The Young Evils: A Little Seattle Band With Big Pearl Jam Connections

Originally formed as an homage to the Nirvana-popularized Vaselines, the five-piece describes its dark pop sound as "distorted doo-wop."
The Young Evils (photo credit: Lance Mercer)

Seattle buzz band The Young Evils, who play the Hotel Cafe Mar. 22 at 8 pm, have a lot of old masters on their side. Producer Barrett Jones (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) worked on their bouncy, poppy 2010 debut album Enchanted Chapel. Their forthcoming EP Foreign Spells is produced by young master Shane Stoneback (The Cults, Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells). Begun partly as an homage to the Nirvana-popularized Vaselines by bandleader/songwriter Troy Nelson, 35, and lead singer Mackenzie Mercer, 23, the Young Evils opened for the Vaselines and for Pearl Jam in 2011. Their manager Jessica Curtis, now shopping Foreign Spells to labels, is the daughter of Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis. Mackenzie Mercer’s dad Lance Mercer shot Pearl Jam’s first album cover. Mackenzie Mercer did harmonies with Mike McCready for the new indie film Fat Kid Rules the World.

And now, fresh from SXSW and on their first tour, the Young Evils have renounced their acoustic past. Nelson’s guitar has the beefy backing of rhythm guitarist Cody Hurd, bassist Michael Lee, and drummer Faustina Hudson, a veteran of almost as many Seattle bands as the once-ubiquitous pre-Guns N’Roses Duff McKagan (a teenage chum of Lance Mercer’s). “Unlike Dylan, it only took us one album to go electric,” says Nelson. “The first was folk pop, and everybody kept name-checking Violent Femmes, the Vaselines, and Magnetic Fields. I wrote it when everyone seemed to be doing dark, smartypants music.”

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But he got sick of everybody saying how “cute” the Young Evils were. “Now we do dark pop -- ‘60s doo-woppy melodies and noisy guitars. Distorted doo-wop. Like the Ronettes.” Nelson thinks the tune “Dead Animals,” about a romance that won’t die but should, is the EP’s likely hit. But McCready thinks the big Young Evils single will be “Darker Blue Bayou,” which Nelson calls “a pre-apocalyptic song about people who decide to build their own community where you can do anything you want until the actual end of the world. It’s like ‘Blue Bayou,’ only darker.” Sample lyric: “Until the sun begins to burn up everything that we have learned / Let’s start a riot in this lonely town.”

I should note that I’m the Mercer family friend who taught Mackenzie how to tie her shoes at age 4 -- by showing her how, once. She’s still a quick study, having gotten useful performance advice from McCready and others her entire life and done her first performance in an MTV video before she could tie her shoes. Last year she and Nelson harmonized like a cross between a more on-key Vaselines and the Raveonettes. “On the first record we sang everything together,” says Nelson. “Now I’m writing songs to feature her more. She’s wearing Debbie Harry shirts -- she’s secretly channeling Debbie Harry these days.” Indeed, her pure, vibrato-avoiding voice on the new songs sounds far more Blondie-ish than Vaseline-y.

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“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I only just found the sound I was looking for,” says Nelson, who made his first record with Stoneback in 1993. “But I’m trying to push MacKenzie forward as the lead singer. I’m 35. What am I going to do, be the lead guy at 40? She’s young. I’m just evil.”

Twitter: @timappelo