For most of Brendan Scholz's life, fame and success have seemed just out of reach. His uncle, Tom Scholz, founded '70s-'80s arena rock group Boston. It wasn't a stepping stone to the industry, though.
"Yeah, it's weird," Scholz said. "I wish I could say he's helped me out or something like that, but he never has. At this stage of the game, it'd be really appreciated, but it's just something that never happened."
The 28 year-old musician may not need the help, though. In his home base of Las Vegas, he has his share of supporters: Las Vegas Weekly writer Max Plenke noted that Scholz "[has] been someone's favorite local musician for as long as he's been at it." Boiseans will get a chance to maybe make Scholz a non-local favorite when his latest project, Mercy Music, plays The Shredder on Friday, Jan. 30. Las Vegas folk-punk act No Red Alice, local punk group Far From Giants and local horror-punk act Gorcias will open.
Scholz, who has spent much of his musical career in Las Vegas-based punk and hard rock bands, appreciates the irony of his connection to the man behind classic-rock radio staple "More Than a Feeling."
"We're completely different types of musicians," Scholz said of his uncle. "He's very mathematical and planned. Whatever comes out of me, comes out of me."
Mercy Music is a perfect case in point. Scholz started the project as a solo acoustic act after his band, Deadhand, stalled out due to his bandmates' reluctance to tour. It evolved into a trio, with bassist Jarred Cooper—who played with Scholz in pop-punk band Lydia Vance—and drummer Michael McGuinness rounding out the lineup.
Scholz said the name Mercy Music "popped into my head. I wish I had an intelligent backstory for it. It's the only band name or project that ever just came out without thought or trying to plan something intelligent or witty or whatever."
That unforced feel is part of the band's music as well, and one of its biggest strengths. The songs on Mercy Music's debut album, When I Die, I'm Taking You with Me (Sept. 2014, SquidHat Records), wear their pop-punk and hard rock influences lightly. The pained lyrics, well-honed tunes and rousing performances have the ease and confidence that can only come with experience.
In the Las Vegas Review-Journal, entertainment reporter and music critic Jason Bracelin wrote, "While the sound is more muscular and fleshed out [than his earlier work], the honest way in which Scholz addresses the uncertainty and struggle of what he's chosen to do with his life remains intact."
Scholz is relatively young, but he has earned the right to consider himself an old hand. He started playing in coffee shops when he was 9 years old and formed various bands while in high school. One of those bands, Absent Minded, recorded an album in 2005 with Black Flag and Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson. It was never released.
"My mom refinanced our house so I could go do it," Scholz said. "I have a lot of guilt about it."
Scholz's next band, Lydia Vance, had similar hard luck. Atlantic Records offered the group a demo deal but withdrew its support when Lydia Vance refused to sound more like Green Day.
"That's the way it goes: They sign bands for something they see, and then they molest it into something else," Scholz said. "And at this point in time, I've gone too far doing things the way that I want to do them [to] go and do what someone tells me to do, unfortunately."
Scholz, who now has two children, admitted that he has difficulty balancing music and day-to-day life. He loses any steady job he has whenever he goes on tour. To earn money, he often plays covers on the Las Vegas Strip.
"It's a good paycheck," he said. "It also drains you and makes you feel soulless."
Still, Scholz is grateful for his support system, which includes his family and his wife of three years. It also includes his friend Dave Holdredge, who has engineered albums for Incubus, Escape the Fate and others. Holdredge offered to record When I Die for less money than he'd make on other projects.
Scholz called his friend the album's "ace in the hole."
"He was willing to work with me and what I wanted. It was great, and I'm happy we got it done," he said.
The response to seeing Mercy Music live has been encouraging as well.
Scholz said on this current tour, "The one question we get asked is, 'Why are you guys playing here?'... Everyone's surprised that we're playing to 10 people [or] 15 people on bad nights," Scholz said.
Scholz would like to record another Mercy Music album but for now, he wants to tour behind When I Die for at least another six months.
"It's the first time I really want to stick behind something longer than a few months before I start to get antsy," Scholz said.