Best kept secrets of John Merchant

January 23, 2013

merchant1An interview by Cathy Dalton.

If you know Ludington, local musicians are the best. So much talent and this is the first musician that I can give glory to. So many years of giving his quality time to please us. Thank you John.

Cathy Dalton: Brief history of your career. When did you start playing etc.?

merchant2John Merchant: I’ve been around music and/or had a guitar in my hand pretty much my entire life. On the cover of Dutch Henry’s debut CD “1973” there’s a photo of me with a guitar and I must have been about 3-years- old. My dad is a musician and every boy wants to be like his dad I guess. But the thing I usually tell people is,  I imagine this is what it’s like for people who are called to the ministry. I’ve never not wanted to be a musician. I never questioned it and for the most part, I’ve never second guessed it. It’s just what I was put here to be. Everything else is “in addition” to music. The truth is I am a musician; I do all the other stuff in my life (day job, etc…). Besides being a father and a husband, I could care less if everything else was stripped away, when the dust settles I’m going to find a guitar and get back to music cause that’s who I am. I started playing in bars around 16-years-old to put a number on it.

CD: How do the songs differ from your older material ?

JM: The struggle with Dutch Henry has always been our slightly schizophrenic nature. Lots of tastes and influences in that band, so finding one thing is always tough and has made us a tough “sell” over the years. It explains why we’ve performed with everyone from Deana Carter to the Goo Goo Dolls to Cobie Callet and Los Lonely Boys. We’ve fit into all those situations, but that’s not the most marketable thing in this business. To answer the question (sorry), I think the new songs are an attempt to capture everything we are, all of the influences we have, and process them through the Dutch Henry writing machine. This new record is hopefully going to be a balance of “1973” and “All That Space”. To capture the roots of our country/Americana selves, AND the pop side and put it all on one record. We’re also talking to multiple producers, each one who can serve to bring those things out of us.

merchant3CD: How many original songs have you written?

JM: Well, that’s a tough question. Good ones? I hear a lot of people say “I’ve written 100 songs… I write three songs a day” and that’s not how I (we) work. Dutch Henry is great because you have other songwriters in the band critiquing your material (Todd Long and Greg Miller are great song writers as is our past bassist Mitch Wood. Our current bassist Ryan Goldner is a writer/producer as well as a studio owner, so he has a critical ear for parts, melody, etc.). The editorial process is brutal, painful, and completely necessary. So writing songs is more like doodling to me. They are ideas until I share them with the band, and they agree. I’ve had what I thought to be GREAT songs, presented them to the band had them die right there. I trust those guys that much. On “1973” I wrote “Midwest Blues” and on ATS I wrote “Down So Long” and” Streets of Where I’m From.”  As of right now, I have two songs slatted for the new record. I would say I personally still play (in solo shows) songs from a pool of about 10 to 15 original songs. I have demos of well over 40 “songs.” Again, more ideas than songs.

CD: How do you manage/balance two bands and solo projects?

JM: I try to love them both in equal and different ways. I’ve always been a “one band” type of guy and never had the desire to be the person saying “I play in five different bands.” The solo things are just for me because there are so many songs that I love to play and share that I don’t really have an outlet for in other places. The hard promises really came about because Gordy Gessewein and I had become friends and were getting together to hang out and play a few songs. The Dutch Henry guys were heading in a bunch of directions, doing a ton of other things. Then for Gordy and I it was “this would be fun to do with a drummer.” We tried a couple people out that didn’t really fit, so we thought we’d just go back to he and I jamming together. Finding Joey Rangel was the key element. We’ve never picked a song for “dance potential” to so get “gigs.” We picked songs to play that we love and connect with. It was simply a blessing that other people liked them too and wanted to hang out while we played them. It’s been great that bars have let us play, but truth is, I think if there were no gigs, we’d still get together and play, because there really are some magic, musical, personal moments we share together. A real connection between the three of us that I would miss if it were gone.

CD: Noticed you never take breaks. How do you manage to use so much energy without a rest?

JM: I honestly have no idea. When people are listening and participating and sharing in the moment, I simply don’t want it to end. The feeling is so perfect that stopping it seems wrong and I try not to unless I have to.

CD: Every time you performed it seems that you have developed /learned a new guitar technique. What drives your desire to keep learning?

JM: I hear things and I want to play them. Usually it’s a certain style or musician I become infatuated with. In recent times, a guy name Luther Dickinson inspired me to play slide guitar and learn about Delta blues. I’m not usually a blues fan, and really don’t like “white boy, a million notes a minute, Stevie Ray-rip off blues,” but the Delta stuff is amazing and is a window into a distinctly American existence that fascinates me. Without Luther, there would be no hard promises by the way.

CD: Did you have any mentors? Who influenced you into playing music?

JM: Greg Miller from Dutch Henry was my guitar instructor and someone I idolized and looked up to. I actually said when I was a teenager “I’m going to play in a band with him some day,” which at the time was akin to saying “I’m going to be in Led Zeppelin.” But, here we are and I’m still blown away by him. My dad of course was my original influence. Early country music, rock n roll, etc. Again, I never remember saying, “I want to play because of…” I just always knew this is what I was going to do.

If you ever see John Merchant out playing with a band or by himself you know you are in for top notch entertainment! Thanks for your contribution to our community.





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