Every which way but signed

Mr. Vague

Mark Earnest, Neal Kramer and Dean Kramer like to keep performances spontaneous.

Mark Earnest, Neal Kramer and Dean Kramer like to keep performances spontaneous.

Photo By David Robert

“I don’t know any chords,” Mark Earnest, singer and guitarist for Mr. Vague, asserts. “You should make that the headline.” This pride in his limitations seems unusually punk rock for a member of an acoustic trio, but it goes a long way in explaining why Mr. Vague isn’t a typical acoustic group.

Earnest, who previous to Mr. Vague mostly performed in “loud rock bands yelling at you,” explains, “I didn’t want to have another ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore’ (no offense to Michael) kind of thing. I wanted a lot more dynamics … closer to an indie rock kind of thing than a strict folk music tradition.”

“We have acoustic rock backgrounds with influences of certain types of rock and thrash and punk … Sometimes it’s really soft and mellow, and other times it’s vulgar,” says guitarist Neal Kramer.

Initially, Earnest had wanted to form a large collective of musicians to play songs that he had written. The group would be a rotating cast playing songs in a variety of styles. Since, as Earnest puts it, “it’s really difficult to find people to play on one song and then split,” this plan didn’t work out.

So for now, the band has a relatively fixed instrumentation of two acoustic guitars (both in an alternate tuning, lending the bass-less trio a surprisingly full sound) and drums (played by Neal’s brother Dean Kramer). But Earnest hasn’t given up on the Mr. Vague Idea.

“You might see a show down the road,” he says, “where [Neal] is playing bass on one song, or I take my guitar and throw it to someone in the audience … or pull out a Gibson Les Paul and go ‘craang!’ I want it to be that open ended.”

To that end, their live shows are done without the use of set lists, the band calling songs as they go, occasionally launching into covers of artists ranging from Elliott Smith to Outkast.

Currently, Mr. Vague is finishing up a CD, which will be available through CD Baby and the Unsmashable Records Web sites. The trio, though excited about the possibilities of Internet distribution, is decidedly uninterested in touring. Earnest says his plan is to “put the CD out on Web sites that are reputable … and see if I get e-mails from someone from Schenectady, New York, or someone from Reykjavik, or from Upper Volta. That’s more interesting to me than going to Upper Volta and playing a solo show up to my knees in quicksand.”

Mr. Vague is also uninterested in entertaining the misguided ambitions of many local bands who see a major label contract as their ultimate goal.

“There’s not just one way to be successful,” says Earnest. “We meet so many people who are careerist about it. I’m like—are you nuts? You’re in Reno!”

“It’ll be fine if we don’t get signed by a major label next week. We’re OK with that,” says Dean.

“And I’d like to point out how incredibly unlikely that is," adds Earnest.