Banner photo by Connor Feimster
Words by Lindsey Anderson
Tom Tom is honored to be premiering ‘Oldest Youngest,’ the newest track from Chicago-based band Slow Mass. Since their stunning 2016 release, ‘Treasure Pains,’ folks have been eager to hear more from Slow Mass and are excited to see what the future holds for them. Finding themselves front and center on various music blogs and sharing stages with bands such as mewithoutYou and The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die, the band has been quickly making a name for themselves as a supremely remarkable genre-transcending act. Slow Mass is currently gearing up for the release of their LP ‘On Watch’ and Tom Tom had the pleasure of chatting with bassist, vocalist & songwriter, Mercedes Webb on her journey as a bassist, the new LP and the importance of having supportive people in your corner.
When did you start playing the bass?
MW: I just celebrated my 3 year anniversary of being in Slow Mass. It’s kind of a funny story; the guitarist, Josh Parks, came to my birthday and he was talking to one of my friends about the new project he was in and looked over to me and said ‘Hey, do you play bass?’ and I said ‘No, but I play guitar…’ and he said ‘Oh well that’s close enough you could probably figure it out.’ A few days later, I borrowed the bass of my boyfriend at the time and went to one of their rehearsals and that’s when they asked me to join. So, I didn’t play bass before joining but 3 years in and I finally feel like I know what I’m doing.
What were some the songs that you 1st learned on bass?
MW: I’m a super nostalgic person so I’ve kept all of my phone recordings from when I was first starting out. Dave, who was kind of my mentor through all of this, taught me the basics of bass. I think one of the 1st songs we learned was what wound up being ‘Nice but not kind’ which is still one of my favorites. I remember we were working on vocal harmonies and that was one of the first songs that I had any input in; in terms of harmonies so I still have recordings of the preliminary stages of it. And then ‘Portals to Hell’ was another one we worked on really early on.
“I will remember that time when I’m older as being a turning point, at least for myself, where I started to realize my potential as a musician. A time where I thought to myself: “I’m so lucky to be playing music with these people and now is just the beginning.”
Any recommendations/advice for folks who want to start an instrument but are unsure of where to start?
MW: I don’t have any online or book resources that I used; I think I just had really supportive people in my life. It’s a lot of patience honestly. I’ve gone through many starting classes and ‘not following through’ but, you reap the benefits after a little bit. Like I said, 3 years in and I’m finally able to say ‘you know what, I play bass and I’m good at bass.’ Even a year ago I was telling people ‘ya I don’t play bass, I don’t really know what I’m doing’ and you really have to believe in yourself in a sort of ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ kind of way because you will make it eventually.
I literally tattooed the word ‘patience’ on the hand I see the most playing bass. I did that because I get so frustrated sometimes and I have to remember that it’s so much more than being immediately good at something; it takes practice and then it gets in your bones and before you know it, you wake up one day and you’re better at it. So, really patience, faith and believing in yourself. As corny as it sounds, that’s really the recipe for it.
You all started developing songs without a specific goal in mind; do you recall the moment where it clicked that you all should share your music with the public?
MW: I joined the band last and I think they already had this feeling that we had something. It was honestly really intimidating at first because I respected all of them so much as musicians and people because they all had so much experience under their belts and I had only collaborated one time in a band. So, I have a hard time remembering a ‘clicking’ point because the clicking point for me was immediately playing with them.
What inspired the lyrics for ‘Oldest Youngest’?
MW: We were playing ‘Nice but not kind’ at a practice space and I remember it was my first time playing the part and I was like ‘you know what, I’m not thinking about what my hands are doing anymore, I’m kinda just doing it’ and then I looked around me and was really able to hone in on the moment I was in. I said to myself in my head, ‘this is the youngest I’m ever gonna be and I’m gonna remember this exact moment when I’m 70; a time that I’m going to look back on and remember as the best years of my life.’ A year later, I wrote the lyrics to ‘Oldest Youngest’ thinking about that exact moment. I will remember that time when I’m older as being a turning point, at least for myself, where I started to realize my potential as a musician. A time where I thought to myself: ‘I’m so lucky to be playing music with these people and now is just the beginning.’
