Just over a year ago, long-running Milwaukee blues-rock quartet Herman Astro announced it was calling it quits after close to eight years together and three releases, including Mean Gene, which they released just weeks before parting ways with a final show in October of 2014. Herman Astro’s conclusion came as a result of singer/guitarist Zachary Pluer’s decision to move to North Carolina. The rest of the band considered going with him, but ultimately stayed back. With years spent on stage together and undeniable chemistry, drummer Cody Calderon, bassist Adam Dosemagen, and guitarist Eric LeMieux decided to forge on, seek a new singer, enlist some songwriting assistance, and explore new sonic territory.
Friday night, close to 51 weeks since Herman Astro played its final show, Mercy Company will make its Milwaukee debut when the project featuring the remaining members, new singer Sugar Ransom (singer/songwriter Sarah Gilbert), and seasoned keyboardist/songwriter/recording engineer Nick Berg take the stage at Club Garibaldi. Before Milwaukee gets to know Mercy Company, Milwaukee Record asked Dosemagen and LeMieux about Astro’s ending, Mercy Company’s beginning, and how the projects differ.
Milwaukee Record: Would you mind running me through the end of Herman Astro?
Adam Dosemagen: Zach, the singer, his girlfriend—his now fiancée—is from the North Carolina area. Basically, she wanted to move back down there. He hit 30 and was kind of at a crossroads, and we couldn’t fault him for that. But it was a massive bummer because we felt like we were kind of on the verge of things.
Eric LeMieux: It started as an idea of moving the band down there. That was an idea we were kicking around for a while. That was actually being considered, but ultimately I decided I needed to say in Milwaukee. I have, now, a fiancée here and a lot invested here, so I had to stay no matter what happened.
MR: With the announcement, you sort of insinuated you’d be making a band with all the leftover members, but then you actually did it. Can you run me through the process of filling in the gaps with the new band?
AD: Well, we had Nick [Berg] already toward the end of Herman Astro. He was playing keyboards with us live, but we had him in with the intentions of being in the new band.
EL: We already knew it was coming. Zach told us and then a whole year went by where we were recording the album and playing those last few shows, so it was quite the process.
AD: It made sense to continue on. It was never even a question that if we didn’t play in various other bands that we needed to continue on.
EL: We started jamming and writing songs the week after Zach told us to keep things moving.
MR: Well, one uncertainty that you had was the largest one in a lot of people’s eyes. People tend to put the vocals at the forefront of a band’s identity. Was that daunting to know what you wanted to do musically, but needing to find the right voice?
AD: Yeah, it was a painstaking process. Most good singers you know are already in a band. It’s hard to find an untapped talent. And Zach left big shoes to fill. There are a lot of variables to consider. We wanted to it the ground running and then we found Sugar [Ransom]. Nick plays with her solo project that’s a lot more Americana, but she was looking to do something more funk and soul, more along our lines. She still has her project, but when Nick brought her up, she came and jammed and it just worked out. Personalities fit and we’d always sort of wanted a female singer, and it’s been great. We put a lot of thought and worry into it because you only have one, like, post-Herman band, so we didn’t want to fuck it up.
MR: What is the difference in the songwriting mentality and the overall sound between Herman and what you’re doing now? Is there a different outlook after having this long-lasting thing ultimately not work out, has it changed the approach?
AD: As far as the sound, with Zach having such a big, intense voice, we were doing more bluesy songs that were in your face. Now it’s a little more down-tempo. It’s still generally in the same wheelhouse. It’s still freewheeling and fun.
MR: Nick Berg has been in a ton of projects and he’s recorded pretty much everyone in the city. Right out the gates, what does having someone like that mean for the project?
AD: He’s been amazing in a lot of ways. Our talents lie in raw places. He’s written a million songs and come at it from every different way and experienced everything from all the various projects he’s been in. He really knows what he’s doing. He’ll come in every week with a new melody.
EL: He knows how to put a song together. When we’re stuck, Nick knows how to finish a song or take it to a different place. If we go to the junkyard and pick out some cool parts, we can bring it to Nick and he can put it together and make something with it.
MR: We’re roughly, what, 51 weeks removed since Herman’s last show. What’s the difference in your overall perspective with a year in a new project under your belt—essentially having risen from the ashes of this longstanding thing?
EL: This is going to sound bad, but I don’t care as much. It’s kind of taken longer than we would’ve liked it to for us to release these songs. If it was Herman Astro, I would’ve been going nuts because I would think we were missing out on all these opportunities, time is going by, and we’re getting older. But now for whatever reason, even though I am older, I’m really not sweating it as much.
AD: We’ve done this before, so there’s less of that anxious worry. Not that we’re experts or big stars or anything, but we kind of know what we’re doing this time around. When Herman started, I was 21 and still in college. Now, we’re 30 and have spent time in another band, so it’s kind of a different story.