Michael Rank and Stag – Mermaids
Michael Rank still sees the world through Stones-colored glasses but on his third record with Stag he continues his shift to a folkier acoustic less rocking more organic sound. On Mermaids Rank’s rough-hewn vocals are complemented by Emily Frantz’s sweet harmonies (Mandolin Orange) and John Teer’s fiddle (Chatham County Line) to deliver another album of cathartic songs addressing a broken heart and a damaged relationship in a style best described as alternative Appalachian. Breaking his recent tradition of Valentine’s Day releases with KIN (2/14/12) and In The Weeds(2/14/13) Rank and company released Mermaids on October 1st of this year to wrap up the unofficial trilogy a few months early. With In The Weeds and Mermaids, Rank has released two of my favorite discs of 2013 and continues his evolution/maturation into a singer/songwriter worthy of a much larger audience. If you’re near Chapel Hill, NC check out the no cover album release party at The Kraken on Saturday November 2nd.
HB-You’ve put out three excellent discs in a little over a year and a half. Could you talk about the recording process from start to finish?
MR-Man, I’m a creature of habit and I dig repetition so all three albums were done exactly the same. I start with recording all my vocals and guitars at home on an old Tascam 8-track cassette recorder I’ve been using for close to thirty years now with a mic I bought at some Radio Shack also thirty years ago. I then dump all my tracks onto an external hard drive and hit the road. All the drums get recorded by Rick Miller (Southern Culture On The Skids) at his studio, Kudzu Ranch. It’s a cinder block building and the drums sound fucking awesome. Then all the other instruments are tracked at Jesse Huebner’s (Patty Hurst Shifter, Small Ponds) home studio in Pittsboro, NC. I do all the track comping with Mister John Plymale and then I mix at John’s Studio in Durham, NC, called Overdub Lane. Mastering is done with Dave Harris at Studio B Mastering in Charlotte, NC. The thing I dig so much about using the same players and engineers is the process gets real refined and everyone knows what I’m looking for. More or less!!
HB-I enjoy listening to your weekly radio show “The Dust Hand Sessions”on WCOM. It must be fun to step back and be a fan. How did that come about?
MR-I was performing on a show at WCOM promoting my album, “In the Weeds”, and the DJ did a public service announcement discussing different positions available at the station and it just kinda planted itself in my head. Got out of bed in the middle of the night and started filling out the online paperwork to submit for your own show. It was a process. But it all eventually worked out and now every Friday morning i get to go play shit I really dig. It’s harder than I would have thought finding the tunes every week for an extended bunch of shows. We are now at 30 shows. But I’ve discovered and gotten turned-on to so much great fucking music along the way. Which is obviously the whole fucking point. But I need folks to send me their CD’s for submission!! Send your tunes to:
Michael Rank/ Dust Hand Sessions
WCOM / 300-G East Main St. / Carrboro, NC 27510
HB-John Teer’s fiddle and Emily Frantz’s vocals are really featured on Mermaids. There’s been a gradual shift to a more acoustic and a little less rocking feel from Kin to In The Weeds to Mermaids.
MR-As hokey as it sounds I try really hard to let the songs tell me what they want and how they wanna be dressed. There were times when i seriously considered not having any drums at all on this album only to wake up the next day and think every single song should have drums. Once the dust settled I think it all ended pretty close to perfect. It was challenging in that there are twelve musicians playing on this album but at the same time i really wanted there to be a sparseness and isolation to a lot of the album. That’s a hard compromise to reach but I think for the most part I really succeeded with that. It’s a special album. And one that’s been hard for me to label or define. I feel like it holds onto a space all its own. I’m such a genuine fan of all the folks who have been kind enough to play on these albums and Emily and John Teer are perfect examples of that. I absolutely love everything Emily does musically. Every single thing. Her feel of music is literally breathtaking. And there was such an immediate, overwhelming, across the board response to her singing on my last album and how our voices sounded together. But in all honesty I suspect she would get that response no matter who’s album she was on. And John Teer is simply hands down one of the purest players I’ve ever met in my life. I like to let the folks playing on a song come in and do a first take without any discussion or input from me. Just do your thing. After that first take we open a dialog and see where it takes us. I would give John the most minimal descriptive guidance and he would then do a second take that captured exactly what I was after. I mean every fucking time. By the last take I was saying shit like “a lighthouse perched at the edge of a craggy spraying storm.” He wouldn’t even a blink an eye. Just delivered on song after song after song.
HB-Kin, In The Weeds and Mermaids feel like a trilogy.
MR-Yea, I suspect so. The original plan was to have them released three consecutive Valentine’s days in a row. 2012, 2103, 2014. With the first two albums I stuck to that plan and then with “Mermaids” I just found myself so far ahead of schedule I just decided fuck Valentine’s day and that it was cooler to put out two albums in the same year. So that’s what I did.
HB-Based on your recent productivity I think it’s fair to ask “What’s next for Michael Rank and Stag”?
MR-Well I write and record a ton of shit that never ends up on the albums but at present I have all my vocals and guitars recorded for six tracks I definitely would want on an album. So I’m thinking Summer of 2014 sounds like as good a plan as anything.