This new series of articles is designed to spotlight a Houston band. With a fractured scene and the only bands making money being cover and tribute bands, I’ve decided to give some much needed attention to the many local Houston bands and artists who produce excellent original music. For my first monthly article, I’ve decided to feature one of my favorite Houston bands, MercenaryX. I’ve written about them before, including their part of the RATT show where they opened. But now I am here to discuss their music in depth. MercenaryX is DinoX on drums, Chris Shields on guitar, Andrew Sutton on bass and Rus Gib on vocals.
Background on Houston band MercenaryX
The founding members of MercenaryX met when they were band mates in a previous Houston band. During the time in that band, neither of them truly felt like they were part of the band but instead hired guns, or mercenaries, except they weren’t being paid for their time or effort in the band. After they were both asked to leave, right around the same time, they counted up the number of drummers and guitarist who had been through this particular band and the total was ten. The name MercenaryX was created based on the soured experience of Dino and Chris, the founding members. A word of warning, though – do not make the mistake of putting a space between the “Mercenary” and the “X”. The guys really, really don’t like that.
From there, they began working on a sound and writing songs, adding Rus a few months later. His vocals added a new depth to the sound and they started working on recording some of their songs as a way to seek out a bass player and to start building a following online. In September of 2008, they added Andrew on bass and in only a few short months of rehearsal, they had their fist gig.
Since then, they have landed some very impressive gigs, notably opening for Saxon on one of only three US tour dates, opening for LA Gunns when they visited Houston and the opening spot for RATT. They have played most of the major Houston venues and have headlined shows at Warehouse Live, BFE, 19th Hole and the Meridian.
The MercenaryX sound
Sitting down with the band, it became clear pretty quickly that none of them could easily describe the sound they were going for. When pressed, the list of bands that they consider as influences are really expansive. Personally, as an outside listener, I hear influences of Queensryche and Judas Priest but honestly I like their music so much because it does not sound like a copy of any band, nor can you truly peg it down into one category of metal.
Take their song Mercy 696 which has a Euro power-ballad feel and compare it to Payin’ the Price that, especially in the recorded form, has almost a heavy industrial feel to it. It’s no wonder the members of the band are confused about who they sound like, much less which metal camp they fall in. Their Facebook page has their recorded songs available for a listen if you want to check them out there. They take their collective influences they claim as Anthrax, Fear Factory, Megadeth and Judas Priest, combine it with their individual tastes and styles within and outside metal, then come up with the unique sound that is MercenaryX.
MercenaryX’s favorite Houston performance
I had a chance recently to sit down with the members of the band and ask them a few questions about the band, the Houston music scene as well as their performances. I asked the members of MercenaryX what their favorite show was to date. It was a split decision with Dino and Andrew in favor of Saxon while Chris and Rus preferred the Ratt show:
Rus stated his favorite performance was “opening up for Ratt in front of over 1000 people.”
Chris echoed this assessment with, “Ratt at warehouse live – big stage, big sound, big crowd – we always have done well with bigger crowds.”
“For me, the RATT show was incredible,” said Andrew. “A thousand people eating up our music…thinking that we were on tour supporting RATT rather than just a local band. However, I actually enjoyed opening for Saxon even more. The fans were shocked by us, in a good way, rather than in a frenzy and while there was about a third of the people, they got into it even more by the end of the set.”
Dino agreed with, “The Saxon show, May of last year. The crowd was just AWESOME and totally loved us. Also, the photos from that show were the last photos of me my Dad saw in this world before passing in June, a month later.”
MercenaryX’s take on the Houston music scene
I then asked what Houston band MercenaryX liked most about the Houston music scene. They each had a unique perspective:
Chris explained, “When you are out at shows you really never know what you’re going to see – sometimes pleasant, sometimes not. But I find myself always surprised.”
“The metal community in and around the NW side and BFE’s is quite picky but loyal. To make it in those circles is a definite sign of success,” said Dino.
Rus commented, “There are infinite styles here to experience if you go out and look.”
