks…
As a guitarist, the Denver Post called him “one of the most sought after session players in town.” Haverstick has performed zillions of gigs, such as playing and recording with the Colorado Symphony, including appearances with Judy Collins, Bernadette Peters, Diahann Carroll, Tommy Tune, Ferrante and Teicher, and Bill Conti. He has also played in orchestras backing such artists as Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Charley Pride, and others.With his own bands, he has opened shows for B.B.King, Steve Miller,and King Sunny Ade; he has also backed up blues greats Jim Schwall and Joe Houston. As a freelance guitarist he has played blues, jazz, classical, country, flamenco, and folk, as well as plays (Man of La Mancha, Grease, Always Patsy Cline, The Last Five Years, and A Dream Play, performed at the Cleveland Playhouse, with noted director Pavel Dobrusky) and many private functions. He has also appeared on numerous CD projects by Denver artists, including Clay Kirkland and Mary Stribling.
As a composer, Haverstick won Guitar Player magazine’s 1992 Ultimate Guitar Competition (Experimental Division) with a 19 tone piece, “Spider Chimes.” He also won the 1996 arts Innovation Award in Denver for another 19 tone song, “Jimmy and Joe,” and the 1999 Composition Fellowship from the Colorado Council on the Arts. He has 10 CD’s of original music available featuring music in the 19 and 34 tone systems, as well as fretless guitar. His Microstock festival is in it’s 7th year, and he has performed at concerts in New York, Los Angeles, El Paso, Albuquerque, and Den Haag, the Netherlands. His composition “Mysteries” was published in 2007 by Christine Paquelet Edition Arts (www.paquelet-editions.com). Guitar Player mag said of his compositions, “Bold and daring, Haverstick ventures into distant aural galaxies”.
As an author, Haverstick has written for Guitar Player, Downbeat and Cadence, and has written two music theory books. “The Form of No Forms” was praised by the late studio guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who called it “A great book. I am still learning with Neil.” Jazz giant Joe Pass said, “I feel this book offers a new insight into not only playing the guitar, but music and how to understand it. A real book.” Neil’s latest book, “19 Tones:A New Beginning,” is a look at the 19 tone system of tuning which Haverstick has been working in since 1989.
As an instructor, Haverstick has taught hundreds of students, both privately and in classes. He has been a guest speaker at Dr. Richard Krantz’s Sound and Physics class at Metro State College for many years, and in October, 2004, he taught a seminar on tunings at Berklee College of Music, on the invitation of fusion guitar maestro David Fiuczynski.