Mendoza Line – Rising above it
Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you have to admire a band that names itself after the minimum amount of effort it takes to stay in the majors. In the music business, the bar is a lot higher (and lower), but it hasn’t stopped a band that’s changed locales, personnel and labels like most people change undergarments.
Starting out in the D.C. area, singer-guitarists Peter Hoffman and Timothy Bracy, bassist Paul Deppler and drummer Margaret Maurice made their way to Athens, Georgia, to pursue higher education in the mid-’90s. Beginning as the Incompetones, the band found its way onto the local Kindercore label for two albums, but the match was never quite right.
Bracy explains that there was “a real emphasis on ’60s mod-pop like early Who, Small Faces — great music, but not where we were headed. We were hoping for something like American Music Club, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson.”
The group veered closer to what they wanted with the 1999 addition of Shannon McArdle, who added another songwriting voice to alternate with the Hoffman/Bracy collaborative tunes. A bigger change was in store for the band when they headed north to Brooklyn in the fall of ’99 for education, job opportunities and new surroundings. The move meant leaving behind their label and old friends in Georgia, as well as Bracy losing Maurice (as a companion and bandmate).
That turmoil helped to fuel the band’s 2000 Bar/None disc We’re All In This Alone. “Some of our friends have referred to us as the indie-rock Fleetwood Mac,” Hoffman acknowledges. “There are definitely arguments, injuries and periods of silence.”
With the February release of Lost In Revelry on yet another label, Misra, the group seems to have taken a tonic from the previous upheavals, revealing a sweetness and flow that’s more pronounced than ever before. Gathering titles from Churchill (“A Damn Good Disguise”) and Nixon (“Mistakes Were Made”), taking time to stir creative juices (“Whatever Happened To You?” took a year to write), and mixing in McArdle’s heavenly harmonies, the Mendoza Line has created its most affecting record yet.
Bracy sees a big picture here: “It’s about how we fill a gap of meaning in our life with, say, 300 beers — the moment you realize that if you stop having ‘fun,’ you’re going to feel lonely, disoriented.”
With an imminent tour behind their finest album, might the Mendozas make the majors? Bracy is cautious but hopeful. “I don’t know what our prospects are, though I hope we reach a larger audience,” he says. “Even if we don’t, we’ll still have a nice time and make records.”
McArdle is more optimistic, with one reservation: “I think we’re on our way to the major leagues, although Tim can’t even get to first base.”