Mercury Rev are one of those bands who have a History. The journey from their debut album Yerself is Steam to their newest release The Secret Migration has been long and winding, taking in all manner of inter band warfare and sonic variance along the way. The original band line up was a six piece including current members Jonathan Donahue (guitar/vocals), Grasshopper aka Sean Mackowiak (guitar) and Dave Fridmann (bass, now producing duties) as well as David Baker (vocals), Suzanne Thorpe (flute) and Jimy Chambers (drums), who all left to form their own musical projects. Incidents such as Donahue attempting to gouge Grasshopper's eye out with a spoon while on a flight (they were banned from the airline, unsurprisingly) and Dave Fridmann spending all the band's advance from Car Wash Hair on sending his mother on holiday probably contributed somewhat to their decisions. With the change in personnel came a move away from the art-pop noise of their early releases towards a more pastoral and symphonic sound. 1996's Deserters Songs was the first public airing of this new musical direction and it proved to be the band's breakthrough release. 2001’s All is Dream and current release The Secret Migration are also in this lush melodic vein with the result that the band of whom singer Jonathan Donohue once said “in Germany they say we sound like sharks” has evolved into the source of some of the most beguilingly beautiful music to have been created in the past few years. I met with the band's guitarist, the unusually named Grasshopper, in Dublin to discuss the current state of play with the Jaws of the music world.
Surprisingly for a band from the US, Mercury Rev have decided to release The Secret Migration and tour the album in Europe before releasing it in America. Grasshopper explains that this is the result of a few factors, not least he says “because we like it here”. Part of the reason for his fondness for this continent is undoubtedly that the band were originally signed by British label Rough Trade and have remained more popular here than in their native country, a good indicator of this being that both of their Irish gigs in Dublin's Vicar Street venue sold out. They are also continuing to gain new audiences here, notably in Southern Europe. This being the digital age he points out that the album is available at the moment on itunes in the US. The official Stateside release date is scheduled for May to coincide with their American tour dates supporting British band Doves.
Reviewers of The Secret Migration have remarked that the album appears to be less dark than its predecessor, All Is Dream, this mostly as a result of the frequent lyrical references to nature and love, creating a sense of renewal that has led some to call it their Spring album compared to All Is Dream's Winter. However, as Grasshopper tells it, the circumstances surrounding the albums conception were not as serene as some might think. It seems that for some members of the band at least the record was something of an escape from what was going on around them. “Some difficult things were happening for us,” he explains, “some of the band were going through harrowing experiences due to bereavement […] this was our way of dealing”. Another prevailing influence on the record was the atmosphere of fear and trepidation in the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the band's reaction to this national altered state. As far as Grasshopper is concerned any legitimate fear has long since turned into excessive paranoia and political opportunism. “They're not going to be bombing your local 7/11,” he remarks, “it's become a way [for the government] to keep us down, keep us in line”. Touring in Europe provides something of a break from the prevailing mindset, “it's nice to come over here and get away from all that”.