Members of House of Mercy Band think there's nothing hypocritical about parking on a bar stool on a Saturday night and then sliding into a church pew the following Sunday morning. Founder C.P. Larson says they're comfortable in both worlds.
"We don't see that we can separate ourselves from the Saturday night to the Sunday morning," he says. We're the same people that go to the club on Saturday night then go to church on Sunday."
St. Paul's Turf Club is as much home base for the band as House of Mercy church. That's where the members first met and realized they had a mutual admiration for country gospel music. They used the club's basement lounge to write original gospel songs.
When they went looking for a church to play in, House of Mercy opened its doors. Larson thinks there's definitely a connection between the church's ministerial mission and the band's music.
"The songs that we love to play down at the House of Mercy are songs that were written by the people, for the people," he says. " They're not about glory. They're more about longing for something, or something that's been lost or something that's kind of broken down or weak."
A particularly heart wrenching example can be found on the band's new cd, "Left Behind." "Friend of Mine" is about a man who finds himself alone and on the street at the end of his life, right in House of Mercy's downtown St. Paul neighborhood.
Larson wrote it with the church's minister, Russell Rathbun.
"It's about a guy on 7th Street, and he's dying," Larson says. "We decided what would be the worst thing if a guy had absolutely no friends and asked somebody on the street to pretend you're a friend of mine, 'so my folks will know.' "
Several House of Mercy Band members, Larson included, were raised as fundamentalist christians, but rejected that path when they got older. Their new cd's title, "Left Behind" is a not so subtle reference to "the Rapture," a biblical prophecy predicting the ascension of all saved Christians to heaven.
Larson says proponents of "the Rapture" are using the wrong emotion to push people toward redemption.
“The songs that we love to play down at the House of Mercy are songs that were written by the people, for the people. They're not about glory. They're more about longing for something, or something that's been lost or something that's kind of brokenC.P. Larson, founder of House of Mercy Band
"House of Mercy is not about saving people through fear but through love, getting rid of the hell-fire and brimstone," he says.
House of Mercy Band has used the Turf Club to disseminate its "Saturday night Sunday morning" philosphy and expose its fans to the country gospel canon. Once, it invited bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley to sing songs about drinkin and cheatin at the Turf, and then play some of his favorite gospel tunes at House of Mercy church the following Sunday.
Star Tribune Music Critic Chris Riemenschneider admires the way House of Mercy band has been able to straddle the spiritual and the secular. But Riemenschnedider says the group is popular because of the quality of its music, especially on its new cd.
"Spirituality aside, I mean, they're just great songs," he says. I compared them to the Jayhawks. Mix that with their gospel touch, and it's some really nice beautiful stuff."
House of Mercy Band members say they're not trying to slam fundamentalists on "Left Behind." They do feel the country is going through a desperate period right now, spiritually and otherwise, and the songs reflect that. And if the rapture does come, Larson says,
"We probably figure we'll be left behind," he says.
Which Larson says is good because somebody will need to lead the hymms at church.