Tender Mercies: A Timeless Essence

Interview by Jessica Klausing

Tender Mercies can be simply summed up in six words: Indie folk rock at its finest!

The music's stripped down  to the core without the use of today's technological fillers. It sounds like a bunch of friends sitting around a room making homegrown music. The album has this timeless essence like a classic vinyl approach to Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

From the soft guitar intro in "Safe and Sound" to the beautiful mandolin in "Almighty Trial," this record provides a nostalgic mellow listen. The kind of songs to listen to on an afternoon road trip.

Even though it took twenty years to release the record, Tender Mercies have been around since the early 90's. Dan Vickrey (Vocals/Guitar) met Patrick Winningham (Vocals/Guitar) at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco. The two would soon play many gigs along with Kurt Stevenson (Vocals/Bass), Charley Gillingham (Vocals/Keyboard), and later on Jim Bogios (Vocals/Drums).

The band came to a halt in 1993 when Vickrey left to join Counting Crows alongside Gillingham. Songs such as "Four White Stallions," "Mercy," and "Wiseblood" have been kept in the Counting Crows set lists throughout the years. It wasn't until last year that Tender Mercies reunited and decided to finally release a record.

It's difficult for me to recommend favorites. I would just end up naming half the record. However, "Scarecrow" and "Angeline" receive honorable mentions.

"Scarecrow" is perhaps the 'bluesiest' song on the record. It stands out among the quieter tracks with the exception of the Honky Tonk-esque "Ball and Chain." Plus, the guitar outro just slays at the end! You can almost feel the raw energy bursting out of the guitar!

 "Angeline" is a song that really strikes a cord in me. It's been a long time since a new song has actually made me cry. This might come across very cheesy but I get teary eyed every time I listen it. Infused with gentle slide guitar, violin, and mandolin among the heartfelt lyrics just makes it such a beautiful song.

Overall, I highly recommend the album. It's a nice listen for the alt-country fans at heart.

I even had the pleasure of talking to Dan Vickrey and Patrick Winningham about the album, musical influences, and upcoming plans.

You guys have had several band names. How did you finally settle on Tender Mercies?

Dan: We didn't have anything else (laughs). At the beginning we took the name Bakery Boys after the bakery we used to rehearse in. For a while we were known as the Patrick Winningham Band. But Tender Mercies just seemed to be the most fitting name.

Patrick: I just really loved that Robert Duvall movie (laughs)...just kidding. Back when I worked at a club, I played in a band with Jeff Trott, Charley, and Kurt. We didn't really have a name. We would just use my name whenever we played mostly my stuff. As far as Tender Mercies, I have no idea where it came from.

How do you divide lead vocal roles?

Dan: I just sing my songs and he sings his songs.

Patrick: We sing our own material. Originally Dan wanted me to sing "Perfect Hour." Jim and I listened to Dan's demo and thought he should sing his songs.

After listening to "Four White Stallions" It sounds like there's a lyric difference in Tender Mercies and the Counting Crows' version. 
This is what it sounds like to me:

Tender Mercies: "There's nothing left of me in her."

Counting Crows: "There's nothing left of me and her."

Dan: The stallions lyric is the same in both versions but the pronunciation is different. The actual lyric your hearing is "There's nothing left of me AND her."

Patrick: I wrote that song in a heartfelt place at the time. We change the interpretations from time to time. We do the same with other songs as well such as "White Freight Liner" by Townes Van Zandt.

How did you become interested in guitar?

Dan: I started playing by ear since I was 14. My neighbor wanted me to join his band. I'd listen to records such as John Mayall, Tom Waits, Eric Clapton, and The Beatles.

Patrick: I started playing around the age of 14-15. I played rhythm guitar in my friends' bands. I was influenced by Neil Young, After the Gold Rush era, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, The Beatles...all the good stuff!

How does the songwriting process work?

Dan: I generally just write my own stuff. Kurt wrote "Mercy" and Patrick just added lyrics on his own to it.

Patrick: Most of the songs such as "Wiseblood" are worked out on the spot. We'll just start playing and decide if we want a guitar solo here or another lyric there. Sometimes we'll even get Dan Eisenberg on piano to add a quieter feel.

What about the recording process?

Dan: It went great! We hired an engineer to set up microphones and Pro Tools in the music room of my house and just recorded everything live in that room.

Patrick: It was a very enjoyable experience! We recorded in Dan's house for a mellower live sound. We sat around in the room and just started playing. That's the beauty of the happening! I think it was Bob Dylan that once said "let it roll because you never know what your going to catch."

Do you have a particular favorite song on the album?

Dan: I'd have to say "Wiseblood." It was the first song I first latched onto around the time I met Patrick. It holds such fond memories for me.

Patrick: It's hard to pick a favorite. The songs are like my children! "Perfect Hour" holds a special place in my heart. I also love "Mercy," "Safe and Sound," "Four White Stallions," and "Almighty Trial." There's also this one song we do that's not on the record called "Penny in the Sky" that I'm real fond of as well.

How do you go about making your set lists?

Dan: Patrick and I usually come up with the songs on the spot that we want to play. Other times we just improvise.

Patrick: Usually Dan and I bang them out, Kurt doesn't care, and Jim will speak up if he doesn't agree with a particular choice.

I really like the album art! Who's the kid on the cover?

Dan: The artwork was done by my friend, Oliver Arms. That's his nephew in the picture. Oliver and I worked together at Tower Records back in the 90's. He's a talented artist so I went to him for the cover art. Inside the album is a picture of a ferris wheel that I took in Australia and my music room.

Patrick: The cover art was a picture from Dan's friend, Oliver. We were looking for album art ideas while searching on Dan's computer one day. I was looking for a picture of a guitar but stumbled across that ferris wheel picture. I thought it was the coolest thing and told Dan we had to have it on the album!

Are there any upcoming plans for the Tender Mercies?

Dan: Patrick is the process of assembling live recordings of some of our shows.

Patrick: We hope to start working on a second album sometime in October or September. The newer stuff will be a bit darker than our old stuff.