Andrew continued with, “As sprawling as Houston is and as fractured as some of the genre’s scenes are, like the metal scene, it is really cool when they come together. We played for SMC’s bass player’s birthday and it was a good show and the next day there was a giant benefit at Numbers for a Jeska Real’s children. She was in One of Sixx, a local metal band and passed away due to a motorcycle accident. That kind of cohesiveness is truly impressive. There are a few Houston bands making a trek to San Antonio this weekend for another benefit as well.”
What MercenaryX would change about Houston music
Keeping with the theme of the Houston music scene I then asked, “What would you change, if you could, about the Houston music scene?” It seems the media is a big source of frustration as is how spread out venues for Houston original music are:
Andrew said, “Like I told you in the interview we did a while back, if I had the money to make it happen, I’d setup a Sixth Street [in Austin, TX] type environment somewhere in town. Where local bands can make money without having to worry about the popularity contest draw but instead by window shoppers hearing the band and deciding to stay and listen.”
Dino continued with, “A consolidation seems to be in process as clubs close and scenes consolidate to regional clubs. Houston is too spread out and it would be nice to have a centralized location for live music like Austin has. Right now it feels like a new band has to “tour” just the Houston subregions to get the word out, a perpetual task.”
Rus replied, “I wish the media would acknowledge that we actually have one. They will promote any major label act (that doesn’t need it in the first place) while going out of their way to overlook talent right in their own city.”
“The press issue is a big deal. There is very little local coverage. With a lot of quality acts getting no press whatsoever, it is a little discouraging when [local entertainment newspaper] Houston Press misses half your set,” said Chris.
Where will MercenaryX be next year?
I then asked this Houston band where they saw themselves next year. It seems growth is in the cards:
Dino replied, “Most likely Europe! Our style of music is still underground in the states but is quite mainstream in Europe and South America.”
Andrew added, “Well we’re taking a couple months off from gigs and have a game plan. We have a couple new songs in the works plus have promised a few of the fans a new cover as well. We’re also going to start pre-production for a full album and may get the drum tracks laid at a friend’s studio during this gigging break. Hopefully by the beginning of 2011 we will be having a CD release party. We also are going to start working on booking shows in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin as well as Louisiana.”
Chris sees MercenaryX as “Having a completed disk, continuing to write and develop material, and book and perform show. I see us doing the best we can to continue improving in all aspects.”
“I think we’ll have a lot more (and varied) material and headlining our own gigs,” said Rus.
Houston band MercenaryX get’s personal
I asked everyone in MercenaryX to relate their most embarrassing moment while in the band hoping to get some dirt:
Rus recalled, “At Fitzgerald’s… Announcing a song and then the drum kit they forced Dino to play on nearly disintegrated and we had to stop for a second and repair it. Luckily it only took a few minutes.”
Andrew replied, “Oh man…there have been a lot of them; though I doubt anyone would notice most of my moments. During the RATT show, somewhere during the fill after the solo of Darkness Descending Dino and I slipped out of sync from each other. We got a little more prog than normal on that section by being off by a beat and a half. I kept my cool on the exterior as I was thinking to myself ‘how the hell am I going to fix this before Chris comes in off the drum cue?’ I ended up skipping that beat and a half and the only people who might have noticed were those who have heard that song sixty times.”
“On stage at BFE in July. Rus gives the intro and signals the start of the set. I was still behind the kit taking my shoes off. I play in my bare feet. I come to find out later this was the first Rus or Chris ever knew that I need to take my shoes off to play,” said Dino.
Chris added, “There’s been a couple. The first show with 6 minute [6 Minute Century] at BFE was rough at best but we got through it. The drum kit issue at Fitz still stands out.”
Support Houston bands and original music
MercenaryX is a great band with an amazing sound and personality. Listen to them on their Facebook Page and keep up with their upcoming shows including a live radio interview coming soon. For those who tweet, get exclusive specials by following them at http://twitter.com/mercenaryxmetal. Houston has a bad rap when it comes to original bands. It’s not that there are none. It’s just that many people have never heard of them. So, make sure you come out to support Houston’s MercenaryX and other Houston original bands and let’s get Houston back in the running as a contender in the US for incredible original musical acts.
MercenaryX, “MercenaryX’s Facebook Page.” MercenaryX
MercenaryX, “MercenaryX’s Twitter Page.” MercenaryX