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Music

20 Questions: Microtia

Releasing their albums in used beer packing? Wishing to live in Quebec City? Creating movie light shows on stage? Just a day in the life of these Portland prog-rockers, who answer 20 Questions just as the best disc of their career hits stores ...

Not every band names them selves after a birth defect of the ears, but, then again, not every band is as dynamic as Microtia.

Essentially a modern group of prog-rockers with a serious alternative rock bent, Microtia have had a bit of a hard time fitting in to the much calmer Portland, Oregon music scene. Releasing their albums and track listings on used beer and cigarette packages, the group has very slowly built up a following by touring, self-promoting, and just making some fantastic rock records. Their latest, Spacemaker, is a spiraling tour through the last two decades of rock radio, as thundering choruses run parallel with furious acoustic guitars, clattering percussion, and glorious song titles like "That's The Problem With Owning Half the State of California".

As snarky as their live shows are sweaty, bassist Oliver Merson took some time out the band's relentless touring schedule to talk about why The Secret of Nimh makes him cry, how stolen Gwar VHS may have changed his life, and how his book about paleontology will be called Through One Eon and Out the Other ...

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I recently watched The Secret of Nimh for the first time since I was a kid. I watched it alone, at night, in bed. By the time the ballad came in at the end I was watching the credits through some pretty wet eyes. To make matters worse, I found out that the actress who does the voice of Mrs. Brisby, Elizabeth Hartman, killed herself five years after that performance. Turns out that she was sort of a big deal in the '60s -- she was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards in 1966 -- but her career faded away in the '70s as she struggled with depression. Mrs. Brisby was her last role in 1982. I was thoroughly depressed by this point, though it did cheer me up a little to see Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton in the credits.

2. The fictional character most like you?

The Ring of Songwriting Power is a terrible burden; look at what it's done to our singer, Eric. So he's Gollum. The rest of us are just merry and faithful hobbits, trying to ease his burden.

3. The greatest album, ever?

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. Pure musical magic.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Here we are at #4, and Wil Wheaton has already come up twice ...well, these are two very large science fiction/fantasy franchises, both consisting of various media and both varying greatly in quality over a large span of time. To make this comparison work, both franchises will have to be represented solely by their feature length films. Even so, these are two large, inconsistent bodies of work. I will exclude the three recent "prequels" from the Star Wars side, which are enough to disqualify Star Wars by themselves; and I will likewise exclude all the Star Trek: The Next Generation films because I never bothered to watch them. Considering only the core, classic films of both franchises, I guess I'll have to go with Star Wars. The Star Trek films are more thoughtful, more subtle, have better screenwriting and infinitely better acting, but, what can you do? Star Wars is movie magic.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Magic. All the works of art I've discussed so far contain magic. We are not quite the wizards Tolkien and George Lucas were, but we try to create what little magic we can in our songs. Drugs are also a big part of it.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Living in Russia for four months. You know that cathedral in Red Square, with the multi-colored onion domes? I've been in there. I've seen Lenin's embalmed body in a glass coffin. I also saw two North Korean soldiers visiting his tomb. A North Korean is a rare sight.

7. You want to be remembered for...?

Being the man who traveled to Tasmania, captured the last Thylacine, and then collected Ted Turner's $100,000 reward for proof of their continued existence.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

I'll give two from each decade: the Kinks, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, King Crimson, Rudimentary Peni, the Chameleons, Helmet, Failure, Cave In, and Deerhunter.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

I do wish that the credits for Jacob's Ladder said "written and directed by Oliver Merson".

10. Your hidden talents...?

? ???? ???????? ??-??????.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

John Lennon once told me to lay down all thought and surrender to the void.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

When I was 14, I stole a VHS cassette of Gwar's Phallus in Wonderland from Tower Records. I really wore that thing out, I just couldn't get enough of it. And it totally corrupted me. I remember the mixture of fear and fascination I felt as I learned that Gwar was from Antarctica, smoked crack, enslaved their fans, abducted and killed children, and spawned huge dinosaurs to destroy civilization and annihilate mankind.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

Outer Party jumpsuits.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Stephen Hawking or Winona Ryder.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I've read H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, so I don't feel the need to go forward in time. I would go back, way back, to Precambrian times, and take a look at a young, lifeless Earth. Then I would gradually travel forward, stopping a each of the geologic time periods, to see the planet developing and life evolving over the eons. I would bring a few Trilobites, Ammonites, and Nautiloids back with me to my own time to set up an aquarium worthy of my sprawling, Georgian estate in the English countryside, which I would have purchased with the millions made from my book, Through One Eon and Out the Other; a book completely revolutionizing the fields of paleontology and geology and securing my place in the pantheon of mankind's greatest scholars.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Microtia has a paradoxical effect on stress. It's the cause of, and solution to, a lot of the stress in our lives. Drugs help too.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

Yes, all of those are essential, with the exception of vodka, which I would replace with beer. I wouldn't want to live in a world without any of these things.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Someday I'd like to move to Quebec City. That stately city of ancient masonry and winding streets looming over the St. Lawrence seems like something out of a fairy tale. Until then I guess I'm content here in Portland, Oregon.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

War is over, if you want it.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

A light show for Microtia. We're going to incorporate a little movie magic into our live set.

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