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Shiny Happy People
Mercury Rev
To talk with Mercury Rev is like diving head on into the magical wonderland that they so miraculously created on their surprise Smash Hit "Deserters Songs" that instantaneously made them everybody's favorite. A song by the CARDIGANS is playing on MTV when the enigmatic guitar player Grasshopper joins us for a talk. "She said that she liked our record", explains Grasshopper, "we are really flattered." Nowadays Mercury Rev have every reason to be for not only the Cardigans but also nearly every other musician I talked to recently (from Steve Wynn to Wilco) are huge fans if "Deserter's Songs". Not to mention common folks who flock out to buy the new record in heaps. All of this does come as a surprise indeed for until recently Mercury Rev had a reputation of being a somewhat unstable underground combo with an unusual but noisy approach. Those who knew them from their earlier records and tours were in for a surprise when they learned of their new, reinvented self. Which makes itself obvious not only in the music, but also in the way the guys present themselves nowadays. Whereas on the last tour (1995 with Crowsdell & Pavement) Mercury Rev came across as angry, noisy Shoegazers, today they are gloating with happiness, as it seems, grinning constantly throughout the shows.
"Yes indeed", states Grasshopper, "nowadays everything seems to go right for us. The reaction to our record was a big surprise for us. To be on the cover of NME was really something. We never knew that we had such a hit on our hands. We are indeed happy. That is why we changed our attitude towards presenting ourselves."

Whereas Grasshopper and especially Merc-mastermind Jonathon Donahue are besides themselves with joy, you couldn't help notice the absence of long time flute player Suzanne Thorpe or drummer Jimmy Chambers on the recent tours.

"Yes well Suzanne is busy studying", replies Grasshopper, "and Jimmy doesn't want to tour. It might be possible for them to join future projects, but it's unlikely for them to tour again."

The missing members are compensated for by hired keyboard-players who flesh out the already big sound of the new Mercury Rev. A beautiful light-setting and lot's of candles and incense compliment the overall lush approach. (Incidentally Grasshopper likes Nikki Sudden, who also likes to delve into this kind of panache). Some people already complain about this being too much, but, hey, that's the idea. As with the songs which are richly orchestrated and elaborately crafted. Not to mention the lyrics, which are gentle, dreamlike fairytales for adults.

Mercury Rev
"Yes indeed, they are meant to be that way. They are supposed to have this dreamlike quality. We wanted to create our own little world. That's also the reason why we called the album "Deserters Songs". We wanted to desert our past, the things we did before, the world we live in. You know, where we come from (Woodstock) is a really redneck kind of community. Everybody goes about it's business and really doesn't care. Nobody knows us there, nobody knows that we are big recording artists in Europe. So that was our way to show them, in a way, to create our own little reality within the reality."
This goes to the length of even printing the lyrics in a special way - as if you were reciting a poem, which is done decidedly done to fit the overall approach. Asked about this, Grasshopper argrees that the music of Mercury Rev is indeed to be considered "art". (Not in a supercilious way, though, because he eleborates on how all kind of music, and especially Rock'n'Roll is to be considered "art" in his opinion).

On another occasion Steve Wynn told me, that in his opinion "Deserter's Songs" is a perfect example of a new kind of approach toward music nowadays: Leaving the grunge & punk approach behind and experimenting with your abilities, heading in the direction of sophisticated, "progressive rock" (without the bad things of the originial "progressive rock" of the 70's, however). This might have been a thing which could have atrracted Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band who are playing on some tracks. (And vice versa Jonathon is mentioned in the credits on The Band's new album). Since Mercury Rev and The Band don't exactly play in the same league - what happened there?

"We are neighbors", answers Grasshopper, "they live close by and we run into each other occasionally. So we gave them some tapes and asked them of their opinion. They said that they liked it and agreed to play on some tracks. And that was really something: To play with your idols."

You couldn't help notice, that in spite of the huge success Mercury Rev are currently enjoying, the guys have remained humble music fans. This also is complimented by the fact that Mercury Rev include interesting choices of cover versions into their set - from Neil Young to Galaxie 500. And Grasshopper can eleborate in detail about those songs, and why they pick those (for instance Galaxie 500 was chosen because of the Velvet Underground factor - Grasshopper is a huge fan of Sterling Morrison, whom he regrets never to have met).

Although Grasshopper constantly hides behind dark sunglasses - which makes him look pretty cool - he later joins Jonathon and the boys in the celebration of the new found confidence of a smoothly running Rock & Roll orchestra. They begin the show with "Goddess on a Highway" - which really is an essence of their philosophy - and from here on Mercury Rev take you on a magical journey of fairytales and lot's of grinning. The songs of the new record are mixed with older stuff and the beforementioned cover-versions. Even a blues-song sneaks in. However: Everything is subjected to the general new Mercury Rev make-over and leaves the audience with the feeling of having witnessed something special: A band that really cares - and really dares.

Interview: -Ullrich Maurer-
Fotos: -Ullrich Maurer-

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Deserter's Songs


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