Vague to differ

Mister Vague

Photo By David Robert

November 16 at Club Underground, $5 cover charge, 555 East Fourth Street, Reno, NV, 89512

Mark Earnest doesn’t answer questions well. He dodges. He circles. He’s evasive. A former co-worker once commented, “It’s OK … I understand, you have to be Mister Vague.” Earnest subsumed the crack, and the epithet instantly became the name of his musical project.

Starting out as a solo act playing the local open-mic scene in 2003, Earnest performed a number of stripped-down shows around town with various players until hooking up with guitarist Neal Kramer in 2005. The current lineup, which has become more of a band than a man, didn’t form until the last minute before the recording of their new album, Allergic to Everything.

Earnest approached local percussive virtuoso Jason Thomas in January. Then his bass player dropped out of the picture two weeks before leaving for the recording studio in Duluth, Minn. Earnest needed “someone crazy enough” to skip town for a couple of weeks to record an LP. Thomas recommended Marcus Mayhall, with whom he’d played in Above All Things. With the new record, Earnest wanted more of a band feel, and lucked into a lineup of seasoned players with the creative drive and musical personality to make the project complete. But when asked how old they are, the band unanimously demurs. “We’re old enough to bend your average emo band over our knee and spank ’em,” replies Thomas with a grin.

Describing Mister Vague’s music doesn’t come easily. It’s heady stuff and quickly fills a room with thick imagery and surprisingly simple layers of sound that come together to form a complex amalgam. The best description comes from Thomas: “We sound like Pink Floyd meets Nirvana with a touch of Neil Young.”

In addition to their new LP, Mister Vague has previously released two other CDs: Square One in July 2004, and File Under: Trial in February 2006. They also have a song on the Neil Young Bridge School tribute benefit CD to be released later this year. Earnest is currently working on putting together a Reno show with some of the other bands on the album.

A helplessly prolific songwriter, Earnest has a few solid song ideas every month, meaning he pens about 20 new songs a year. He confesses that he writes continuously, afraid of what will happen if he stops. Going forward, he says, the band will play a more important role in writing the new material.

Allergic to Everything was crafted from a mad dash to the studio, which was available for only a narrow window of time, and the band practiced a mere four times before recording. Seven months later, the songs have evolved, matured and ripened through regular live performance and are now much “more precise,” explains Kramer.

A Mister Vague live show is a completely different, more visceral experience. At a recent XOXO performance, the guys of Mister Vague, casually clad in dark T-shirts and jeans, filled the small room with a sound unlike anything else in town: unrivaled dynamic control, the haunting tremolo and thrum of dual guitars, and Mayhall’s riveting bass work. Thomas excels on the skins, and Kramer’s fretwork is soul mate to Earnest’s stripped down Telecaster twang—no pedals, no effects, just piercing rhythmic riffs and wildly strummed chords.

Mister Vague is addicted to playing live and skips town about three times a month for shows ranging from Tahoe to Seattle to Boise. As Kramer explains, they’re “playing for the better side of music, not for what other people are doing, but just trying to create our own sound.”

“We’re not the pop-punk band next door,” says Thomas.