Have Mercy has grown up and is ready to be transparent

It could be said that Have Mercy is a quintessential emo band. Brian Swindle writes wistful songs about love and heartbreak, so visceral you might find yourself taking a look at your relationships and wondering what you could’ve done better. Have Mercy will soothe you post-breakup, and in the in-between they’ll remind you that maybe love isn’t everything, after all – what else can crush you so completely?

But there’s something more on The Love Life (out now on Hopeless Records). Here, Swindle is more mature and more personal, exploring his own personal demons and admitting his faults. This time around, he teamed up with producer Matt Squire (Underoath, Panic! At the Disco, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, One Direction) to take the sound in a whole new direction. Album opener “We Ain’t Got Love,” for instance, starts as an intimate track with a single guitar, before layers of production build to an eventual crescendo. “Heartbeat” and “40oz” seem equally reminiscent of ’90s pop and early 2000s alternative and emo; even if you haven’t been a fan of Have Mercy in the past, this might just strike your fancy.

Substream spoke with Swindle just before The Love Life came out to dive in to working with Squire, the change in sound, and the headspace he was in while writing.

Let’s talk about the record. I feel like it’s really grown up – “mature” was a word that I had written down. It was really funny to me that you’re touring with The Early November because I got the record a couple weeks ago and that was what I wrote down as something it reminds me of. Can you tell me what influences you drew from on this record, and where were you aiming to go?

I feel like in the last couple years, I’ve listened to a lot of pop music and a lot more indie stuff. I wanted to have a spacier sound, something with a lot more texture in the background and using different instrumentation. Lyrically, it’s kind of like what we’ve always done, but instrumentation-wise, it definitely feels different. There are some solo songs, there’s some piano tracks – there’s a lot going on, so I wanted to experiment.

One song that really stuck out to me in terms of production is the opener, “We Ain’t Got Love”, which starts out solo and then it builds up in layers and layers. Can you talk about with that track, how you created that production or arrangement?

Yeah! I wrote that song maybe like three years [ago], just the beginning part, and then we went in the studio and built this massive sound. That was actually the first track we worked on for the record, and Matt Squire – before we got in there, [he] just did The Maine and did Underoath before that, and I was talking to him, I was like, “I want to create a massive sound like Underoath had on the last record.” So we built that end part based off of that…. It’s definitely different for us, but I like how it turned out.

Have Mercy - photo by Ben Lieber.
Photo by Ben Lieber.

How did it come to be working with Matt Squire, had you reached out to him specifically?

No! Basically Hopeless brought him to our attention, and I kept trying to fight it for a little bit, because I’ve never worked with anybody else in the last couple years aside from Paul [Leavitt], and then we decided to go with him. I went in, did a test song that’s not on the record, and really enjoyed working with him, so we decided to do the whole record. That guy’s a genius. He’s from a whole different world now – just pop influence – so it’s neat to see how he does things.

I think you put that well: lyrically, it’s in some ways similar to what you’ve always done, but there’s this whole layer and level of production and sonic things going on that hadn’t been explored before. As you’re starting to gear up for the tour in the fall – I don’t know if you’ve started rehearsing yet, but what’s going through your mind in terms of like, “okay, how do we bring this to the stage”?

Oh, it’s gonna be a whole different ballgame. We’ve never played with backing tracks, we’re gonna have to do that ’cause there’s so many different elements that we can’t recreate live, but we want to still have them there, so we have to do that. We start rehearsal at the end of this month, so I know there’s gonna be a lot that we need to attack. I’m nervous but I’m excited – I think it’s gonna be a cool live performance for us.

I’m really excited to see how this all translates live. I feel like any of the songs on the record, I could listen to it, just you and an acoustic guitar and it would still sound great – but I think live and hearing that all come together, seeing that production happen in real-time on stage is going to be such a cool experience.

Yeah – it’s definitely something I’ve never done before but I’m excited to do it. It’s gonna be a huge task.

You can go as general or specific as you want – but what do you feel like you’ve learned about yourself and how you define yourself as a musician as the lineup of Have Mercy has changed over the years?

I feel like that really hasn’t affected me ’cause I mainly focus on my growth as a musician, personally. I’ve learned from a million people that I’ve toured with [and] I’ve learned from working with different artists how to write songs better, at least in my eyes. I think that I’m taking myself to a whole new level and trying to push myself to write outside the box that I’ve always been stuck in.

