Visit the website of the Milwaukee rock band Hey Mercedes, and one obsession of guitarist-vocalist Michael Shumaker becomes abundantly clear: The Cleveland native really, really likes AC/DC. In his biographical information on the band's weblog, he awards most-favored status to the late vocalist Bon Scott, the fist-pumping number "Let There Be Rock," and Highway to Hell. Clicking on his e-mail address brings up the tagline "Mike likes AC/DC. Ask him why."
"I was really into Bon Scott's ridiculously silly lyrics," Shumaker offers in explanation. "All his lyrics are totally tongue-in-cheek, like he's always got double meanings for everything he says. I always just thought it was hilarious, even when I was a kid. I knew that he says one thing, but he's actually talking about picking up chicks at the bar.
"The main thing was Angus Young, though -- the guitar-playing. Being an aspiring guitarist, I saw this little guy going totally apeshit. I don't know, it was appealing to me. Its simplicity was appealing to me, too. I liked how they just keep everything simple, and they don't try and fancy it up at all, really."
Shumaker, the 27-year-old former vocalist of the Cleveland band Sheilbound, confesses to a fondness for no-frills slash-and-burn that meshes well with the streamlined melodicism of his current outfit. Formed in 2000 after the dissolution of the influential, math-rock group Braid, Hey Mercedes rounded off its predecessor's harshest edges with raggedly catchy sing-alongs on its J. Robbins-produced, full-length 2001 debut, Everynight Fire Works.
But even easier on the ears is the quartet's follow-up album, Loses Control, which swaps rhythmic trigonometric equations for loud 'n' proud noisepop in the vein of Jimmy Eat World, Foo Fighters, and Flip Your Wig-onward Hüsker Du. Exploding poison-riff darts accent "Playing Your Song," while the motormouthed insulin rush "Quality Revenge at Last," the Sugar-style "Oh Penny," and the understated post-rock breakup ode "Unorchestrated" all swagger with the brazen attitude of radio-friendly smash hits.
Yet Control maintains the wiry underground intensity of Hey Mercedes's Vagrant labelmates Alkaline Trio and Get Up Kids, despite the slickness of its plentiful hooks and harmonies -- a balance resulting from the production sheen applied by Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, the knob-spinners behind the grit-and-polish beacons of Pablo Honey and Live Through This.
"One of the best things was just how laid-back it was," Shumaker says about recording Control on the duo's home turf of Cambridge, Massachusetts. "If we were working on something and it just wasn't really working out, they didn't push the issue. They were just like, 'Well, that's not working, let's move on.' They just have a great ear for rock music, really. We'd be working on the song, and Paul would just be like, 'Hmm. That part that you're playing there, I just have a feeling that this guitar through this amp is going to sound good.' And we set it up, and sure enough, it brought the part to life somehow."
Shumaker also had little trouble adapting to life in the Mercedes camp after replacing Mark Dawursk in mid-2002. In fact, he calls joining drummer Damon Atkinson, vocalist-guitarist Robert Nanna, and bassist Todd Bell "probably the easiest transition" he's ever made. A friend of Atkinson's since the drummer played Cleveland in 1995 with another band, Shumaker later shared bills with Braid and Figurehead (both Atkinson projects), and the two kept in touch through the late '90s and early 2000s. Their relationship eventually brought about a Hey Mercedes tryout, in which, according to Shumaker, the rest of the band found the instant chemistry that remains unwavering today.
"The first song we ever played together, I think, was pretty much the way we play it now," he says. "Basically, after that practice they asked me to join the band. It just worked. The first show I ever played with them was the first show on a six-week tour. And it was fine, it was great.
"In the studio, it doesn't take us 500 times to get a song right; we do it in one or two or three tries," he adds. "There's so much unsaid stuff that happens when we write the songs and lay them in the studio. We're all on the same page from being on tour forever, basically. We play so many shows together, we can anticipate what everybody's doing without looking at anybody or talking about it."
Now a resident of Wisconsin along with Bell and Atkinson, Shumaker hasn't forsaken his Cleveland roots. He reminisces in conversation about the scruffy discount chain Marc's, "being able to buy booze until 2 a.m. -- at a gas station," and the treasures contained in the cheapo bins at the used-CD haven, The Exchange.
"Seriously, 25 percent of my record collection I got at the Record Exchange in North Olmsted for, like, between a quarter and a dollar fifty," he says. "I'm sitting here looking at my CDs, and I can see at least 15 right offhand that have that [price] sticker on them."
Indeed, Shumaker might have moved to the land of cheese and Miller beer, but his Northeast Ohio upbringing remains a salient and vocal force in his musical modus operandi.
"As far as wanting to play loud and always be in a rock band, that's definitely a Cleveland trait," he says. "Everybody in Cleveland is pretty much a rocker, more or less, at least when I was there. You can tell, hanging out with people from other cities, you can see how our record collections vary. Definitely every record I have is a rock record."
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