Interview: With the Traveling Mercies, Shane Tutmarc Is Bringing It All Back Home

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photos by Joe Nicholson

If you aren’t familiar with the name Shane Tutmarc, perhaps Dolour might ring a bell. Over the past six years, Tutmarc has been releasing one lush pop confection after another under the Dolour moniker. Meticulously crafted and ladled with postproduction, Dolour records are the sound of a Brian Wilson disciple with a head full of hooks and a love of sonic ornamention.

When I first heard Shane Tutmarc and the Traveling Mercies on KEXP, the contrast to Dolour was such that I didn’t even recognize the vocalist. With an old-timey sound, sparse arrangements and nary a frill to speak of, everything served the song — with plenty of room left for some good old fashioned slapback echo to fill any remaining space. I assumed this was a side project, another accomplishment from a songwriter so talented he could dip his toe into another genre on a whim and turn out a rockin’, irresistible album. As it turns out, the Traveling Mercies are not in the slightest a temporary diversion. Drummer Brandon and bassist Ryan are also Tutmarcs, and the band came about when the trio got together to play in December of 2006 in their grandmother’s basement, using the instruments at hand. Recently deceased grandfather Bud Tutmarc was himself a Hawaiian steel guitar virtuoso; instruments left behind, and the ensuing jam session, ultimately led to an entirely new direction.

At the Tractor Tavern last Friday night, it was apparent Shane is the seasoned performer of the three — brother Brandon and cousin Ryan stuck to the beat and rarely even sneaked a glance at the crowd. It was Shane Tutmarc’s show to carry, but the chemistry was obvious. The band is, as they like to point out, a “family affair.”

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Have we seen the last of Dolour? And are the Traveling Mercies really planning on releasing a second album mere months after the first has found a wider audience? Let’s see what Shane has to say:

Is it a challenge keeping it simple with the Traveling Mercies? With Dolour, your songs always seemed so lush, so orchestrated.

The songs for the Traveling Mercies have a different set of challenges. With Dolour, it was about taking the song as far, arrangement-wise and sonically, as I could — while still trying to keep some sort of limitations on myself. With the Mercies, it’s about boiling the song down to it’s core. I’m just as engaged in the arrangements of Mercies songs as I was with Dolour, but now I’m enjoying more negative space, less clutter. And since both my brother and my cousin are such new musicians, it’s not even an option for them to over-do anything. I never need to say “play less,” as I often found myself telling collaborators with Dolour.

You mentioned onstage at the Tractor this past weekend that your second record, Hey Lazarus!, will be out in a couple of months — even as KEXP is still playing, and fans are still discovering, the first Traveling Mercies record. Does the simplicity of the lineup, and the bare-bones approach, lend itself to more prolific writing? Or do you just reach the point sooner where the songs feel “finished” enough to share?

I just never stopped writing after our first album. Usually while I’m working on an album I take a break from writing, and then play the album live and slowly figure out where the next album will go. With this one, we recorded the first album in two days — that just spurred me on to write even more. I feel like these albums are sort of two sides of the same coin. Hey Lazarus! was recorded less than six months after our first album, and the progress is quite a revelation, even to me. I don’t think there are many bands where you can see their progress that clearly.

Also, the fact that we’re putting these records out ourselves allows us to present them to people when they’re still very fresh. We had our first album out and playing on KEXP within a week of its completion. That’s a very rewarding feeling. Records always took forever for Dolour, trying to do things “professionally.” I’m over that illusion now. (laughs)

Will you be continuing Dolour as well, as an outlet for your songs that seem to ask for a more orchestrated, production heavy approach? Or is the Traveling Mercies pretty much where you’re at from here on out?

I enjoy all types of music, and there are many different projects I’d like to pursue down the road. I’ve dabbled in writing and producing for others,which I’d like to do more of. I may pull out that “Dolour” name again at some point, but for now my blood pours Mercies. I learned early that you’re cheating yourself, and your potential fans, if you don’t follow your heart as an artist. I plan to continue following this wanderlust heart of mine.


Shane Tutmarc & The Traveling Mercies – Across the River

Mark your calendars: Shane Tutmarc and the Traveling Mercies will be playing live on The Roadhouse, on Wednesday, March 12, at 6:30 PM.

You can also stream his band’s last appearance on KEXP from July here.

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