Mercury Rev have always been both a musical enigma and a maverick outfit that over the years have sailed the oceans of the great rock odyssey without ever losing their way. Hitting a critical and creative high point across the globe with 1998’s Deserter’s Songs, Mercury Rev found a friendly port of call in Australia, with both interviewer and transcriber have fond post-show memories of late night discussions about great Australian bands over games of pool and late night supper in Kings Cross. Since then, they’ve continued on a journey of exploration, from the dark designs of All is Dream and its serene follow-up The Secret Migration. Touring Australia on the bequest of the all-conquering Coldplay, Mercury Rev stopped into visit Static’s Chris Berkley to talk about their latest album Snowflake Midnight and an impressive career that cannot be reigned in by simple film analogies.
Welcome back to Sydney. Nice to have you all here. This is a gift from Coldplay…
Grasshopper: They asked us to go on this tour, so it was great.
It was a last minute thing, so you had to scramble a bit, right?
Jeff: Yeah, it was a little crazy. We confirmed that it was actually going to happen on like the 13th of February and we were on an airplane 11 days later. It doesn’t get more last minute than that, but we’re happy to be here.
Can you describe the general look on the Coldplay fans faces when you’ve been playing so far?
Jonathan: You know, they’re really receptive in a way. For a lot of people it doesn’t make sense, but actually Coldplay as a band have told us how influential Deserters Songs was to them in forming their group, so I think I at least give people the benefit of the doubt. We’re a support band and of course there’s 15,000 people there a night to see Coldplay but a lot of people are listening. They’re not sure always what to make of it any more than a lot of support bands in a bigger place but they’re sorta listening.
In a way it’s reassuring to play to people that aren’t already onside with you, isn’t it, to win those people over?
Jonathan: You’re starting with a fresh slate. A lot of them wouldn’t know the long history we’ve had, the chequered past and all of those kinda things, so they take what they’re given on that night and I like things like that myself, they sorta tend to tweak the mind the most when you don’t have any expectation going in.
…and there’s no trainspotter scum there yelling out for “Chasing a Bee” either, right?
You’re here on the back of Snowflake Midnight. Did that come after a bit of a period of reassessment for Mercury Rev? Because you released the best-of compilation, was there a kind of tidying up or were you looking through things differently the last few years?
Jonathan: Probably just from within first and then musically you find what’s going on comes after. We didn’t really see the best of in the way that maybe a lot of people do and that was okay, that it was sort of an end to a chapter. For us, quite honestly it was a contractual thing we had to do, and that’s okay. We didn’t look at it in some sort of off-handed way. The record company wanted to put out some of the older material and that was fine. We were sort of already in this direction long before that was happening and in the works.
Was it daunting to have to go through the history of the band for the compilation?
Grasshopper: It’s daunting picking songs, because there’s so many that we love — all of them really — so that was the hardest part, picking which ones to put on there. When it came to doing it, our lists were pretty similar. The other CD that was included was a lot of rarities. That was kind of the fun one for us. That was our idea to include that and put some of those together for the fans. Either some of those were out of print or could never get their hands on before.
After you did that you spent some time doing the film score for Hello Blackbird something that I think was long overdue, for Mercury Rev to score a film. Again a different kind of challenge?
Jeff: It’s quite different. When you’re making a record you’ve got your own insular world of three, maybe four people involved, and with a film it’s a little different because there’s a lot more people in the chain. A filmmaker who’s had a vision of this film that they’ve been carrying for a long time so you enter into it in a different way. It’s a different kind of collaboration and it can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time. You can spend three days working on a two minute piece of music that you think is the greatest thing ever, and you get an email the next morning going “ah, I don’t like it” and they don’t tell you why and you’re just “oh okay” and start again.
And was scoring a French avant garde movie always the way to go for Mercury Rev? I was kinda hoping that you would do a Tim Burton film at some point.
Jeff: Well I don’t know. We met Robinson Savary many years ago when we were doing some press in Europe. It seemed like every time we were in Paris he would turn up and say “I’m still working on this film and I still want you to be a part of it“. He was very passionate and very persistent and it’s not easy to get a movie made, raising the funds and pulling it all together and he definitely had some setbacks along the way to getting it made but he stuck with it and so I think we were into it because he was so passionate about doing it.