For SA’s music scene, redemption will always reside in the heart of its — pulsating, albeit petite — resilient core. New permutations of disbanded bands are constantly cutting and pasting members, customizing and cannibalizing their sounds to create something new from the old. Enter Bisön (don’t let the umlaut confuse you — it’s still pronounced bī-sən), comprising three guys who’ve been around and one fresh-faced wunderkind who’s just getting started. They’ll be joining Casetta, Montauk, Westbound Departure, and another new patchwork formation, In Beds (former members of Make Your Own Maps and Crotch on Fire with new addition and ’09 defector Jonathan Dealy) on Friday, December 19, at Rock Bottom.
Bisön was spawned about six months ago from an idea for a rock opera, a collaboration between former Wholesale Piracy guitarist JC Rodriguez, Muldoon/Great Northern Guns vet Jerid Morris and Reader bassist David Cantu. “I had a plan for a 17-track record that was going to go along with it,” Morris says. Not completely please with the final product, they shelved the opera idea, and instead asked Julian Mercado, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, to play drums for a more traditional ensemble.
How did Mercado get involved with these older scene mainstays? When he was five, Mercado’s parents gifted him a black Pearl junior drum kit and lessons with Bobby Jarzombek— a local drummer who’s worked with Rob Halford and Sebastian. After an introduction to fusion jazz, he became the lead drummer for his school’s jazz ensemble and then the head of the drum line. He’s also the younger brother of former Muldoon (and current Sohns) drummer Lawrence Mercado.
Drawing on their varying musical experiences and looking to the Promise Ring and Spoon — more for their workmanlike pragmatism than specific sonic influence — Bisön has streamlined their approach to achieve a mature sound. Bisön’s songs are spacey ruminations on fate, chuckling at the things we see, hate, and sometimes become. Morris’s guileless, poppy songwriting works well with Rodriguez’s experimental mindfuckery, and Cantu’s malleability provides a flexible pulse for Mercado’s polished, ardent drum work.
“Nobody writes like me, good or bad,” says Morris. “I want to write serious shit with a tongue-in-cheek aspect that’s not droll and annoyingly preachy.”
Morris continues to cultivate Bisön’s effective, emotive songwriting that’s steeped in Rodriguez’s clandestinely complex timing — a compromise that often favors instrumental minimalism over buried vocals.
“I’m making much more of an effort to have quiet parts in the songs where the lyrics are fully audible,” Morris says. “ I think there’s an inherent dynamic when people are willing to not play, since we aren’t just looking for that next hook.”
Mercado agrees. “I try to play what comes naturally and wait for my time. I don’t want to cover up anything another member of the band could make better.”
For Rodriguez’s part, Bisön represents a shift away from his previous high-energy apoplectic musical style. “I was trying to calm down and stop jumping like a monkey,” he laughs. “Now, I feel comfortable shaking the tambourine for a verse, and I’m OK with playing close to nothing, or very simple things just to make the song sound good.”
The boys are currently wrapping up recording their debut EP, Sans Sensation, with producer Glory Morris, Jerid Morris’s brother — with whom Jerid has worked on every project he’s completed — and engineer Barrett Walton in Austin at the Wonder Chamber, a private studio owned by producer Brian Beattie (whose discography includes the Dead Milkmen, Daniel Johnston, Okkervil River, and Smog).
Diverging somewhat from the dense, high-minded lyrical meat of Bisön’s past iterations, Sans Sensation balances the heady moments with some lighthearted, purely tactile stuff. Radiating nuances of Braid, the ephemeral-though-pivotal Desaparecidos, and slight sprinkles of early Dianogah, the tunes also emphasize Mercado’s jazz-rock background, as elements of Sandoval, Dennis Chambers, and John Bonham pervade his drumming style.
“M,” “the better song” according to Morris, stretches across the contracting landscape it constructs in dithering three-quarter time, illuminating the proficiencies that form Bisön’s mass, all in the name of … who? That’s right — Street Fighter II heavy M. Bison. In the careening “Rode a Power Chord To Hell,” the boys imbue the premise of the Charlie Daniels Band’s only real hit with a slightly more scathing take on bartering one’s soul. Burrowing into the dueling impulses of naïveté and gall that drive us to accept empty promises, the track triumphs through the sheer force of rock and ultimately exploits the bargain’s loopholes to bamboozle both the Evil One and the father-son team upstairs for a good laugh. Riff-driven “In a Minute” is a jam session confection that’s quite possibly the only song Bisön has written as a unit, as opposed to the usual Rodriguez or Morris’s solo-penned efforts. But the inherent binary opposition between the band’s primary songwriters drives “Really Rocked,” which complains of the “DJ teens littering the scene” hastily producing imitative tracks in a mad dash to become the moment’s next big thing.
Though the band has “changed so much just in the few months since we’ve been playing together,” says Morris, “It’s still the same focus, and we’re still going to the same place with it.” Bisön is simultaneously both a departure from the types of music its members have played in the past and a culmination of their combined playing styles. The balancing act makes for some great music, but maintaining it is difficult.
“It’s a little bit between giving up and gasping for air,” says Rodriguez.
Montauk, Westbound Departure, and In Beds
9pm Fri, Dec 19
Rock Bottom Tattoo Bar
1033 Avenue B