The Rise of Troy (and Mackenzie)

The Young Evils' Vaselines-Lensed Love Affair

The Rise of Troy (and Mackenzie)

Lance Mercer

THE YOUNG EVILS Troy Nelson and Mackenzie Mercer.

While waiting for his order at Caffe Vita before our interview, Troy Nelson sings along to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" as it harnesses its staccato, malevolent dirges over the PA. His band, the Young Evils, though, couldn't be farther in tone from those doom-metal pioneers. Despite their name, the Young Evils, who feature Nelson's girlfriend Mackenzie Mercer on vocals and tambourine, traffic in some of the city's sweetest pop-rock confections. And, man, are they a cute couple. You're going to love to hate them—or, more likely, love them like you do kittens. They are awww-some.

On the face of things, the Young Evils seem like they can't fail. They have connections: Guitarist/drummer Nelson, 33, hosts a prime Friday-night slot on KEXP and is John Richards's handpicked permanent sub when the morning-rush-hour DJ needs a break. Nelson also works at the beloved indie record shop Easy Street (where he met Mercer) and is one half of cult comedy twosome Black Daisy, along with Young Evils guitarist Cody Hurd.

For her part, Mercer, 21, is the daughter of renowned rock photographer and Briefs bassist Lance Mercer, and her future stepfather is Barrett Jones, a producer with a storied hard-rock pedigree (Nirvana, Melvins, Pussy Galore, etc.) who played bass and worked the knobs in his Laundry Room Studio for the Young Evils' forthcoming debut album, Enchanted Chapel.

Lest you think Nelson's KEXP association will give his band an unfair advantage with regard to airplay, he assures us that "I didn't even tell anybody at KEXP about [the Young Evils]—not because I was hiding it, but because I just didn't want to be a douchebag. I haven't given anyone there a CD or anything of the sort. I'm not going to play it on the radio. If another DJ there wants to, that's great. But I'm not going to have anything to do with that.

"I've been asked by a couple of people at the station for a copy of the album, but I'm too lazy to give them one," Nelson adds. "Once we get them pressed, I might give one to whoever asks for it. But I'm comfortable knowing that the station wouldn't play it if they didn't like it or think it's good. They wouldn't play it just because it's me."

Beyond that enviable network, the Young Evils also have skills. The self-released Enchanted Chapel—which should be out in August—boasts 10 songs that clock in at 26 minutes. Using the immediately captivating first Violent Femmes album as inspiration, Nelson composed with concision and minimalism in mind. He also schemed to have you singing along to his ditties before you even know the lyrics, which abound with wordplay. Classic, nice-folks pop and country-rock song structures predominate, with Nelson and Mercer's voices twining in the upper registers like the lovers' bodies whence they emanate. Imagine a Northwest version of the Vaselines—the most common Young Evils comparison and one to which they readily cop. If you feel bad while listening to Enchanted Chapel, you probably need psychiatric help. You may not like everything on this release, but it's almost impossible to frown or furrow a brow to it.

The Young Evils credit Jones for fleshing out their songs with his vast production expertise and understated backing vocals. "Barrett's an awesome producer and really easy to work with," Mercer says. "His ideas have helped shape some of the songs."

"We sing in octaves, and he'll put in subtle harmonies," Nelson says. "He also had ideas for the rhythms. He's also kind of a drummer—more so than me, even though I played drums on half the record; he played drums on the other half. He would say, 'This needs to be a little more of a swing beat.'"

"He'd say, 'Let's put some weird piano or Wurlitzer in the background,'" Mercer adds. "I remember a song where Barrett had buried some harmonies in there, and it took on a life of its own. Barrett really helped the album come to life."

Nelson and Mercer forwent shopping the record to labels because they wanted it to come out as soon as possible, during the summer, when its breezy, buoyant elements can best work their magic. Nelson worries that, "in the [current] musical climate—all this smart, noisy, dark music—[our] little record of happy, poppy, two-minute songs" might have trouble finding an audience, but that concern seems unfounded.

