The songs that make up Mercy Union's sophomore full-length are heavily Inspired by memories of frontman Jared Hart’s formative years. They don't just capture the spirit and essence of those years and the powerful magic of its music, but are bursting at the seams with it. A homage to that pivotal time in Hart’s life, 'White Tiger' is a wide-eyed and windows-down rush that ties in his new found confidence as a musician with the music of his youth. We caught up with Hart who was kind enough to walk us through his top 10 influences.
'White Tiger' will be out this Friday via Mt. Crushmore Records and Gunner Records.
This was the start of it all for me. I can vividly remember being in 6th grade and Sam (who two years later would start The Scandals with me) came into the school yard with his Walkman on. This was the usual -- we'd all come in listening to the sickest nu metal bands we could find but this day was different. He came in with two burned CDs from his older cousin. One was Operation Ivy's Energy and the other was the NOFX/Rancid BYO split. That was it. It finally clicked.
That rabbit hole became a lifelong experience. I had started playing guitar a couple of years before and the heavier music we were all listening to felt impossible to learn. I didn't want to shred like Alexi Laiho (I mean I DID, but let's just say the tabs in Guitar World weren't doing me any favors). These were records I could ingest and understand. I quite literally learned how to play my instrument playing along to ...And Out Come The Wolves over and over and over. I'll never forget how I used to fumble around the solo to "Olympia WA" pretending I knew how to play it. Falling in love with that band and seeing them live set me on the course for the rest of my life, and I can easily say they still stand on top of that list.
Being that age and having a band hand you an entire record label of awesome and diverse music was also a massive plus in the pre-streaming age. Those comps turned me on to so many smaller bands whose club shows would break the ice for me at a young age. It was a valuable resource to see friends supporting other friends and spreading the word. I think it's something we all strive for when we’re trying to figure it out.
198 Orient Street
Growing up in Bayonne, NJ between 2003-2010 was a pretty fun thing. There were so many bands of all different genres. And the craziest thing? They were fucking GOOD. Like, insanely good. High school kids writing songs and figuring out how and where to record them. There are nights when I tell these stories and someone won't believe me. I'll dig into my CD collection and pull out a few old records of bands like No Say, Mispent Youth, Through Thorn and Brier, Requiem for Tomorrow etc. and these still hold up. They weren't making demos (The Scandals definitely were in those days). These were real records that I wish more people got to hear. It felt like every friend I had was in a different band and we were all trying to figure it out at the same time.
During all of this, my longtime bud Nick was given access to the bottom floor of the house he lived in. It turned into our entire crew's meeting point. No one needed a phone or a Myspace bulletin. We all knew where everyone was going to be at any given time. We'd show each other new music and movies, started and ended friendships and relationships, learned to write and perform together, and learned how to down a 40 without it getting too warm. Towards the end of its existence, we started throwing shows in the living room. It began with Nick's acoustic nights, which for a bunch of teenagers was an amazing and supportive way to try out some new things and get out of the normal comfort zone of loud amps and drums. These nights inevitably turned into full band bills, setting up in the farthest end of the living room. We'd pack almost 100 people into a house that was about a foot away from its neighbors on both sides. We'd invite the neighbors over and no one ever called on us. We had just started to bring out-of-town bands in when the space sadly ran its course, and I always wonder what would've happened if we were able to build more of a touring community in a space like that.
The first venue I ever truly fell in love with. As a teenager, Asbury Park was like a forbidden playground. You had music, the beach, some danger, and a lot of people going to one place to create things. The first time I was there, it was actually for a show outside of the Lanes. They had kept the doors open and had a band or two inside as well.
Everything about that place was perfect. The outdated bowling alley and lanes that the stage was built literally on top of, the bar and grill, the sticker-covered walls in the bathroom. It felt like a clubhouse. Even though I was young, most of the people that worked there made me feel like I belonged and looked out for us. It was the only venue that I never tried to sneak beers underage because I never wanted to be the reason that place would get shut down.
The first show I ever specifically went to inside was a Hellcat Records tour, and when I looked around the room I saw members of all of my favorite bands congregating in a place that felt like a punk rock Chelsea Hotel. I wanted to spend as much time there as possible. I asked Kate Hiltz how I could get The Scandals on one of their Wednesday punk nights. She told me to go home and write an essay so I did. We made lifelong friends at that first show and would go on to play there regularly up until the doors closed. We celebrated everything there and I'm grateful that I got to see some of my favorite bands play the craziest shows in a bowling alley, including...
The Bouncing Souls
This was the band that made me think, "Shit, I think we can do this too." The first time I heard a Souls song was when one of those Bayonne bands covered them at a VFW show in town. I thought, “this is definitely NOT your song” and it ended up being "Hopeless Romantic."
The first time I saw them was at that outside show at the Lanes with Bad Brains. Awesome show, but I feel like I didn’t really see them until I somehow got down to the Court Tavern basement in New Brunswick with Lifetime and The Ergs. This is one of those shows that became legend for me and my friends that were there, made only crazier by the fact that all the people whose heads I climbed that night would also become family when I’d work and play at the Court years later.
The songs felt like they were conversations. It felt like another friend in the room. Their records became the soundtracks to our summers and my friends and I would pile in the Caravan to see them whenever they were in town. They made doing this thing look FUN. And what’s more fun than seeing the world with your best friends? Inspirational both on and off the stage. Long live the Souls.
