Michael Chagnon and Geoffrey Osborne unite as Mercutio
By: MATT ASHARE
Published: December 20, 2011
Like a lot of young, ambitious, aspiring artists, Michael Chagnon and Geoffrey Osborne have been keeping a close eye on their progress.
So with the year winding down, the Lynchburg-raised singer/songwriters, who formed an acoustic duo they christened Mercutio back in October, were particularly happy to report that they were on their way to play their 141st gig of 2011 when I caught up with them over the phone this past weekend.
Chagnon and Osborne have been spending as much time as they can on the road, hitting venues from North Carolina to Baltimore, supporting their first release as Mercutio.
Their self-titled, 5-track EP came out on November 1, and they’ll be returning home this week to play two shows in Lynchburg (see box).
Chagnon and Osborne first met when the two were in high school, and each had his own nascent band.
“I went to one of Michael’s shows, and we stayed in touch,” says Osborne, who went on to attend Longwood University in Farmville, while Chagnon stayed a little closer to home and got his degree at Lynchburg College.
Both continued playing separately as undergrads, but, “right out of college, we knew we wanted to start playing together and touring around Virginia,” Osborne says. “We hadn’t actually written any songs to-gether at that point. So it seemed to make more sense to us to play and record the best of what we’d done on our own as songwriters. And then, over the course of the next two years, we played together under our own names [as Michael and Geoffrey], and started collaborating more.”
In that sense, the “Mercutio” EP is both the culmination of work they did finding common musical ground as Michael and Geoffrey, and a starting point for a more holistic, band-oriented approach they aim to pursue. Thus the name change to Mercutio, a reference to one of the more colorful secondary roles in “Romeo and Juliet.”
“We had a bunch of names floating around,” says Chagnon. “And we had a bunch of different criteria when we were looking at names. Mercutio just fit all the criteria. We liked the reference, we liked the sound of it. It’s a little bit different. There are a lot of reasons for it really.”
“I would just say that Mercutio is frankly the most likeable character in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Osborne in-terjects. “And he gets out of there before the story gets too mushy.”
While there aren’t any other conscious references to Shakespeare on the EP, it does amount to something of a mercurial collection of songs and styles.
Much of it sticks fairly close to what you’d expect from a young acoustic duo — lots of bright strum-ming and earnest harmonizing over chords that range from the bluesy to the Beatlesque.
“Abbey,” one of two tunes named for a girl, has a campfire sing-along quality to it; the other, “Moira,” brings more of a back-porch hootenanny feel to the party, with harmonica and a swinging backbeat fleshing out the arrangement.
“Play,” a tune Michael says he wrote back in high school, heads in a vaguely Spanish direction, while in-corporating a rather rockist electric guitar solo.
And then there’s “It Sure Was Good To See You,” a sarcastically titled tune by Osborne — “I’ve been carrying that one with me since I was a teenager,” he admits — that employs a full-band arrangement, in-cluding a synth line added by Chagnon and brings to mind, as both happily admit, the modern-rock of Weezer.
“Since this is the first EP,” Chagnon explains, “we went through material we had on our own and then put it to each other to put it together and polish it. It’s become much more of a full collaboration now, and the next album will be more cohesive than the EP. I mean, we’re definitely looking to expand and, we ha-ven’t really told anybody this yet, but we’re rehearsing with a drummer right now. Eventually we’re going to be incorporating that into the live act.
“But, I think there’s a distinct difference between our recording identity and our live identity. They’re just two different things. What we’re focusing on is good songwriting — material you can play in any genre, and it’ll still be a good song. I think we’re heading more toward modern pop-rock, but we’re not afraid to experiment. So whatever the song calls for, whatever the song wants us to do, that’s what we’re going to go with.”
With that in mind, Chagnon and Osborne are anxious to see where their collaborative efforts take them as they look forward to a new year of songwriting, recording, and, of course, touring.
And just for the record, barring any bizarre acts of nature or technical difficulties, tonight and Friday will be their 142nd and 143rd gigs of 2011.