MIDNIGHT RAMBLERS Mercury Rev

Taking a look at their
most successful and acclaimed record yet.

 

BY AARON KAYCE

 

After almost four years without a proper studio album,
Mercury Rev returned last year with Snowflake
Midnight
and its free-by-download, mostly instrumental companion album Strange Attractor. The group
subsequently embarked upon an extensive tour from September through December
that took them to the UK,
Europe, Mexico, and across
the U.S.
Still comprising the three core members that have driven the band for the past
decade – Jonathan Donahue (vocals/guitars), Grasshopper (born Sean Mackowiak, guitars)
and Jeff Mercel (drums) – the band not only worked to update their shimmering,
psychedelic pop sound, they wanted to reinvent it.

 

“The perception started to become that people somehow knew
what to expect from us” says Mercel. “So we were very conscious of the fact
that we wanted this record to somehow sound like it was made by a different
band, or at least a different Mercury Rev.”    
 

 

To achieve these results, the band embraced change in every
way. They physically changed the location of their upstate New York studio-twice, but also changed the
way they worked. “I didn’t sit behind a drum kit for 90 percent of the process;
most of the drumming is programmed and not all by me: Jonathan did a lot of the
drum programming and Grasshopper didn’t play a lot of electric guitar,”
explains Mercel. “We took ourselves out of our comfort zones and worked in
areas and with instruments or technologies that were sort of new to us. And
there’s a certain innocence to that and you arrive at new ideas that way.”

 

One new idea was to come in free of compositions and just
roll tape for hours on end, cranking out repetitive, hypnotic motifs and later “go
back in and really attack what we had on tape, just cutting things up randomly”
explains Mercel. “Almost taking the most unlikely juxtapositions of maybe two
or three different pieces that were recorded six months apart from each other,
and sort of slamming them together, making almost like mash-ups of our own
[material].”

 

While the essential characteristics of Mercury Rev are still
intact, Snowflake Midnight is the
sound of evolution and possibility. “Everything embodies its opposite at the
same time,” says Mercel, pondering the album’s title. “A snowflake can be water
or ice. So we certainly deal in those sorts of ideas, working in the duality of
things and the potential for one thing to become the other. But also the idea
of midnight… It’s not quite day, it’s not quite night. It’s full of potential.
You’re about to sort of wipe the slate, anything is possible.”

 

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