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Have Mercy, musician re-creates his band

It’s a sunny afternoon, bright as the dyed-blond bangs that occasionally veil Brendan Scholz’s gaze.

Sitting outside a Starbucks on the city’s northwest side, smoking and thinking and smoking some more, Scholz is as wide-open as the cloudless sky above.

The last time I met with Scholz, a couple of years back, also outside a Starbucks, he was just getting his current project, Mercy Music, off the ground.

It was a totally different thing back then: the folk-leaning, confessional sound of a punk rocker since the age of 9 swapping his band and his snarl for an acoustic guitar, Chuck Ragan style.

That got lonely after a couple of tours.

“Doing it alone all the time, you don’t get the same gratification,” Scholz says, a tattooed spider lurking beneath his left eye. “It’s mentally taxing to be in a car five to 10 hours alone and then go into some place where no one knows you. Dude, I played to people getting math tutored.”

And so Scholz recruited a new band (with bassist Jared Cooper and drummer Mike McGuiness), plugged his guitar back in, and here he is with Mercy Music’s just-released debut, “When I Die, I’m Taking You With Me,” a radio-ready yet punchy and real, straight-up rock record.

The album begins with a question.

“Is this my final stand?” Scholz asks early on opener “Repeat,” spending the next 30 or so minutes providing the answer: an emphatic “no,” delivered with heightened urgency from one track to the next.

From the raw-voiced “Pretend,” to anti-anthem “Painless,” where Scholz’s guitar buzzes like a downed power line, to spare, tender hymnal “The Sun Follows You,” “Die” is posited on seeing things through a fog of doubt and anxiety.

“A lot of the time, I’m like, ‘What am I still doing this for?’ ” Scholz says. “It starts to wear on you a little bit. But, in the same respect, (the desire) doesn’t go away.”

He’s been doing so for well more than a decade now, first with punks Absent Minded and then with Lydia Vance, a band who channelled Brit pop influences through American pop punk and ended up getting a demo deal with Atlantic Records.

Then there was Deadhand, which was the sound of Scholz’s teeth gnashing in time with a whiplash beat.

It was while touring solo that Scholz became comfortable putting his voice and lyrics upfront in his music, and this is what ties the old Mercy Music to the new: While the sound is more muscular and fleshed out, the candid nature of the songs, the honest way in which Scholz addresses the uncertainty and struggle of what he’s chosen to do with his life remains intact.

Scholz doesn’t know exactly where this journey will take him or his band, and that’s exactly what makes it worth traveling to begin with.

“It’s exciting,” he says of this new stage in Mercy Music’s development. “And I’m scared. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.

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