One thing's for sure: The Young Evils sound nothing at all like Voltage Periscope, Nelson's lethally grim nü-metal parody band that appeared in some Black Daisy episodes. "I had a personality crisis going from writing comedy songs to 'real' songs," he admits. "I've spent the last four years making fun of popular music. It was about a year and half ago that I decided to try to write some... I'd been writing all these crazy, complicated comedy songs, making fun of bro metal, new country, bad hiphop, and all this stuff. I knew I had it in me somewhere to write these little, catchy songs that are also influenced by the Vaselines and Magnetic Fields."

Perhaps the Young Evils' golden chemistry derives from the two principals' vastly different backgrounds, a case of opposites converging into an ideal unity. Local girl Mercer grew up backstage at Pearl Jam concerts, which her dad shot; Nelson came from Mitchell, South Dakota, where Def Leppard and Bon Jovi represented high culture. Mercer was weaned on '70s punk rock, while Nelson went through intense Metallica and Nirvana phases. The youthful Mercer is an "old soul" (per Nelson) with a neck tattoo that honors Joe Strummer; elder Nelson claims to be "so of the times."

Nelson eventually fled South Dakota, attending Florida's Full Sail audio-engineering school and then moving to New York to work for the prestigious Hit Factory, where he carried Puff Daddy's reel-to-reels, bought Ice Cube a Korn CD, avoided eye contact with Michael Jackson, and breathed much secondhand pot smoke. He moved to Seattle just in time to experience the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

When Nelson met Mercer at Easy Street in the mid '00s, they instantly clicked. One day he overheard Mercer beautifully singing Heart's "(Love Me Like Music) I'll Be Your Song" and promptly enlisted her to sing in his band, a project that started as an acoustic Mötley Crüe tribute band (old comedy habits die hard), before morphing into the dimple-cheeked pop unit that you hear on Enchanted Chapel.

As Fleetwood Mac and others taught us, bands containing couples tread a precarious line. It's tough to keep both enterprises conflict-free. Mercer recalls, "The first thing I said after Troy and I kissed was, [tearfully] 'We're gonna ruin our band.' He said, 'Oh, thanks.' But Troy's the peanut butter to my jelly."

"And it's fun for me to watch Mackenzie fight off all my groupies," Nelson counters, as Mercer laughs. "I have a hard time fighting them off myself; I needed help. That's actually why Mackenzie and I started this relationship. Seriously. Sometimes there's two at a time. Tough life..." recommended

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Comments (21) RSS

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Troy is a super talent. Can't wait to hear the new album.
Posted by Billy Wayne Davis on July 29, 2010 at 9:28 AM · Report this
Kristen Blush 2
oh my gosh yes, such a cute couple. Love this!
Posted by Kristen Blush on July 29, 2010 at 10:41 AM · Report this
Posted by unregistered on July 29, 2010 at 12:55 PM · Report this
unregistered 4
I found this on facebook, and it made me laugh (link above.)

I ♥ Troy Nelson Filling in for John In The Morning Fan Club
Posted by unregistered on July 29, 2010 at 12:57 PM · Report this
How many bands are in this city? How may have been busting their ass for the even the slightest recognition? This article is the PERFECT example of Seattle nepotism and the benefits garnered from being a scenester and/or related to/friendly with veteran scenesters.

Their demos were played in-between most sets of the Brad Family Reunion show. VERY out of place with the vibe and certainly due to the connections. I'm a regular at Easy Street and can tell you that both members certainly tout their band, and while Troy kicks John's morning ass, Mackenzie knows fck all about The Clash or music prior to 15 years ago. Ask.

Cute music and couple?...sure
Glowing praises and a sloppy asskiss from The Stranger before ANY proper dues paid? bullshit.
Expect to hear this on KEXP as often as Richards' investment, The Blakes.

