Phelps is nothing if not publicity-shy, and it's his distrust of the local media that probably led to his defection to Canada a few months ago. Perhaps that's why no one in Treasure State or at their record label, Moneyshot, did a whole lot to draw attention to the band's lovely debut, Retain the Risk, which came out a couple of months ago. Does Mercer share his associate's weariness? "I will admit I have jaded tendencies," he says. "But I just add it up to me being too damn serious for my own good."
The songs on Retain the Risk are expansive, but not overloaded. It's their minimalism and brevity of lyrics--most expression comes from Mercer's vocal inflections--that make the songs so pretty, so thoughtful. "I've written songs in the past that were more traditionally structured, but this band was an intention of sorts to do something different," explains Mercer. "The difference in the process for me came before this band, when I started recording instrumental ideas on four-track. The composition and lyrics came along second, instead of along with the music to make a song. With Treasure State, it's pretty much the same, with a discipline in keeping the music minimal."
After backing Phelps, is Mercer daunted by being in the spotlight? "I'm still trying to figure it all out," he explains. "Singing is a lot of fun and it offers a way for me to be more expressive, although I am pretty self-conscious about it (probably another reason for all the instrumentation). So I enjoy it, but I wouldn't say I prefer it. The Downer Trio has a special chemistry that I could never duplicate or find anywhere else, and being part of that band with those guys means a helluva lot to me."