Locals Only: : The Risky Antiseptics

MercuroChrome's debut CD, Is That What They Want, merges three generations of Rock

Sep 6, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Matt Robinson


Ah, monkey bars, slides, skinned knees and the good ol' days of superficial, playground wounds. Grandma's antiseptic, Mercurochrome, to the rescue. All better. Except the substance might cause mercury poisoning. Oops, mood killer.

Local band MercuroChrome's sound brings forth this mix of threat and healing, worn band-aids peeling. In their debut album, Is That What They Want, some tracks sound like buoyant Pop, while others delve into more ironic, murkier water. Morrissey on anti-depressants.

"It's a pinnacle for all bands to put out a record," says frontman Brian Stegeman. "We used vintage equipment, but it didn't come out sounding like a cliché vintage album."

In "Weatherman," Stegeman's voice enters Midnight Oil territory, but when joined by bassist Laura Robinson's lighter vocals, the vibe switches to a B-52s feel. Lyrics downplay sunny rhythms as Stegeman sings, "No one fucks a weatherman."

"Crimea" stands out from the rest. The song smartly combines an '80s rhythm with a darker, more modern sound. Duke Smith's power chords surrender to melody, with Stegeman's low tone backed by David Umbenhour's grabbing drums.

Robinson explains the musical range: "We have three generations of age here. It brings a lot to the music."

Influenced by Guided by Voices and Pavement and hailing from Bellevue, Ky., Stegeman doesn't "look" like he sounds. One would expect a pale, black-haired artist who got kicked out of SCPA. Instead, Stegeman is talkative, intelligent and focused. Playing guitar in high school when "Nirvana happened," he says that from practicing, sitting on hard floors, he bruised his tailbone. No joke.

In 2000, Stegeman busted into his friend's band practice. The band, Morals Galore, was without a singer, so Stegeman joined, toured and recorded two CDs with them. Stegeman describes the 2004 breakup as "losing a bunch of loved ones at once."

Soon after, Stegeman and Smith met. Smith mentioned that he bought a firehouse in Camp Washington to use for a practice space, and all he needed was a band to put in it.

"Other bands are jealous of the firehouse," Smith says, squinty-smiling.

"Duke is determined," Stegeman says, laughing. "I was leery about doing (a band thing) again, but this band is levelheaded and cool. Not that everything's easy, but our life experience makes it easier."

From Cincinnati, Smith calls himself an "equipment snob." Resembling a young Richard Gere, Smith is self-taught; he bought a $5 acoustic guitar in 1982, learning from bands like KISS.

"I'm a little stuck in the '80s with power chords," Smith says.

Smith knew Umbenhour from playing with local band The Bellevues. Umbenhour, a graphic designer from Canton, Ohio, looks like a poet. He wears all black, drinks real espresso and has played drums since 1969.

"I have my own style," Umbenhour says. "I'm using the same drum set my father gave me at 13 years old."

In early 2005, Robinson entered MercuroChrome. Smith, who worked with her, asked her to join like this: "You're a girl. Why don't you be our bass player?"

From Augusta, Ky., Robinson is a colorful, positive creature. She wears dangling pink earrings and a vintage dress. Hair, artsy red pigtails. Two years ago, for kicks, she picked up the bass to play a party.

"My husband plays guitar, and we have many instruments lying around," she says. "The bass felt natural."

Inspired by a long night watching The Ass Ponys at the Barrelhouse, Robinson showed up at the firehouse the next week. The band's first gig in 2005 was mere months after Laura touched a bass.

"I compare Laura's beginning bass playing to Meg White's (role) in The White Stripes." Smith says. "It's a vibe thing."

Perhaps this sound is somewhere between nostalgia, medicine, poison and pigtails, but according to Stegeman, the course is simpler.

"We are always shooting for Rock."

MERCUROCHROME (myspace.com/mercurochromerocker) plays at The Greenwich on Sept. 16.