You left out Mark Pickerel's involvement!? I mean, c'mon...let's move some units!!!
Posted by Callin' Out, Keepin' Real on July 30, 2010 at 9:48 AM · Report this
A Brad Family Reunion show? What are you old and boring? Sounds like a bitter Seattle musician if you ask me.
Posted by obvious hater is obvious on July 30, 2010 at 12:12 PM · Report this
wow, somebody woke up on the wrong side of the couch, perfect case of frustrated musician syndrome, let me guess your in a band, you've been playing around town for a while, headlining, if your lucky, on a tuesday night at the Comet, or first of five bands on a Sat night?..its rough, I know, Even if this isnt your life, the fact you have taken the time to complain speaks volumes. You have to be kidding yourself to think that you can make it, in any music scene, by just "busting your ass", every scene, not just music, is filled with nepotism, and unfortunately it is all about who you know, welcome to the real world, it sucks but its the truth. Now, if the YE sucked, then I would not be responding to your crying, but to "make it" you also have to have good songs to keep moving forward, and even though you might not agree, they do have some catchy songs, ones that I can do my dishes to, and that says alot cuz I hate doin dishes. Of course Im a bit biased here since my offspring is the second 1/2 of this band, and btw she knows about the Clash, Ive made sure of that. Your criticism is valid,somewhat, but unrealistic. Instead of wasting time ranting about how bad it is, take that energy and go get a job at Guitar Center, because thats where this attitude thrives, youll make many new friends that all feel like you do, disgruntled.
Posted by proud pops on July 30, 2010 at 12:45 PM · Report this
ooh you totally got pwned by Kenzie's dad! BURN! Also, your band sucks.
Posted by crybabies don't get gigs on July 30, 2010 at 12:52 PM · Report this
Now i know where their too cool for school attitude comes from when i'm in Easy Street Records.
Posted by lowly customer on July 30, 2010 at 1:02 PM · Report this
Funny, because they, and the rest of the staff at Easy Street is soooooo much better and helpful than every other record store in town.
Posted by People are strange on July 30, 2010 at 3:18 PM · Report this
Wow!?!? While Callin' Out has a valid point about the scene but could've gone without the personal dissing, did Lance Mercer just state that Neopotism IS the key to stature in this town...if the YE falter it'll be because they're music isn't any good...and that all personnel in Guitar Center are disgruntled?
Posted by learning is good on July 30, 2010 at 3:34 PM · Report this
read into what you will, I was saying that any artistic scene isnt without nepotism, its an unfortunate fact of how artist succeed, there are countless examples many right here in Seattle, and the band I was a part of included. If your getting shows because of it, its best to back it up with a great show, or great songs, and the great thing about any art form is not everyone has to like it, thats what keeps the fire under the feet. I do have to say that I have done nothing to help the YE, only provided some photographs, of course that was not for free, my daughter has to wash my car every weekend for a while to pay me back, keeping it real..
as far as Guitar Center, well, im sure there are some really nice folks that work there, and bless them for the hard work they do.
Posted by proud pops on July 30, 2010 at 4:17 PM · Report this
Mark Pickerel is a mensch on the drums. Sorry for not including him in the article.
Posted by Dave Segal on July 30, 2010 at 5:04 PM · Report this
Anyone that thinks the Young Evils haven't worked their asses off should come down to the show tonight. I'll put all the haters on the guest list.

If you walk away disappointed in what you see or hear I will give you an hj in the alley behind the High Dive.

Posted by Jeff on July 30, 2010 at 5:49 PM · Report this
You'd be silly not to use any connections you have anyway.

Work it.

Sorry to the rest, kind of.
Posted by Nate on July 30, 2010 at 8:42 PM · Report this
FYI: Zero HJs tonight.

Anonymous pussies pussied out. Pussies.
Posted by Jeff on July 31, 2010 at 2:45 AM · Report this
"She doesn't even know about the Clash." What a Seattle bench mark of credibility.
Posted by Canewithwheel on August 1, 2010 at 1:42 PM · Report this
Brent Amaker 18
Young Evils deserve all the attention they are getting. And the fact that everyone has so much to say about this article is only evidence that there will be more attention to come. Great music is polarizing. If there are some haters, this is good news. Even if the haters happen to be a bunch of pussies.
Posted by Brent Amaker on August 2, 2010 at 1:11 PM · Report this
I'm sure they're delightful people, but let's be honest: the attention given to the Young Evils started with The Stranger, KEXP and the other tastemakers in town who sincerely just wanted to see their friends' band succeed. It's an admirable goal - except when it's packaged and sold as an honest instance of "the cream rising to the top."

Fact is, there are dozens of better bands than this in Seattle playing great music (the kind that succeeds on its own merits and finds its way into the public consciousness ORGANICALLY) but you'll never read about them in the local music rags, because none of their members work for KEXP.
Posted by I.B. Haightin on November 23, 2010 at 2:43 PM · Report this
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