What has allowed you to push outside of the box? Was that a conscious thing?

Oh yeah, definitely. I was tired of writing the same old songs over and over. I’ve always wanted to experiment with different sounds but felt too scared to leave my world, and now it felt like the right time to push myself out of that box.

In one of the press releases, there was a quote where you said that this was the most personal record since the first release. There’s definitely a lot of songs on the record that talk about drinking too much, smoking a lot – what helped you A, pull yourself out of a darker place, and B, feel okay with writing about it in a way that maybe you hadn’t in a while – or ever?

Yeah – it just felt like it was the time. Everybody around me knew the stuff I was going through for a while and now it was like, “Okay, it’s time to be transparent and talk about these things in the public light.” I feel like once you put it out there musically, then other people can relate to it and we can have an open conversation when I meet fans and stuff like that. It feels really good to put that stuff out there.

Have Mercy - photo by Ben Lieber.
Photo by Ben Lieber.

Yeah, it must feel good. Is there any part of you that’s nervous to have these songs out?

No, not at all. It’s a little weird when it comes to my family to listen to those songs, but aside from that, it’s cool. I feel like everybody knew the stuff I was going through and nobody really talked about it and now I’m leaving it open.

I wanted to talk about the album title a little bit, The Love Life, which you say in one of the songs on the record – you’ve written about relationships and love and things like that before, but in this context, what do you mean by “The Love Life”?

Well – one, I just thought it was a cool title. I think we’ve always written about that, and kinda we got stuck in a bubble of just being an emo band by writing about it, but I wanted to call the album that to… I don’t know, hopefully to say “yeah, that’s what our music’s about and it’s about loving life, hating life, loving the relationships you’re in, hating them” – it felt like a statement for the record. The whole record is so deep and personal to me, and that felt like a title that stuck.

The record is definitely very deep and personal. I really enjoyed “Mattress On The Floor”, which is one of the singles that you put out, and it really feels like I’m taken right in to your memories as I listen to that song. I read that it was written at your parents’ house – what was going through your mind as you’re writing in your parents’ house?

Yeah – that’s kinda where my songwriting began. I got out of a really terrible relationship, had to move back home, was going through a rough time, and I sat down – one of the first days that I moved home – and decided to reflect back on everything. I went through those pivotal moments in the last couple years of my life, trying to figure out where I was and what went wrong and what was great about it. It felt very cathartic to do that.

For me as a listener, the record feels very cathartic. And the production is really adding to that, hearing everything that’s going on musically. What are you hoping that people get out of this record when they listen to it?

I don’t know. That’s a tough question, ’cause- a lot of our other music I’ve written for the fans, and this one feels like I wrote it for me. Like I wrote it ’cause I had so much to say and needed to get it out, and I hope that people listen to it and understand me as a person a little better, like where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through, and like – not to say that my life’s terrible, it’s pretty awesome – but just to show that everybody has their bullshit and has their problems.

Sure. One thing I noted as I was getting ready for this interview, was that I have actually really enjoyed seeing all the internet comments as you’ve released the singles for this record, because the dedicated fans are in to it – but I’ve seen a lot of people say, “maybe I hadn’t listened to this band before, or I wasn’t super in to their stuff before” – but these people are really liking the new material. Was there any conscious effort to appeal to the people that hadn’t been into the band before?

I guess a little bit. I guess not a conscious effort to change to mold to a new demographic, but I knew when we were writing the record that it was gonna appeal to more people. I don’t read the comments, so I don’t know; that’s one of my biggest fears, to read the comments. But yeah, I’m glad to see that people are liking the new stuff, and we’re definitely reaching a whole new level when it comes to fanbase – a lot more older people and a lot of people that listen to different music that’s outside of the emo world.

Have Mercy - photo by Ben Lieber.
Photo by Ben Lieber.

We’ve been talking about the tour coming up, the record is out next week; is there anything else that people should be on the lookout for or anything else that you would want people to know about this record?

I hope everybody gives it a chance. Even though it’s a change of the sound, I hope that people still hear Have Mercy in it because it’s still me, it’s still the songs I’ve always written, they just are… a little bit different, they’re a little bit poppier, but that’s kind of how I am as I get into my old age.

Have Mercy’s new album The Love Life is out now on Hopeless Records. They’ll be on tour with The Early November and Owel this fall; head to www.WeAreHaveMercy.com for dates and more info.