US - New York - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 29 - 03/02/99
a celebration of music
They've had pretty rough times in the past,
but with their fourth album, Deserter's
Songs, Mercury Rev are on top of the world.
The album is featured in almost every important
'end of the year list', and, not only the
critics are raving about the record. In Germany
for example, it sold better than the first three
albums put together! I had the chance to catch
up with Guitarist Grasshopper prior to the show
at the Cologne Prime Club in the end of
Carsten: What's it like to be in
Mercury Rev at the start of 1999?
Grasshopper: It's great 'cause our record
has done very well and a lot of people seem to
enjoy it and have heard about it. A lot more
than about our other records. It's been a good
experience on the road where in the past it
C: Did you ever imagine that the
record would take off like this? Did you know
that you had a hit record on your hands when you
G: No! We didn't really know how people
would react to it as it's a bit different to
what we've done in the past. It's also
a different band. We love the album a lot...
we've loved it and we'd hoped that through that
other people would like it as well. Six months
ago we were just happy that the record was
finished. Now it's just crazy!
C: Do you think there was a special
turning point, a moment when you knew 'all is
going very well indeed'?
G: Yeah, when we got on the cover of the
NME 'cause we'd never been on it before. That was
probably the turning point and then they picked
it as record of the year which was quite a
C: Do you think the commercial
success will make it more difficult to live up
to everyone's expectations in the future?
G: Right now we're just feeling very
confident and it's a really good band that we
have and creatively we're in a good spot. And as
soon as we're done with touring we wanna start
recording again. Not to wait another three
years, y'know. There's some pressure, but when
we go home we are in our own little world. Just
make the record we wanna make.
C: How did the different line-up
for the live-band come about, there's only three
of you now on tour out of the six 'official'
band members on the album? Is that the
permanent line-up from now?
G: Jason and his brother Justin play in
another band, and for the last five years I used
to go and see them play. They also live around
where we live. On the last tour we had Jason
play bass, 'cause Dave Fridmann (their producer,
studio bass player and erstwhile Rev live
bassman) doesn't really tour anymore. On this
tour we also wanted his brother to play the
string parts on Mellotron. We would've liked to
bring a string section but it's very costly and
hard to get it to sound right live. We would've
needed another truck or van as well, to fit all
the people. The Drummer, Jeff Mercel, actually
played on most of the record. Jimmy only played
drums on Holes. He's got a real job now
working with computers and he also got married.
He doesn't really wanna tour anymore. He and
Suzanne will probably come back for recording
C: How did you choose the cover
version you play? Last time I saw you, in
October, you did Tugboat by Galaxie 500,
Isolation by The Plastic Ono Band, and
Neil Young's Cortez The Killer. Pretty
G: They're just songs some of us have
liked. We always liked the Galaxie 500 song
cause it's about Sterling Morrison, whom we
hadn't gotten a chance to meet before he
died. These songs just give us a chance to play
other songs that aren't our own. It's a chance
to have fun.
C: On the ltd. edition of
Deserter's Songs there's also a cover of
Neil Young's Philadelphia (from the movie
of the same name)...
G: Yeah, we did that for a while in the
States. We also do Nikki Sudden's Silver
Street (actually co-written with
Dave Kusworth for The Jacobites), and
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (by BJ
C: How did you come up with the
ideas for all the decoration and stuff on stage
(the lights, the candles, the incense) (set up
by the same guy responsible for the spectacular
Spiritualized light show)?
G: We just wanted to make it special in a
way, just like playing in your house, in the
living room. Some of the things like the candles
just give it a certain ambience. Some of the
words in Opus 40 also refer to candles
and stuff. It's just to help us getting into the
C: You also smile a lot on stage.
Actually, I've never seen a band smile as much
before. Are you just enjoying the audience's
reaction or are you just happy about your own
G: Both! We're just happy that we're back
again and playing and that we're friends again
and that everything is going all right (laughs).
There were times on the last tour where we
probably were crying on stage. Everything bad
that could happen happened: Vehicles breaking
down, doing everything ourselves... it was crazy
sometimes. Now Jonathan is a lot more
confident and he's singing better and
everybody's playing better and I guess that's
something to smile about.
C: You've also got your solo
projects. What do you enjoy more? The solo work
or Mercury Rev?
G: At this point: the band, 'cause it is
really fun to play with. Every night is a
celebration of the music... (turns to the TV
where a Cardigans video is being aired) She
(Nina Persson, the Cardigans' singer) likes our
record a lot. She said it's one of her
C: Turning to the lyrics for a
second. Would you still write a line like
"Bands, those funny little plans, that
never work out quite right" (from
Holes) after your recent success? (and
yes I know that Jonathan actually wrote the
G: Yeah. It still fits cause of all the
changes with the people in the band and just
personally it's more of a statement.
When you start out you have certain conceptions
of what your band is and what you are and that
wriggles (?) away and changes like a snake.
You gotta go with it or break the band up.
But in the beginning, with David Baker and Jimmy
and Suzanne we never would've thought that it
would turn into this band or that we would do a
record like Deserter's Songs which's
been accepted so widely.
C: Why the title Deserter's
Songs? And how did you come up with what seem
to be fairy tales, dreams or children's songs as
far as the lyrics are concerned?
G: It's just exactly that. It's very
childlike and innocent. Our world was so
horrible so through the music we created
another world that's just outside our own. We
wanted to make dreamy, romantic music, sorta
dark but with hope. We called it Deserter's
Songs 'cause we felt we were deserting our
past, the record company... we also deserted the
hip and trendy thing. When we go home to the
Catskills, people don't really know that we're
in a band. It's kinda redneck and it's a lot of
older people. You come home from this great tour
and you get humbled real quick. We also deserted
ourselves a lot of times. A lot of the lyrics
are about hurting each other and loved ones.
C: Do you think you actually can
make a better album than this one?
G: With some things like the
orchestration we've just started. It felt like as
if we just scratched the surface... just
learning really. I think we still can get
Copyright © 1999 Carsten Wohlfeld