By George Douglas Lee
Mystery Loves Company. Great name. The mystery is that this unique duo is playing so often – especially in what would be considered rock venues.
This is ‘chamber rock.’ And what is that? Chamber Rock is acoustic guitar and electric cello, with folky-classical-pop-rock influence(s). This music is brought to you by Carlos Mechado, acoustic guitar, and Madeline (Maddie) Herdeman, on cello.
“We call it Chamber Rock,” says Carlos. “We didn’t make that up, it’s a real genre that exists.”
I was pleasantly surprised to see Mystery Loves Company performing at the Old Quarter Acoustic Café in Galveston on a Sunday night, when I had gone to see Ms. Catherine Stroud perform, opening for aspiring musician Robert Kuhn. As I turned the sidewalk on 20th and Postoffice Street, there was a chalkboard sign illustrated by Ms. Stroud announcing that Mystery Loves Company would be playing. And after I walked into the Old Quarter, they began a little bit afterwards. I was struck immediately by the electric cello and acoustic guitar duo. I was asked what instrument cellist and singer Madeline Hardeman was playing, and I said, “It looks like a cello on a diet.” The cello body is cut down just enough to hold the strings and pickups, otherwise, it is a cello, with an incredible sound. I’m a sucker for strings. Her partner in Mystery Loves Company is Venezuelan born Carlos A. Machado, on acoustic guitar and vocals.
I was practically mesmerized by this duo. The sound from the electric cello, the percussive acoustic, and the perfect pitch harmonies would rivet one to the stage at times.
“Rock Symphony Billion” is their newest CD, a chamber rock album in four movements. After their performance, I talked to them, and Maddie traded me a copy of “Rock Symphony Billion” for “Don’t Mess with the Sound,” by my band, Noise Poets.
Mystery Loves Company’s performance that night was one of the last on their summer tour, which took them from Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, and Texas. They had just come from a show in New Orleans.
“I was teaching in the Upper Peninsula area by the Great Lakes, and Carlos drove up to join me,” says Maddie, describing their tour. “We just kind of snaked our way down back to Texas.”
Maddie and Carlos met nearly three years ago at an open mic in Houston, at the legendary Mucky Duck. Maddie was playing her cello in a duo with a friend, and Carlos was there playing some of his originals.
“I wound up in Houston because my parents were tired of the growing crime rates in Venezuela, and they’d been looking for jobs,” explains Carlos. “My dad’s car was stolen, and they just said ‘that’s it!’ We had family in Houston; they moved when I was twelve, and we never looked back.”
Maddie’s parents insisted she learn a musical instrument when she was six. They took her to a music store, and a cello was selected. Her mother was an opera singer, which would only naturally lead to influence Maddie’s singing.
“My parents made me play, but today, I look back and actually say ‘thank you’ for making me do that.”
After she graduated from college, Maddie moved to Houston.
“I did cello through college, then started teaching,” said Maddie. “I moved to Houston because my older sister lived there, and I just wanted to move around; I wanted to simply ‘move.’ I wasn’t playing that much and I thought that kind-of doing an ‘alternative way’ of playing would help me play more. Carlos and I met a few years after I graduated. We both live in Houston, we met in Houston, and we’re still based out of there.”
After meeting at the Mucky Duck open mic night- that one fateful night – they formed Mystery Loves Company. “It was Carlo’s idea. He’d been writing a lot and wanted someone to collaborate with,” explained Maddie.
“I come from a writing background, wrote a whole lot of poetry, fiction, and so forth,” adds Carlos. “My dad was a musician. I got a guitar, he taught me some chords, then I learned some more, and found that it is a really cool way to have another outlet for my writing. Friends encouraged me to perform live, and that’s how I came to be at the Mucky Duck that night. Before I met Maddie, I had only done open mic’s, [and had] never been in a band, and never done a gig.”
Once they decided to work together, they immediately and intensely began to develop a song list for live performances.
“It took about a month for us to come up with one hour of material,” Maddie laughs.
“My first gig was the first gig we had as Mystery Loves Company,” added Carlos. “We put enough songs together to make it happen, since then we’ve been figuring out how to be performers.” From that point, they began playing as much as possible, working around Maddie’s teaching schedule.
“I’m an architect and work for myself,” said Carlos. “So I can fire myself for a while to play, then rehire myself,” he laughs. “I can set my own schedule basically.”
Aside from the unusual combination of instruments, the most impressive feature of Mystery Loves Company are the close harmonies between Carlos and Maddie. There are times when Maddie’s vocals soar into the stratosphere, with nearly operatic force, which is no coincidence, as her mother is an opera singer.
“I sing a lot,” she says. “I can’t be stopped! I was in a choir since I was eight years old, and I performed in a lot of musicals.”
Mystery Loves Company has combined a number of musical genres, including classical, jazz, rock, and folk, to create their distinctive sound. They also have a full band line-up, which is what you will hear at a few rare concerts, and on their recorded material; but most of their appearances are as a duo. Carlos says that their songs and sound change, and are sometimes quite different with the full band line-up.
When you see Carlos and Maddie live, you will quickly recognize that the clarity and precision is as finely done on stage as their studio recordings. It’s compelling to watch Maddie intensely sawing away on her five-string electric cello, providing the bowed string sound with Carlos’ percussive acoustic guitar rhythm – creating “chamber rock” by Mystery Loves Company.
Mystery Loves Company has released two CDs, and has a new EP out now. You can listen to their music, and order their recordings at www.mysteryloves.com.