Mercury Rev play the Tivoli on March 7.
Well, here I am. It's the year 2002 and I'm interviewing a band my mum likes. The shame, the shame of it all. Mercury Rev are cool though, hailing from New York, they're an unlabelable band of multi-talented musicians who created finely crafted post-modern pop masterpieces. They rose to fame with their critically acclaimed 1998 album Deserter's Songs, which was hailed as the album of the year by many publications and DJs including Richard Kingsmill, NME and Rolling Stone. Their latest album All Is Dream shows the band becoming more orchestral and experimental, and has garnered a radio hit with the gorgeous lullaby Nite & Fog.
Now Mercury Rev are returning to tour the Australian east coast supported by Augie March. I talked to the bands accidental drummer, Jeff Mercel about fame, success, music, fans and their upcoming tour,
What was it like last time you came down in 1999?
"Well we had a blast. We didn't know to expect, but we found you guys were easy going, normal people. But we just saw a small part of the country, and it's the same again this time. Hopefully this trip will help build a bigger audience for us. We'd love to get to the point where we can play more than just three cities in Australia. I've been getting e-mail from people in Perth saying, ‘Why aren't you playing in Perth? This is the second time you've snubbed us!’, and I'm like arrrgh, I'm sorry. It's a big country and we hope to cover more ground."
Are you happy with the bands success? Where do you see yourselves going?
"Well, I think as long as we're able to make records, that's success in and of itself. And the fact that we can play shows and have people show up and want to hear music that we make, I mean that's success, and if can just kind of continue, and be able to do that for as long as we want. I mean look at people who have been doing this sort of thing for ages, the Tom Waits and the Nick Caves of the world, who are just out there, and you know they're just gonna be out there making records every couple of years and doing shows, and it's always gonna be doing the kind of thing you know you'll wanna be a part of. And hopefully we can just stay at it a long time."
What about your place in the musical landscape right now?
"I think so. I don't have any burning desire to end up living the kind of life some of these kind of huge huge pop icons have to live. Some of these people get thrust into a life they never expected and probably never really wanted had they known. You know, we can live a pretty normal life. You know we travel, we go play our shows, go make our records, and when we come home we live a very normal life. The people that we see day to day don't necessarily know what we do. They don't care."
On the liner notes you have the chords to some of the songs. What made you decide to do that?
"I don't know. I mean... they're simple songs. There's a lot of things going on, orchestration wise and arrangement wise, but at the heart of it, you know, they're just very simple songs. They started out on a guitar or piano playing just basic chords. It's just to illustrate that fact, that there's no great science to it. It's just very simple songwriting. It demystifies it for the people at home who want to pick up a guitar and play along. Just to say, 'Hey, it's not so serious; it's not a presumptuous over-complex thing. Here are the chords, go and play 'em!”
How would you describe your influences?
"Oh boy. That's a tough one. I mean what haven't we been influenced by? My parents loved music, and they made a decision for me, when I was very young, that music should be a part of my life. My parents brought an accordion home for me when I was five years old, and put it on me and I damn near fell over forwards the damn thing weighed so much. But they made a decision for me that music was important and that I should be exposed to it. Classical music, opera, Gilbert and Sullivan, and even Benny Goodman. A wide variety of music - not just rock and roll. Not just Led Zepplin. We try and incorporate all of those influences into the music that we make, because they're all equally valid."
Is it true your fans are called Rev-heads?
"I've heard that term. I don't know if there's an official term, but you know what, we don't have a term for them. We're just happy to 'em. And happy that they're not throwing things at us and happy that they're smiling usually when we see them."