‘Oldest Youngest’ is a song that thinks about youth and not taking it for granted. Every year before it turns midnight on the day of my birthday, I take 5 minutes alone to really feel the age that I’m at and acknowledge that it’s the last time I’m going to feel that way and be that age. So I also kind of wrote the song based on the notion of being present, realizing your mortality and not taking it lightly.
The debut LP ‘On Watch’ comes out on May 11th, how does it feel knowing that these songs will be out in the world in a few weeks?
MW: It feels pretty surreal; I think especially because of everything that we went through last year as a band & how long ago we started working on these songs. It’s pretty surreal that we even have it mastered and that there’ll be physical copies and we’ll play through it at some point in front of people that I love and admire as musicians or just as people. I’m super excited because I think it’s a special set of songs and I have my hand in them way more than I did in the EP. This will really be the debut of what I have to offer as a bassist, singer & songwriter so I’m really stoked to see where it goes.
The LP cover is for sure really striking; what was the decision process like for the album cover?
MW: I think we all had an equal say but it was really our friend Daniel’s brainchild. Daniel has been a homie for awhile and they do a lot of really amazing collage style artwork. With a lot of our collaborative efforts with artists or other musicians, we really trust them and tell them ‘hey, we trust you; you’re incredibly talented. Have at it and just show us what you got.’ We’ve worked with Daniel before and they’ve only produced awesome stuff or us. This time they just gave us a couple options and this one really felt right for us. It only went through maybe one more edit but it was pretty much done from the get-go because Daniel is just that incredible.
I think working with homies has always been the surest way to create a cohesive work because they know what our vibe is since they know us personally as people and know the music so, they’re usually going to create something that embodies us correctly. I think that we should have consistency with that from the beginning to wherever we go; hopefully we keep working with people we know.
What music are you listening to outside of Slow Mass/music similar to Slow Mass? Any projects you’re working on outside of Slow Mass?
MW: When I’m not listening to stuff like Slow Mass, I really enjoy Sylvan Esso; I’ve been following them since their debut. I really want to start a project similar to that or something like a Noah Gundersen/Milk Carton Kids; a kind of really devastating folk project. I try to keep it versatile because I’m finding even in my new project that I’m sort of writing like Slow Mass and I’m trying not to do that since it’s a separate thing. I’m also trying to emphasize female importance in this new project which is really important to me and why I feel very honored to be speaking to your publication. I’m so stoked about all the powerful women I’ve been meeting through the projects I’ve been working on.
I haven’t been in the industry that long but I think I’m apart of a very specific & important time in the world and in music right now. I’ve been working at this for awhile but I’m trying to start a women’s group in Chicago of just women coming together and teaching each other tips for the industry. I know it has been male driven for so long and there are so many good guys in it but there have been a lot of intimidating circumstances myself and a number of other women have had to deal with.
Anything else you’d like to add?
MW: In the time that we’re in, I know there’s a lot coming out about sexual assault and misconduct in this industry and I just wanted to add that I play music with some of the most stand up guys that I know. I’m just really grateful to have such a good support system within my band. They take such good care of me as I do for them and I’m just really honored to play with them. I just really wanted to take a moment to hold my guys up since they really lift me up.
Catch Slow Mass in a city near you
5/18 Chicago, IL @ Schubas (Record Release)
6/10 Detroit, MI @ PJ’s Lager House $
6/11 Toronto, ON @ Handlebar
6/12 Montreal, QC @ L’Esco
6/13 Boston, MA @ Elks Lodge #
6/14 New York, NY @ Trans Pecos #
6/15 Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church #
6/16 Washington, DC @ Hole in the Sky
6/17 Pittsburgh, PA @ Gooski’s %*
6/18 Cleveland, OH @ Mahall’s Locker Room %
6/19 Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme %
$ w/ Bars of Gold
# w/ Ovlov
% w/ The Reptilian
* w/ Edhochuli
Pre-order ‘On Watch’ here
Psstttt, have you visited our web store? Check it out here for all your Tom Tom merch needs!