Growing up listening to bands like the Souls, you learned very quickly that they did everything themselves. Booked the tours, designed the art, made the merch, drove the van, everything. It’s liberating when you figure out, “Shit, if this is what I want to do, all I have to do is go out and do it?” We took those examples to heart and did the same thing. I have a click in my elbow from pressing thousands of 1” buttons in the back of the van.
I think living with this mindset for a while makes you more comfortable with pivoting. Your head's always kind of on a swivel and you just have to buckle in and figure it out on the fly. Photocopying and burning your own demos was one thing, but I loved the patches and spikes on the vests and jackets. I used to do the lettering by hand on all of my friends' new vests. Even though it takes more time -- and a hell of a lot more frustration -- if you want it done right, sometimes you need to do the thing yourself.
I'm not sure if anyone else is as nostalgic about a grocery store franchise as me and my friends are. In Bayonne, the A&P was tucked into a secluded shopping center right by the bay. It was open 24/7. It had a massive parking lot. Add dozens of teenagers with nowhere to go and that's how the A&P became our unofficial clubhouse. Even when we were spending time at 198, we'd always make a trip over there to see if anyone’s cars were parked up. A lot of the older kids that were in town would bring their cars down and blast music, and I can't tell you how many new bands I was introduced to in that parking lot. The amount of hours hearing Danzig, Samhain, and Misfits alone down there would probably add up to a couple weeks of my life. RIP A&P and never forget the pickle jar.
The Bay Area
After finding Rancid, it seemed like most of my favorite bands were all coming from the same place. Just take a quick ride down 80 and you'd be right there. As a kid I dreamed of seeing bands like AFI, One Man Army, Samiam, American Steel, and Fifteen at 924 Gilman. I've watched countless sets of ripped VHS tapes on YouTube of these bands there. It was one of the first scenes where I actively researched who each band was and who they were connected to. It felt like this endless well of amazing music and I couldn't get enough. Getting to see California from the window of a tour van became the main goal, and even though I still haven't gotten to step inside of Gilman, it's on the short list of punk rock pilgrimage destinations.
In 2014, I was 24-years-old and on a plane for the first time in my life. My band The Scandals was heading to Germany for our first European tour that was six weeks long with one day off. It was one of the wildest and life-affirming tours I've ever been on. It taught me a lot about how punk ethos thrive over there, and how good it could be in the U.S. We played squats and community centers that received support and funding from the cities to create these creative and inclusive spaces. They had beautiful sound systems, places to stay every night, meals for every band member, and people of all ages actually coming out to see a band they had never heard of. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. We shared spaces and meals with like-minded humans who were active in their scenes as well as their broader community, advocating for tolerance, respect and empathy for people of all walks of life.
Many of these spaces housed and helped refugees from different countries in a time where both citizens and government were pushing against allowing them to stay. We visited stores like Coretex in Berlin where it felt like punk wasn't just alive, it was THRIVING. It was inspiring. We spent the six weeks sharing a van with Berlin based band The Uprising. We talked a lot about the history of our homelands and what we could and should do to remember and not perpetuate the negative. They really opened my eyes to how we as humans should be using the past as a preventive lesson and not just ignoring it to avoid the pain or awkwardness of its reality.
One day we were driving down a road and one of their band members yelled to pull the van over. They all hopped out of the van and proceeded to pull down every political sign that was posted as high as possible on the street lights down the entire road. I can't read German, and it was just a picture of a pretty boring politician, but it was explained that this was a sign for the far right-wing party that spouts fascist rhetoric. These kids lived every day aware of what happened before them and they actively did everything they could to prevent that from happening again. It changed my way of thinking forever and I'm grateful every time I get the chance to come back and have more conversations like that.
As a broke kid that was starving for new music, compilation CDs were the best. 30 songs for ten bucks? Sometimes they were handed out for FREE?! I'd listen to every single one. Of course there was a lot of garbage, but when you found a good comp you sometimes found six to seven brand new bands to dive headfirst into. It was a really smart way to expose people to new bands by sandwiching them between bands that they loved. I think we still have this with playlists in a smaller way today, but there was something special about popping that 30-track disc into your Honda Civic and rolling the windows down.
When I was about 19/20, I started spending a lot of time at a place in New Brunswick called The Court Tavern. I started there begging to hop on shows and swindling pitchers of beer on different tabs, and I’d end up working there alongside some people who would quickly become a few of my best friends. I was welcomed into a cast of characters that had been at it for at least 10 years longer than me, and with that came an introduction to a lot of new music. There were so many different shows down there and I learned more about the bands that would frequent the Melody as well as the Court back before I was even allowed to stay out past 9 p.m. These bands from the 90s-early 00s would end up rounding out my songwriting in a way I can’t even explain. It felt like an untapped well of knowledge. These bands that came from hardcore and punk backgrounds but ended up leaning into more melody and hooks while applying more vulnerable lyrics hit me like a bus. In one way, I was bummed that I had missed all of those shows but I was grateful to have found it at all down the road. A lot of this influence is prevalent on the new Mercy Union record White Tiger, and I definitely have Andy and the rest of the Court crew to thank for that.