The New Mendicants – the indie supergroup that begs to differ
Indie kingpins Joe Pernice of The Pernice Brothers and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub pool their creative resources for a low-budget side project that’s yielding good returns
Question: What do you get when you put two cult indie musicians in a car, send them across Spain with a roadie and ring their mobile at the appointed time on a certain day? Answer: an unorthodox interview. Joe Pernice answers Norman Blake’s telephone in convivial fashion. “Oh, hold on a minute, he’s just driving,” he says, before whispering “Umm, Norman? Did you know you had an interview with The Irish Times now?”
A couple of confused minutes later – and thanks to the speakerphone function on Blake’s phone – a New Mendicants group conference is underway. The trio (drummer Mike Belitsky from alt-country band The Sadies brings their number to three) are midway through a short Spanish tour. There are no red carpets and bowls of blue M&Ms on this jaunt, though: they don’t even have a driver.
“We’re a low-budget tour, and we’re cheap,” deadpans Pernice. “Norman’s been doing most of the driving. We printed up a 7-inch single that we brought with us, and that sold out – so that pays for the petrol and our food . . . and some booze.”
So, how did they come to be in a cramped car, halfway to Madrid on a sunny December morning? As frontman of Teenage Fanclub, Blake first crossed paths with Pernice, who formed the Pernice Brothers with his brother Bob in the late 1990s, in Toronto.
“My wife’s Canadian and we met when I was making the [Teenage Fanclub] album Grand Prix,” explains Blake. “Her kids had grown up – her daughter was 14 at the time – and we decided that it was probably a good idea to experience life in Canada for a bit, so we moved there about four years ago. It was a similar thing for Joe. He moved to Canada because his wife’s Canadian also. We first met around 2000 when we did a show together in London, but last year I was in Norway working with a band called I Was a King, and they had Pat Berkery, who had once played with the Pernice Brothers, play drums on the record. I told Pat I was moving to Toronto, and he said ‘Oh, Joe is living in Toronto, you guys should hook up.’ I wrote an email to Joe and he got back to me. A couple of weeks later, I was back in Canada and we met up for a beer and very quickly decided that it’d probably be a good idea to start a band. So that’s what we did.”
Their first gig was a low-key affair in a small Toronto venue called the Dakota Tavern. “It’s about 20 metres from Joe’s place – we were extremely lazy about the whole thing,” says Blake, laughing. “Initially, I went over to Joe’s and we sat in the kitchen and played some songs and then walked up the street a little bit and went into the bar. We actually got paid – we made some money on the door. And we got free beer, too, so it was a pretty good first gig.”