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Most SF State students would never even think of hitting the stage or making an album with their English professor. Then there’s Mermaid Bones.
A creation of film student Sophia Anita Reyes and English professor David Gill, the highly experimental rock band has never been held down by age difference or the possibility of awkward student-teacher relationships.
“It was never like, oh, I’m this old guy and I’m dealing with all these people half my age,” said Gill, 39, the band’s guitarist. “The weird thing was it wasn’t weird.”
The crew of four finally assembled in 2009, a couple years after Reyes landed in Gill’s English 114 class her freshman year, bonding over PJ Harvey, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This, of course, was after many odd and failed stints in other bands.
In high school, Reyes’ musical experience consisted of choir and a band of all-too-serious vampires called the Taste.
“The first day of practice the other vocalist was like ‘I should totally suck your blood, this is real’,” laughed Reyes, who graduates this semester. “I was like, okay, this isn’t going to work out.”
Gill played guitar in a Chicago band known as Hog Lady while studying at Columbia in Chicago. That is, until that band “went down in a ball of flames” and he gave up making music for the time being.
Then after seeing his favorite band the Melvins in 2005, Gill knew he had to get back into music. He turned to Craigslist but didn’t have much luck with musicians his age.
“I had gone through about ten different groups of completely dysfunctional alcoholics,” Gill said. “All just complete trainwrecks.”
Years later after hearing Reyes sing via YouTube clips, something clicked for Gill. He recalled the moment gleefully, calling it his “golden ticket.”
The two of them joined forces, and after a few more rounds of accompanying musicians crashing and burning, they enlisted the help of two from outside the campus, drummer Brian Davy and bassist Chase Carter, solidifying the band.
Their band name was born as two words that just sounded cool together, but eventually took on an entirely deeper meaning as time went on.
Mermaid Bones: A fictional creature leaving behind hard monuments of existence, “the idea of a real fake,” a beautiful juxtaposition according to Gill.
Their music takes on the same form. The lyrics are torn from Reyes’s real life experience, mixed with a little imagination. Their song “Benjamin” for example, is about falling in love at age 12, though the lover is dead.
The band’s influences vary widely in style between blues, punk, sludge and classic rock. Any riff they create and take a liking to, they’ll use, no matter the genre.
But the outcome isn’t that aimless. The song “Downtown” is about being restless, having nowhere to go and nothing new to do. The guitar part was designed to match with a hyper, skittish riff that struggles but intentionally goes nowhere musically.
“It’s the concept of the art form serving its content,” Gill said, touching on a literary approach he teaches in his English 114 class.
Mermaid Bones released their second album, “The End of Days,” at their show on Wednesday at The Depot.
“We’re very much based on visuals and sound,” Reyes said. “Part of the experience is coming to see us live.”
Though it’s their second, they credit this album with really nailing down their unique sound: noisy, static guitars, a cement-filled rhythm section, with Reyes dramatically belting high-pitched tales. Think No Doubt if they had hung around Black Sabbath.
Mermaid Bones isn’t afraid to take risks either. One song off “The End of Days” is over 15 minutes long, and is boldly placed as the second track on the album.
“The presence of the band is demanding,” said Sara Bomba, an ex-student of Gill’s who has a Mermaid Bones tattoo on her right thigh which is featured on the back cover of their new album. “I felt like a moth attracted to light.”