Louisville’s Mark Kramer, i.e. Tender Mercy, Chatted with Blake Conley About Music Projects, Equipment, and the Personal Influences
by Blake Edward Conley
Who are you?
Your material with Tender Mercy is extremely sparse and quiet, I’ve gathered you had a louder past musically, what lead to shed things such as volume, distortion, other band members, etc to end up where you are now? Do you feel this was a natural progression for you or a sound you sought out?
I have had a louder past for sure and this has definitely been a natural progression. Like any young and angry midwesterner loud rock was what I was raised on. But I had also came coming of age in the season of the power ballad and this is where the seed was planted. Following rock through metal,punk and hardcore then post-hardcore and “indie” rock but was caring less and less about it. This confused me a lot as I was feeling out of touch with what all my friends were really into. In high school I had bought Daniel Lanois’ Acadie and it really grabbed me (and is still one of my all time favorites). Though because I was living in the pre-internet midwest I saw it as a “New Age“ album and that wasn’t cool at all so I didn’t feel I could share it with any one or even admit to liking something so soft. Then along came Codeine’s Frigid Stars. I bought it only for the fact that it was on Sub-Pop. I’d never heard it,heard of Codeine,read a review of it or knew what codeine was. It totally knocked me sideways. None of this prepared me for stumbling across Low and their album Long Division. That and a great friend introduced me to Red House Painters’ Ocean Beach. Both huge game changers for me and made me realize quiet can be alright. It took much longer for me to come out of my shell and gather the confidence to actually play quiet music. I had been in bands since I was 15 and felt it was so much easier to hide behind volume. Playing louder music was a really fantastic way to relive stress and anxiety. If you told me at 16 I would eventually be playing quiet music solo I’d have thought you were crazy. But I’ve found playing quiet music has been 10 times more helpful in calming the chaotic anxiety filled mind I’ve been blessed with.
The title War Withinimplies as much a personal struggle as well a commentary on the current political climate. Do you feel more comfortable approaching the political, or more the more personal one? Do you consider your music more one or the other or something in-between?
Strangely,I find it far easier to write about the personal more than the political. Also,I’m one of those that thinks the personal is political. So I’m having it both ways.
The artwork on your releases have all been really beautiful and as stark as your songs. How do you go about choosing your visual artists?
With the exception of two EP’s the covers of all my releases have been by people who’s art I love and find inspiring. So being able to use it to visually represent my music is a huge honor for me.
In 2016 you released It Was You, which was an attempt to combine your aesthetic with others. Did you find the Tender Mercy approach easily adaptable to others approaches? And with that, any plans to do another album like this down the line?
Actually,I feel It Was You was more about them adapting to my approach. I gave each of them a finished song of guitar/vocals and let them do what they want to them with the knowledge that in the final mix the guitar would be dropped and my vocal would stay. I was already a big fan of all their work. The bigger hurdle for me was letting go of the song and trusting it with someone else. It turned out so wonderful! As a matter of fact I’ve started laying plans for the next Tender Mercy album and it will be a collaborative effort with someone I’ve been friends with for years. His name is Matt Espy and he plays drums for Dead Rider. It’s going to be the reverse of It Was You in that he is going to send me tracks and I’m going to write the songs around them. But rest assured it’s not going to be as cut and dry as it sounds!
Who are some influences that led you to write music the way you do? This can be music, art, writers, movies, food, locations, etc.
There might not be enough space here for all of them but here are the biggies: Low, Red House Painters, Shirley Horn, Codeine, Fugazi, Body/Head,Kandace Springs, Harold Budd, Jimmy Scott, Spain, Lungfish, Billy Eckstine, Tiny Vipers, Lana Del Ray, Daniel Lanois, Julien Baker, CJ Boyd, Johnny Hartman, Grimes, Mark Rothko, pretty much anything on Dischord Records until the mid-90s,Revelation Records, Sub-Pop Records, ECM Records.
Being a person from a great music town (Dayton) living in another great musical town (Louisville), who are some of your favourite performers from those areas and have you found the scenes/geography/history of the towns influence your music in any way?
I’m not sure if the history and geography of either town has influenced me at all. It’s more the people. And they are numerous. My favorites from Dayton go back a long way as I was born and raised there: The Obvious, Haunting Souls, The Raging Mantras, The 1984 Draft, Pure Plastic Tree, Morella’s Forest, The Method,Lab Partners, Brainiac, GBV, Cage, The Breeders/Amps,Motel Beds, Anything Tim Krug has done/will do (Human Reunion,Oh Condor, Hexadiode),The Barnhills, Shesus, Robthebank. A ton I’m forgetting. David Poe, Tim Anderl/Sweet Cheetah Publicity has a been a huge help. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the influence of Nick Kizirnis. He has been a super supportive and positive light and talent on Dayton for a long time. Had I not met him right when I was getting into playing locally my musical life would be quite different than it is now.
Louisville: GRLwood, Twin Limb, Pleasure Boys, anything Cody Johnson has done/will do (Winter Of 26, Soft Self Portraits, The Trouts), droneroom, Wombo, Yellocellophane, The Sleeping Bag, State Champion/Ryan Davis, anything Dane Waters has done/will do, Cereal Glyphs, Keenan Lawler, anything Evan Patterson has done/will do, Rachel Grimes, Will Oldham, Tim Barnes, White Reaper, all the stuff Jim Marlowe does/will do (Tropical Trash/Drywall/Equipment Pointed Ankh), the Obsolete Staircases label, The Empty Room, Water Bird, Saint Cat’s. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch.
Blake’s favourite question! What gear are you currently using? How do I rip you off and becomes the next Tender Mercy?! (nongear nerds, skip to 10)
Washburn J-3 guitar…Boss Digital Delay…Line 6 Verbzilla….Line 6 Echo Park….Ampeg Reverb Rocket.
Any final thought, philosophies, shoutouts, recipes, etc that you’d like to share with everyone?