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Mercury Rev
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 January.

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 wasn't.

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 finished recording?
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 surprise.

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 though.

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 diverse selection...
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 Thomas).

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 right mood.

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 music?
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 favorite albums.

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 song)
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 better.

Copyright © 1999 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Mercury Rev articles/reviews: Prime Club, Cologne, January 24th 1999, Secret Migration.

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