Listening Room at Mercury Studio

Earlier this week the Clarion Content’s editor was delighted to attend the premier of the Listening Room at Mercury Studio. Mercury Studio has been the epicenter of so much amazing cultural activity in recent months, it is probably hard to keep up.

The Listening Room is the brainchild of founders Katie DeConto and Megan Jones, who are always looking to utilize Mercury Studio in game-raising ways for the community and the arts. The Listening Room brings premier musicians to an intimate space to play a set of their music, and then, host a music salon; questions and answers, discussions and flights of musical fancy with the audience.


Tuesday1 Duncan Webster and Leah Gibson of Prypyat lit up the room with beautiful, haunting melodies that draw inspiration from sources as diverse as Twin Peaks, Chernobyl, and the darkest of Japanese forests. The crowd was positioned on couches and folding chairs mere feet from the musicians and the music. As Duncan later confided during the Q&A, this is the way he likes it, if it were up to him, they would never play with an amplifier at all.

Their set began with nothing more than a quick, “How are you doing?” to the crowd and a even briefer, “You ready?” to each other. Twelve gorgeous tracks followed, cello, guitar, kickdrum, whistling, and vocals. Gibson and Webster admitted this was one of the longest sets they had ever played. Lucky us. Applause was hearty, sincere, and sustained.

Prypyat's GIbson and Webster

Prypyat’s GIbson and Webster

The show was so personal even before the floor was opened up for questions, it made your spine tingle, like the first time one encountered MTV Unplugged. With the country’s cultural eye turning ever more toward Durham, one had to wonder were we sitting in the room with future stars?2 Gibson’s band The Bowerbirds already tours nationally. Webster’s well-known Hammer no More the Fingers has pounded out their rhythms on the distant shores of England and literally played hundreds of shows in the states from New York City to Huntington, West Virginia.

How personal? Duncan and Leah dedicated the third song to Madeleine in the front row who had just turned four yesterday. We also heard a wild wedding story of couple who lost power in middle of the reception as their tent flooded and the DJ panicked for lack of battery back-up. The couple road in through the pouring rain on a house and carriage to a darkened tent where Duncan and Leah stood in for the DJ, playing on by candlelight, all the way through the Bride and Groom’s first dance, the daughter-Dad dance, the groom and his Mom’s dance, mind you, all spontaneous, all unrehearsed. This is the kind of back story I predict we will come to treasure the Listening Room for.

Want to get to know your favorite musicians better? DeConto reports she has acts booked through May. And at our Mercury Studio HQ, the Clarion Content might have overheard a conversation with a couple of Durham’s favorite hip-hop stars about doing a Listening Room and giving you some of their backstory and inner sanctum breakdown this Summer.

Can’t resist giving you one more fabulous behind the scenes anecdote. And, do note, the Listening Room, was videotaped by friend of the Clarion Content Eric Chen, aka,  The Cota Flota, so it should be coming to an internet near you some day soon.3 Someone asked Duncan Webster how he got started playing guitar. Duncan said his parents, who were in the room when he told this tale, agreed to get him a guitar for his tenth birthday if he could learn to play Wipeout. Yes, that Wipeout, the Surfari’s classic. As he told the story, sheepishly smiling, not only did he learn it, he broke it out in front of the entire school, at the talent show,4,5 with no less than Durham music phenom Stephen Coffman on the drums, who played, get this(!) with TWO BROKEN ARMS!6

I don’t know about you, but at the Clarion Content, that is the kind of behind the music story that makes our juices flow. Can’t wait to hear Curtis Eller next month at Mercury Studio.



1Ice and snow postponed the original Friday night date.
2Is Hammer Mudhoney in this conext?
3We will tweet about it when we see it.
4We overheard somebody hypothesize the other day that one of the wellsprings for Durham’s cultural renaissance, its artistic flowering was the influence of the excellent cultural and arts oriented schools in the area from Durham School of the Arts to Durham Academy, from Carolina Friends to Hillside. Great insight. We believe. (Although this talent show took place at E.K. Powe.)
5Gibson started on the piano and violin, then switched to cello at age twelve when she found out it was bigger.
6Webster also credited Asher Spiller as the man who did “The Wipeout” on stage.
Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

Be first to comment