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Rising pop rocker takes stage at M and M

Chris Merrill is a native of Rockwood, Reynolds High grad
by: Contributed photo Merrill, led by Reynolds High grad Chris Merrill, has been steadily building an audience over the past few years with its emotionally charged rock ‘n’ roll that’s made for the masses.

Chris Merrill, a 1996 graduate of Reynolds High School, licensed one of his songs a couple years ago to Fox Sports, which used 'Back 4 More' during a TV broadcast of a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.

'Actually, I've got a highlight reel of LeBron (James) to 'Back 4 More,' ' Merrill says.

He then pauses when he realizes James left Cleveland on a sour note in 2010 to play for the Miami Heat, who just lost to Dallas in the NBA championship series.

'And no one wants to see (the reel) anymore, especially in Cleveland,' Merrill says with a laugh.

He's not as rich as James, but Merrill may someday be as famous as he promotes his band's unapologetically mainstream pop-rock tunes, which could be compared to Nickelback and Kings of Leon, but definitely possess a sound all Merrill's own.

He notes his band doesn't quite fit in with Portland's indie hipster scene, where live music fans often prefer quirkier or more eclectic music than might be found in other cities. Yet, Merrill still plays regularly around town when the band is not gigging up and down the West Coast, and his group has shared the stage with national acts, including Counting Crows and Maroon 5.

'We want to write and record commercial music and try to reach the masses,' he says. 'There's just something about awesome hooks and fantastic singing and a polished product. People's ears have gotten a little tired of just kind of canned music. Those great hooks, the polished product, is giving the listeners what they really want.'

The Rockwood native and his band, which includes lead guitarist/vocalist Eli Johnson, bassist Brian Powell and keyboardist Blake Padilla, plays the M and M Lounge this Saturday.

Merrill will share the stage with Chris Margolin and The Dregs, a '90s style alternative rock band that's been compared to Matchbox Twenty and Seven Mary Three. Merrill promises to pull out the works, with lights, smoke and 'anything we can pretty much think of.

'We're going blow the doors off the place!'

Long way to the top

Merrill got a relatively late start in the music business, starting to play piano when he was 21.

'I discovered I could sing pretty decently and found out that was something I enjoyed doing.'

Since 2006, he's played with his current outfit and has steadily made inroads in the music industry. The group's song 'The One Thing' was named '2010 Portland Song of the Year' by West Coast Songwriters, an industry organization.

The single also placed second at the WCS 2010 annual songwriting competition in Berkeley, Calif. Merrill remembered the moment with a laugh, noting he and co-songwriter Johnson had van trouble that almost made them miss it.

'We literally ran into the venue with minutes to spare,' he says. 'Me and Eli ran onto the stage, dripping with sweat, and took second place.'

Merrill also was awarded 'Best Performance' at the WCS Portland chapter finals in April 2011. The group's hard work paid off when they met multi-platinum songwriter George Merrill - no relation - who's penned such hits as Whitney Houston's 'How Will I Know' and 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody.'

Merrill has taken Merrill and Johnson under his wing and is co-writing songs with them.

'He's a fantastic writer, and he's really good to me and Eli,' Merrill says.

The band has released two albums and plans to release singles digitally this summer, including 'Loves of Yesterday,' which features Merrill on a vocal duet with Christie Bradley, a Portland singer/percussionist.

'The song is definitely the strongest thing that we will have released to date, so we feel strong about its potential,' Merrill says.

He adds that his ultimate goal is to tour nationally and to keep improving his craft. No matter how long you're at it, there's always room to improve your music game, he says, recalling how he felt after opening for Maroon 5 a few years back.

'At the time I was feeling good,' he says. 'I remember thinking to myself the only difference between them and us was the gear.'

He pauses a moment, then says with a laugh: 'But they were really polished. Once I was able to think about it and get past my ego, you could tell they had taken the time to put together a great show. I want my guys to put that same commitment in, and I think we do.'

If you go

WHO: Merrill, Chris Margolin and The Dregs

WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday, June 25

WHERE: M and M Lounge, 137 N. Main Ave.

COST: $5, 21 and over

INFO: 503-665-2626, facebook.com/mmlounge.gresham, merrillmusic.com