Mercury Rev interview from the Independent Catalogue
May 1993
Mercury Rev are this kind of interesting awkward US band from New York State who only came together to record. Outside the states, they've signed to Beggars Banquet, who release a new single and a second album, 'Boces', this month. Can a bunch of nogoodniks like like them make it too the top? What does label honcho Martin Mills make of them, their prospects, or the state of the UK independent labels?

Let's be obvious, what the hell does 'Boces' mean?

Baker: "It's a vocational school in New York State, when your guidance counsellor sells you short. You might want to go to college, but they say, 'no, take a look at this school' where you can learn a vocation like bricklaying, book accounts or flipping hamburgers. It's also a place for retarded people and a lot of losers. We didn't even need any training. When we started, we were doing a lot of jobs that you'd probably aspire to if you went to the school, like flipping hamburgers. Kids in the playground can call you a Botard, especially if you do something stupid. So we figured it's where we're from, so we should give a tribute in the title."

Is it true the band have a therapist?

Baker: "Yeah, Peter Stillman. I don't know who pays for it, Columbia and Beggars, I think, but it could be anyone. He just appears sometimes. He could be a hoax."
Grasshopper: "He has to be a real doctor because he can prescribe drugs."
Baker: "He showed up one day, said he was the therapist. It was like, 'who hired you?' and he said, 'can't tell you', so we told him to get the hell out, you know how it is in New York. This probably shouldn't be talked about too much."

What does he effectively do?

Baker: "He talks to us, mostly individually. It's like, we're gonna kill each other over whether to call a song 'The Hum Is Coming From Her' or 'Girlfren', so he said, 'let's compromise. You got a single coming out, and an album coming out, so you title it one on each.' So we didn't fight about it anymore."

Any more examples of compromise?

Grasshopper: "The van thing. There are so many people, plus we live in different areas, so so we were always getting into fights over who was going to meet where. Stillman figured that if we had two vans, it would help, and if someone is fighting, they can ride in the other van. He also answers our fan mail."
Baker: "I got a letter that he didn't open that was alarming! Stillman must have said something like, 'leave the band alone' because the letter said 'I won't leave the band alone, you can't make me, Stillman!' We answer mail ourselves, but only what he lets us see. But we don't trust just anybody. I hope they keep paying him because he's a nice guy. He does hypnotism too. Not on me though." (Starts to impersonate a chicken)

Do Beggars want you to be more organized and 'careerist'? To tour more often?

Grasshopper: "If we were, there might be no band anymore."
Baker: "When we talked to labels, we said, 'you want us, you gotta go with the fact that we only do a certain amount'. We are touring for three weeks in Europe, then three weeks in America then we're doing the West Coast of Lollapalooza, then the Phoenix festival in England... we're constantly busy. We have no problem with Beggars. We've met a lot of people and they're one of the best lables. They're cool, but organized. Martin Mills is smart, he knows how to get people still enthusiastic, they all carrel around in the same room, he doesn't have an office in the back. We met other cool labels but Beggars seems to have some of the best distribution, and also they gave the most money. No, that wasn't it."

What do you like about the album?

Grasshopper: "That it's done"
Baker: "I enjoy it because I don't necessarily know about some of the stuff. It'll last longer in our heads. When people make a good record I don't think they listen to it much. I hear it and think, 'Where'd that come from, who did that?' That's good."

I'd say 'Boces' is an even wilder concoction than its predecessor.

Baker: " The last one was strange to us when it came out! This one is more focused, actually. But like the first album, we made it for ourselves this time. But it was made the same way -- we made the songs, thought, 'do we like listening to this, yeah we do.' It's still a kind of compilation deal, with different tracks recorded in different studios."

Would you agree there's more of a jazzy, blowing spirit?

Baker: "On the first record, there was bass, drums, guitar, noises and machinery, just everyone playing their thing, that kind of jazz. The songs were made without anybody telling anybody else what to do. What's that called? Improv. That's always been our bag. Maybe we're using more trad jazz instruments in our improv now, like trombones, which makes it sound more like famous jazz people. When I say jazz, it's more like jizz. Jizz-fission, instead of jazz fusion."

But brass can swing where a lot of rock can't.

Baker: "There's something weird about all this stuff that we do, the thinking stuff. It's not as thought out as the people who write about it is. Not like, 'wow, that would be wild'. For the feeling on a song, we might want a ketchup bottle, like it's a little baby in a high chair that grabs everything they can get."
Grasshopper: "Brass is in our grasp, it's also using whoever is available. At the time we were doing stuff, we knew a couple of brass players in town."

Is it ultimately dull to play 'straight' rock 'n' roll?

Baker: "These are basic songs though. We just want the songs to be interesting to listen to. It's like somebody with one leg, saying 'who do you hop all the time why don't you just run? Wouldn't it be interesting to just run? I think you can only hop'. You can make too much effort doing something that is straightforward."

What about a band that has six legs?

Baker: "We have 12, so we can't run like a two-legged person. It's just the way it comes up. There were these ads in the '70s, where people didn't really look at them. It was like 'uh-huh, uh-huh, there's a big penis in someone's drink'. I used to collect some ads. There was one cigarette ad, when a guy is standing up on a mountain holding a big staff, and there's this cigarette pack that's right around her, uh..."
Grasshopper: "Vaginal region."
Baker: "Yeah, and his staff has veins in it. And he's smoking a cigarette. That's cool, so why make a straight ad? Why not make one with a staff of veins? If you're smart, why be stupid? Then again, if we're smart, why are we doing interviews? We must be a little bit stupid."



(thanks to Andy Mann)