Mandarin Dynasty, “Lap Steel Blues”

Sjimon Gompers

Mandarin Dynasty

Mandarin Dynasty's Mike Sherk, Zach “Code Red” Burba (of Iji and Mega Bog), and Carly Toyer. (courtesy of the band)

Never mind whatever dynasty hype that has been buzzing around, because Mandarin Dynasty premieres their two minute wonder of, “Lap Steel Blues”, to cure your wintertime fever. Southern California cat Mike Sherk, has been working on the album Perpendicular Crosstalk for years that was created over a migration expanse that saw residencies around Michigan, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas respectively. Bridgetown Records saw Crosstalk come to life on cassette, before Trabuco Records took on pressing it up for a whole new life on vinyl coming this January.

Mike's has solidified the Dynasty trio with Iji and Mega Bog's Zach 'Code Red' Burba and Carly Toyer. In our conversation with Sherk that follows the premiere, we learn about the expanses of the Mandarin Dynasty musicians and players that include Deer Tick's John McCauley who contributed drums for a handful cuts found on Perpendicular Crosstalk. With so many stories and tales from the past years and years to come, we first get down to the tune that speaks beyond the superficiality of surfaces and styles on, “Lap Steel Blues”.

With trick guitar solos, and riffs of precision, Sherk shakes things up with a clever bag of overt awareness through self and external consciousnesses. An indie rock sound that reflects the band's national traversing existence, “Lap Steel” makes a statement and case that pushes for substance in the faces of the vacuous, and vampirical hordes. “I'm a caged bird to your meerkat tiger cub, to your fledgling predator”, which then makes a comical and musical treatise against the copycats, fakesters, poseurs and wannabes that are described particularly and specifically of the Southern California persuasion. “Don't try to fool me with those cute little clothes, 'cause I've already touched on the torso below, your brown eyes are glazed, your palms are up, your curls are all tamed and your mustache is plucked”. Through confusion and desire for folks with brains beneath the styled brawn, Mike ends his critique with a heartwarming message of unifying equality with, “so you can see, you're not alone, no matter what you put on”.

Mike Sherk of Mandarin Dynasty talks “Lap Steel Blues”, the group's histories that span the past decade, So Cal scene perspectives, commentaries, news of a newer album, solo albums, side projects galore, and so much more.

I have heard your name percolating around for a while. Give us the chronicles of Mandarin Dynasty from 2005, through 2011 to where you are today.

The group started around 2004 in order to name the recordings that I was making with my friend Kevin Ferguson. Our first real show was in Long Beach as the sole opener for Mount Eerie. Their tour truck broke down in the Mojave, so we had to vamp onstage for something like four hours before they made it.

Shortly after, Brendon Massei of Viking Moses lured me into the house show DIY touring circuit, and for about five years I toured for eight months at a time, living out of my trusty Nissan minivan. I mostly used pickup bands or played solo. During this time I toured with Deer Tick, Adam Lipman, Liz Isenberg, and shared bills with Why?, The Blow, and Dear Nora.

We recorded a few EPs and one full-length, but I now consider Perpendicular Crosstalk to be our first real album. Carly Toyer joined the band on vocals and keyboards in late 2011, and around the same time Zach Burba joined as a multi-instrumentalist and co-producer. We did a month-long west coast tour in August 2012. I moved to Portland OR in July 2013, and our recent live lineup of rotating members has included:

Katy Davidson (Dear Nora, Key Losers) on bass
Greg Campanile (Filardo, Total Noise) on drums
Max Bennett-Parker (James Rabbit) on keyboards
Carly Toyer on backing and lead vocals
Zach Burba on guitar

“Lap Steel Blues” is a real laid back cool cut. Are you all lap steel fans when you rain down a very calculated array of crisp with contained, controllable but damn gritty guitars on this number?

I wrote “Lap Steel Blues” in the midst of one of the never ending tours several years back. I recorded most of the track at a church in Long Beach. Somehow, Kevin Ferguson and I got a key to this church, and would record there from 10pm until we couldn't take it any more, usually around 4am. Kevin tore up the drums on this one, with the drums set up right on top of the holy altar. You can hear him yelling in the background of the drum take, mostly because he was delirious from lack of sleep.

I recorded the guitar parts through a friend of a friend's Marshall stack at a sleazy practice space near the San Diego Sports Arena. The building was condemned and demolished something like three weeks after I recorded there.

Loved that line about “I would love to shave the heads of all the SoCal moms with your same two-tone haircut”, is this your way of trying to create a kind of camaraderie of non-conformity?

To me, the line is about telling someone that they're not special simply because they got a haircut, or a jean jacket, or walk around town with a parrot on their shoulder. When it comes down to it, you've got to have something more than surface and style to offer people. I made the song to remind myself of these facts.

What's happening lately in the Encinitas movements?

We've been based in the Pacific Northwest since Summer 2013. Carly Toyer has her own great songwriting and performing project called Carlz Barkley, and I just finished producing her debut album, titled Sparkly. We're really excited about how it's turned out.

Zach Burba, in addition to constantly killing it with his main band Iji, is a full time member of Mega Bog and a touring member of the fabulous James Rabbit Band. He's become a true zen master of music and its inspiring to watch him grow. Lately, I've been playing the bass for Katy Davidson's various projects, including Key Losers and Lloyd & Michael. Both bands have amazing songs and I'm really happy to be involved.

As far as our Southern California pals go, our oldest still-living friend-band is Red Pony Clock — they're always a blast to see live. We also love KIDS, Normandie Wilson, and Sledding With Tigers. I just contributed some production stuff to three tracks on the new Sledding With Tigers album, and the whole thing sounds like it's going to be a great record.

What's next in the release cards for Mandarin Dynasty? Any empire expansions we should be hip to, but aren't?

We're trying for a late winter/early spring mini-tour, as well as a larger summer tour. Until then, we'll play mostly one-off shows in Portland and Seattle. We recorded a new album, titled Feedback Time, which is being mixed and should be out early in 2014. We're in pre-production for another new record, which has the working title of Babe.

Mandarin Dynasty's Perpendicular Crosstalk album will be available January 15, 2014 from Trabuco Records / Erika Records.

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