When last we caught up in any official capacity with Jared Hart, the New Jersey native was somewhere in Florida in the midst of a support run, opening up for Frank Iero’s project at the time. Hart was mere weeks away from the release of his full-length debut solo album, Past Lives and Pass Lines, a collection of songs that were written over the previous handful of years that didn’t really fit the anthemic, street punk stylings of his “day job” band, The Scandals.
At the time, prevailing wisdom seemed to be that Hart would try to settle into a groove of spending six months a year working with The Scandals and six months a year working on solo activities, achieving some semblance of perfect creative balance. And while Hart has stayed steadily busy over the course of the last three years, it’s safe to say that the bulk of that work has not exactly gone as planned. Early 2016 brought with it the start of what turned out to be a year or so on the road across most of the globe as part of Brian Fallon’s backing band, The Crowes, in support of Fallon’s own debut solo album, Painkillers. Then there was the release of the stellar, Fallon-produced Scandals EP, Lucky Seven. Then there were solo European dates for Hart, a follow-up solo EP featuring reworked tracks from Past Lives + Pass Lines, scattered Scandals dates, and a few shows filling in on guitar for fellow Jersey punks Lost In Society.
In the process of working on ideas for what would theoretically be a second solo full-length, Hart would reconnect with an old Jersey musical acquaintance: Benny Horowitz, best noted for his work in The Gaslight Anthem, but also part of other noteworthy projects like Bottomfeeder, Wax Bottles and Antarctigo Vespucci. “I had a good handful of songs and a handful of riffs that were starting to come together,” explains Hart. “At one point, I hadn’t seen Benny in a while, and he was saying “come by, we’ll get coffee or lunch, or if you want to jam or something, you could bring a guitar…” It seemed like he wanted to stretch it out a little bit, so I was like “you know? Fuck it, I’ll bring the guitar over and we’ll see what happens.”
Once the duo got together, things progressed quickly. Perhaps unusually quickly. “Immediately, we were fleshing out a full song,” says Hart. “He was like “what have you got?” and I pulled a riff that I had forever out, and then all of a sudden there was a structure, and there were these parts, and things he was playing were making my guitar go a certain way, and I remember thinking “this is interesting…this doesn’t usually go like this.”
What became apparent seemingly early on is that the new music the pair were creating wasn’t new solo music, and it wasn’t new Scandals music; it was becoming its own thing. “As the riffs kept coming, Benny was like “you know, we have a record here. Should we do an EP?” says Hart, explaining that he was initially gunshy to bring in old material he’d had in the bank and risk messing with the collaborative, spontaneous jamming. Eventually, he relented. “And I was like “well, I have all these other songs too…” So we started jamming on those, and then all of a sudden, after a couple months, we had a full-length.”
As it became apparent that the new music was a new project, that meant that the new project needed new members. “It was just me and Benny (at first) and we had all these songs, and we got to say who we wanted to play with us. And I was like, oh, fuck…that’s usually not a question that gets asked, usually you have the band all there first (before developing music).” Hart and Horowitz recruited fellow Garden Staters Rocky Catanese and Nick Jorgensen to the mix. Catanese, himself a veteran of the criminally-underrated Let Me Run, has been a friend and collaborator of Hart’s for years, so including him in the new band only made sense. “Our first tour together was in 2012,” Hart explains. “I used to fill in for Let Me Run once in a while, he has filled in for EVERYTHING that I’ve ever needed…any time the Scandals needed something, he’d hop in, and we’ve always just kind of had each other’s backs in that sense.” So I said well “of course Rocky has to be in it, because he’d be filling in anyway!”
When it came time to get their new material recorded, the newly-formed quartet holed up with none other than Pete Steinkopf at Little Eden studio in Asbury Park. Catanese and Jorgensen put their own respective touches on the music that Hart and Horowitz had crafted, and the recording process moved efficiently. Each of the band’s members has had experience in bands playing fairly diverse sounds within this punk rock realm, but Hart says there was never a discussion about musical directions when it came to the new project. “I wanted to make a record that I wanted to hear. I felt like I was lacking hearing some of these songs myself, and even just the sound of it, where it sounds sometimes like you’re in the room with the band playing…that’s kinda what I wanted to be able to do. I’m super proud of that,” he explains. “The actual process of writing and recording was really cathartic to do it like that. To not worry and to not stress and to let it just kinda roll…The only reason that something sonically or tonally or structurally got changed was how it fit into the context of all of the other songs (on the record), not anything outside of that. That was really fun to do.”
As the recording process was winding down with Steinkopf, and before Hart would leave for a solo run through Europe, the band got word that they’d landed a spot opening up a handful of dates for Racquet Club on the veritable super-group’s first real US tour. Initially billed as “Jared Hart with Full Band,” it wasn’t until Hart was overseas, their album already in the bag, that the band settled on a name. “Picking the name was probably the hardest thing of this whole project. That was the most anxiety I’ve had in general,” laughs Hart. “I was in Europe. We had a day off, and I had to pull over and just sit there. We made the name and I sent the t-shirt design in the same day. I sent it in to get printed that day and I had like a full-blown panic attack about the name. Because now it was done, it was printed. They sent me a picture of the screen blown out, and I was like “oh my god, what if this isn’t good?” My cousin is 18, and he was sitting in the passenger seat and he was like “dude, it’s fine!” I had my head against the steering wheel like “I’m not good with change and this is so permanent.” He had to kinda talk me off the ledge there.”
That name, of course, is Mercy Union. The band are slated to release their debut full-length, The Quarry, next month. And their doing it themselves via Hart’s newly minted Mount Crushmore Records. Evoking his mom’s “if you want something done right, do it yourself” motto, Hart determined that releasing the album on their own made the most sense, however nerve-wracking an endeavor that might be. “Starting this label up and trying to do everything the right way and through the right channels…that aspect of it has been stressful. But the band part of it and the record and the songs has been way less stressful than anything else…I know that if something goes wrong, it’s going to be my fault, and I prefer it that way.” Hart determined that he’d acquired enough experience over his fifteen years in the music business to make it work, not only for himself but for other friends that might have music to put out down the road. “I want to learn how to do this right and be prepared for whatever comes down the line. I’ve been talking about it for years, to have an outlet for friends to be able to share their music when they can’t get anybody to put their shit out.”
The dozen songs that make up The Quarry have some familiar notes, but those notes combine in a way that produces a new and unique sound, which was exactly the point. “As a writer, I’ve never been able to totally force songs into molds, and that can be a hard thing about being in a punk band that’s strictly a punk band or a pop-punk band or whatever you want to call it. When you step too far out of that realm, everyone’s like “whoa, what are you doing here?” Hart formed The Scandals almost a decade-and-a-half ago and it’s been his baby ever since. But there aren’t songs on The Quarry that would fit in the Scandals catalog, or even that would have fit well on Past Lives + Pass Lines. “(These songs) couldn’t be forced into that mold, and I don’t think that would be fair to any of us. With that kind of music, it’s easy to tell when something is forced, and I love that band and I love those guys and I can’t just force a record that sounds like everything else.”
Mercy Union’s forthcoming debut album, The Quarry, due out October 19th on Mt. Crushmore Records. Pre-order bundle options are available here, but they’re going fast, which is a welcome sign to calm the potential nerves of a new project. “It’s kind of always been a fear of mine, to start something from the very beginning,” Hart says. “I started The Scandals in 2004, and just the sheer sense of that you’re going to do this whole new thing out of nowhere was daunting, but sometimes you just need to stop and take a breath of fresh air and see what happens.”
Head below to check out our full Q&A!