Dramatis Personae - James Oldham
J = Jonathan Donahue of the band Mercury Rev
G = Some guy called Grasshopper
NME: You dropped off the radar completely after the '..Other Side' tour. It has been said
that you went through a 'simultaneous breakdown'...
J: We just fell apart. We were fucked up and out of control. At that point people were
interested in a lot of other things beside the music. On the day that tour ended, I had a
nervous breakdown. It lasted six or seven months. I lost my girlfriend, I didn't speak to
anyone. I closed up. There was heavy alcohol abuse. Whatever happens during a
nervous breakdown happened to me. I lost my mind...'
NME: And that wasn't all he lost...
J: Our drummer, Jimmy, he split. He said 'I love you guys, but I can't handle this any
longer. You guys are out of control'. He's a well-rounded person emotionally, we aren't.
As for Grasshopper...well, he was 'incommonicado'.
NME: It turns out he had joined a Jesuit monastery...
G: I was there for six months. Then I left. I mean, you get up at six AM, you make your
bed...it was the complete opposite of everything I had been doing for the past six
NME: But, fitfully, the pieces were picked up...And now, there's the majestic new
album 'Deserter's Songs'...
J: We were scared shitless making this record. After a nervous breakdown, your
self-confidence and esteem go to zero at best. I was less confident with this record
than I ever had been. We were doing a lot of things that for our band were very different.
Sometimes I would say 'this is the shit' and everyone would go 'no, it's just shit'.
NME: With 'Deserter's Songs' there's a shift away from the old Rev sound
(characterised by ragged and often freeform psychedelia and excessive distortion).
There's now a symphonic, panoramic element to the music, a timeless quality...
J: Well, you realise that you don't have to step on that distortion pedal. It's like when
you are a teenager, you wear your hair a certain way or you buy certain clothes
because you feel uncomfortable with who you are. But when you get to 40, you're
like 'fuck it, if that girl doesn't like the way I look, then she doesn't like me'. Music and
musicians are no different.
G: All the way through making this record, we just said 'What can we do that's better
than we have done before?' Not more clever or more complex. We just refused to take
an easy way out, and say 'Here's the chorus, somebody do some feedback'. We
really did hear harps and bowed saws on this one.
NME: Lyrically as well, this album is different from the expansive ideas of Rev albums
gone by. This one is romantic and confused, a dense emotional content...Johnathan
seems dwarved by space and time.
J: It's not look back in anger. Look back in awe.
G: It's about girls, it's about people in our band...
J: But basically it's about loss....
G: We have friends who have gone, we have relatives who have gone. They're all gone
to the next world. That's why it's called what it is.
J: We might make music, but we are the same as anyone else, we still have to live a
life. We don't get any freeways, and when you lose someone - it doesn't matter
whether you are a plumber or a rocket scientist - it still hurts.
NME: These musical and lyrical differences mean it is a more commercial album than
J: We always wanted as many people as possible to hear our records, even if they
think they stink. It's a misconception that we are weird, we aren't weird. And I want a
million people to hear this record.
NME: But would success make you happy?
J: Absolutely not. I never feel happy. No way is this my best record, I want to make a
better record. I don't want to rest on my laurels, I want to do something better. That's
what I do, I make music and I think about making music for 99% of every single day.
What else would I do? What? As for how I'll better it..well, I have no idea what's going
to happen, but I'll damn sure try to make it better. You've got to otherwise it's just
stupid. This isn't my best record, no way. The next one will be. Still, having said all
that, we could split up tomorrow.
(thanks be to Craig for typing this up)