Much has been written about local band Mannequin Men, perhaps due in part to the band’s personal prevalence in the Chicago music scene. Bassist Miles Raymer is as writer for the Chicago Reader and guitarist Ethan D’Ercole manages Reckless Records. Still, at The A.V. Club, we believe there’s always something more to know about a much-known and much-beloved band. In the process of digging up some musical dirt on these guys, we discovered that in addition to all of his other interests and hobbies, D’Ercole is also the proud papa to a very lovely chinchilla, Gideon. As the band’s new self-titled record hits stores today, The A.V. Club sat down with the guitarist to talk about just how soft his pet is.
The A.V. Club: So, you have a chinchilla?
Ethan D’Ercole: Right now, I have a chinchilla. This is the third in a line of pets acquired from the Winnetka school system. The pet I had before actually belongs to my girlfriend’s sister Molly, and that’s a degu. And the one before that was a hedgehog.
My girlfriend is a librarian right now in Oak Park, but started off in the Winnetka schools, and the school system has animals to give to the kids to take care of. When the school year’s over, I acquire them. It’s kind of out of luck.
AVC: They don’t want to keep them in the class for the next year?
ED: I just think they’d rather give them to a home where they know they’re good.
AVC: They’re fancier animals than we had growing up. I remember it was canaries and...
ED: Guinea pigs.
AVC: Guinea pigs, yeah. And gerbils. But you have a chinchilla. What’s its name?
ED: This is Gideon. Gideon is actually 5 years old, and he seems to thrive on guests and attention. He gets excited when there’s a lot of people around. This is actually, for him, right now, this is sleepy time.
AVC: Oh, does he sleep during the day?
ED: Yeah. He’s a little grumpy. He gets his sleep spot. He’s pretty excited.
AVC: Did you have animals growing up?
ED: Yeah, you know, I lived in North Carolina and my family lived on the edge of the woods, so I’d always have box turtles that I’d find in the woods and kind of take care of them. One dog, mostly turtles and weird pets, like a bat, gerbils.
AVC: Do you have to call your landlord? Do you rent?
ED: We rent, but these, of course, aren’t a problem. There are people in the building with dogs and cats.
AVC: Chinchillas seem kind of low maintenance. What’s the daily routine with them?
ED: Honestly, these are really intelligent creatures and their life expectancies—they can live up to 15 or 20 years. So I give them a little time, let him do a little running, give him a little attention when I get home from work.
AVC: Does he have a ball?
ED: He doesn’t like the ball. He’s a control freak. He doesn’t like to be fucked with in his cage, so I kind of just let him do his thing. Let him crawl out here and run around.
AVC: You don’t worry about him going somewhere?
ED: Well, he likes to bite wires, so as long as you keep him away from the sockets...
AVC: Do you think Gideon likes music?
ED: He’s a strangely musical animal. The things that scare him are loud motorcycles and trucks, but if I’m playing guitar, he perks up, crawls to a corner and just kind of sits there. When I’m playing records or my stereo, he seems to be interested somewhat. Plus, he’s a little vocal, too. He’s got strange vocal barks and grunts and lets you know when he’s bothered.
AVC: I’m sure.
ED: He’s a very aware animal and lets you know what he doesn’t like.
AVC: Did you have to play the “getting-to-know-you” process?
ED: Oh, for sure. And there’s also what some people consider the “chinchilla diss.” If you do something that really upsets him, he will hold a grudge forever. And I’m not making this up. I was reading online about it.
AVC: Like what?
ED: You know, I used to not really respect his boundaries and try to grab him out of the cage and he’d bite me. And then, the next couple days after that, you’d go to pet him, and he’d turn his back on you. And I’m not kidding. It’s serious. So stopped doing that, and a few days later, he came out of it again. He’s not down with playing around. He’s super intelligent.
AVC: That’s pretty cute.
ED: He’s tough, you know? He got over it.
AVC: You have the degu around, as well. I’ve never even heard of a degu.
ED: Degus are a little too high-octane for my personality, let’s just say. All day it’s exercising and running. And they bite and nip you, too. Not really my style as much as a chinchilla or a hedgehog.
AVC: Cooler. Slower.
ED: Just a little bit. A little more brainy. Yeah, this guy’s more mellow. During the day, when he comes out, he’ll just kind of stare and take in things. At night, he’s a little more fun.
AVC: So he runs around at night?
ED: Yeah, at night. It’s around 10 p.m. That’s when he’s most interesting.
AVC: Is Gideon a rock ’n’ roller?
ED: He’s a little bit rock ’n’ roller. I do a lot of artwork, and then I’m generally up from 10 to 2 or 3 in the morning, and that’s when he’s up.
AVC: I don’t think there are any rock songs about chinchillas or degus.
ED: Zeppelin had a few songs about dogs.
AVC: And cats.
ED: Cats. There’s probably a few songs about cats. And there’s definitely cat imagery in rock ’n’ roll. But I’m trying to think, ’cause as far as I know, they’re considered an exotic pet. I don’t know how many people actually have them.
AVC: I think a lot of people think of a chinchilla as a kid’s animal. You touch it when you go to the nature center or whatever as a kid, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s so soft.” But you won’t have one. When you go to the mall pet store as a kid, you didn’t seem them.
ED: I wouldn’t have gone out and bought a chinchilla, but I wound up with one and I’m very happy with that.
Oh, I should show you how he cleans himself. [Gets out this little dust bin and Gideon rolls around in it.]
AVC: It’s cute. It’s kind of weird.
ED: It’s not a very rock ’n’ roll pet. I just sort of have one. [Laughs.]
AVC: I don’t think a pet has to be very “rock ’n’ roll” or a person has to be, either.
ED: I mean, look at Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, they have all kinds of pets. Chimps and snakes.
AVC: Slash has some rock ’n’ roll pets, though.
ED: Slash, with his pythons? Yeah.
AVC: Do the other guys in the band have animals? Do you have anything, Miles?
Miles Raymer: I have a couple cats.
ED: Kevin has a Schnauzer.
AVC: So who’s the mascot? Is it Gideon or is it the Schnauzer?
ED: Right now, there are actually two dogs, two cats, and a chinchilla, total. Seth, our drummer, has a—what’s it called?
ED: A Brittany Spaniel. Hunting dog, you know?
ED: Miles’ girlfriend also has an Australian cattle dog. Super intelligent dog.
AVC: Do you take Gideon to the chinchilla vet?
ED: He’s healthy so far. But when I first picked him up, he had a reputation for being an escape artist. There was a mass thunderstorm. It was July. It was such a storm, I was driving 10 miles an hour when I get to the highway, and he got out of the cage while I was driving, which was pretty amusing.