Back in the 1800's, hat makers (or hatters) routinely applied a solution of mercury nitrate to felt hats to make them more pliant. As it turns out, this process drove many hatters to behave erratically due to the side effects of mercury. The expression "mad as a hatter" not only became a character in Alice in Wonderland, but would also be the origin of a similarly unpredictable band from Seacoastal New Hampshire, Mercuryhat.
Mercuryhat is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Eric Ott, who was weaned on the melodies and sticky harmonies of 1970's AM radio. "As long as I can remember I have always been humming a song in my head, whether it was something I heard on the radio, or something I made up," Ott said. "I remember asking my mom to purchase 'Band on the Run' by Wings, and I think those early years were the foundation for my quest for a sweet melody."
Though steeped in the heavy metal 80's, Ott's inner tickings were reworked when a family friend moved in and turned him loose on the likes of U2, REM and the Violent Femmes. "Heavy metal was something I liked but had no aspirations to create," he said. "I was able to relate to this new, strange music (referring to the aforementioned bands) that I realized had the same attitude as metal but had more soul and matched my personality. I never drank whiskey or read the hobbit, but I was afraid it was the end of the world as we knew it."
Ott's songs are a simple mix of what he calls "cowboy chords" and darkly-edged lyrics, derived mainly from the rigors of love, marriage, divorce and the great unknown. His words appear sunny in their context to the song, but upon closer inspection reveal an inner pain close to all with rich coursing blood and a heart to match.
Mercuryhat formed back in 2001, and subsequently released Hover 18 months later. The record reflected many of Ott's deepest influences, crossing paths somewhere between Wilco's Being There and Radiohead's OK, Computer. Hover received little fanfare, as it was originally thought to be more of a one-off project than a band, but perhaps the most fruitful development from those sessions was Ott's reunion with bassist Chris Shaw and guitarist Steve Wilt, both of whom he'd played with for years in previous projects. Shaw and Wilt helped Ott construct Mercuryhat's current sound, a melding of songs absent of self-indulgent guitar solos, focused instead on mind-penetrating melodies and introspective and thought-provoking lyrical passages.
In November 2006, Mercuryhat entered Thundering Sky Studios (South Berwick, ME) to begin work on their latest release, Blinding Blues and Stinging Bees. MH's latest is an open journal of Ott's five year journey to hell and back, covering a wide-range of emotions stemming from many events, including the untimely loss of his brother and a bitterly painful divorce after 15 years of marriage. Blinding Blues and Stinging Bees is a dissection of the human condition, a first-hand account of not only the unraveling of the soul, but the reconstruction of it, piece by piece. Musically it falls somewhere between the Jayhawks' Rainy Day Music, Ryan Adams' Jacksonville City Nights, and R.E.M's Monster.
In fall 2007, Wilt and drummer Christian Berling left the band. Ott reached out to his friends to fill the holes, recruiting current Pondering Judd members Steve Jacques (drums) and Mark Edgerly (guitar) to join in, adding years of touring and recording experience. He also added keyboardist Tom Ferry, who lends musical texture and substance. Shaw remains firmly implanted as the band's bassist, forgoing the usual plodding bass approach in favor of a deeply melodic attack. Together, Meruryhat produce a mesmerizing blend of dark shadows and crack-of-dawn sunlight, with their open-soul approach to both songwriting and performing. Blinding Blues and Stinging Bees is slated for release in November 2008 on Lost Sailor Records.
By Martin England