Employing shimmering guitars, driving rhythms, and densely-layered harmonies that sound as though they originated on Earth but returned to our planet drenched in space dust from the farthest reaches of the galaxy, mercvrial takes the listener on an immensely rewarding journey back to the golden era of independent British pop whence labels like Creation, Imaginary, and Factory produced an epic volume of high-quality left-of-center music.
Mercvrial’s first EP, The Stars, Like Dust, will be available on August 9th (CD/spotify/bandcamp/itunes/etc). Yes, this has been done before; but rarely as well as mercvrial do it here. I spoke with Davíd, mercvrial’s principal songwriter and purveyor of obscure lyrical references, about the group’s origins, influences, and plans for the future.
Tell us about your background and how mercvrial came together.
I’ve known my bandmates – or “project mates,” as the case may be – for a large chunk of my adult life. Ricardo has played in various groups over the years, mostly shifting between drums and guitar, and he also sings well. He’s certainly the best musician among us. I met Cuervo when I moved to San Diego and we started jamming a bit. Rose plays keyboards and dabbles with the marimba. Dr Roland is our Asimov-approved automated assistant – manufactured by Japan’s Roland Corporation, hence the name – comprised of the Space Echo and Dr Rhythm. I played bass in a few bands and did some home recording in the way back but took an extended hiatus from music while I was involved with other things. Recently I decided to start recording again and Ricardo, Cuervo, and Rose joined me in the project and, well, here we are as mercvrial.
You’ve joined Chvrches and a few other groups in latinizing the spelling of the band’s name (for those without a background in the language, “v” was the character used in place of “u” in classical latin). What is the origin of the name?
We were originally going to use the name “mercurial touch,” but when I searched inside the google engine for the name I discovered – quite surprisingly – that Nike, of all companies, had recently started a line of soccer goalkeeping gloves called Mercurial Touch. I know – you can’t make this stuff up. So, we decided to shorten it to mercurial, but because there were a couple of other, albeit relatively unknown, bands with the same name we decided to insert the classical “v” in place of “u” in order to eliminate any confusion.
Where do you call home?
That would be homes, plural. Ricardo [guitars, backing vox] lives in Virginia. Cuervo [bass] lives in Wisconsin, and Rose [marimba, keyboards] lives in San Diego. I live up on the bluffs a mile from the Pacific Ocean in Baja, México, between Rosarito and the US border. Dr Roland [drums, echo, reverb], of course, lives in my studio downstairs. So, as a result of the distance between us, we’ve done most everything on a virtual basis thus far. We would definitely benefit from a Star Trek-like transporter if you know where one can be procured for a modest sum.
I’m looking for a transporter as well. Apparently it’s still on Elon Musk’s to-do list. The songs on The Stars, Like Dust seem to allude to certain genres of independent music, particularly of the British variety, played on college radio during the ‘80s.
Yeah, I think that’s a fair characterization. We tend to mine the sonic landscape somewhere between the early-‘80s quasi-psychedelic pop of Rain Parade, The Church, et al, and the noisier, late-‘80s Creation guitarchitecture of Ride, Adorable, House of Love, and their ilk. So, I suspect fans of post-punk, dreampop, shoegaze, and neo-psychedelic would hear some familiar auditory references. Personally, my all-time favorite record is the Chameleons’ Script of the Bridge (1983), which unapologetically resonates through a good bit of the guitar work on The Stars, Like Dust. As you’re aware, this genre – very loosely applied – has been through a lengthy renaissance over the last many years given the popularity of bands like Interpol, Alvvays, DIIV, and Day Wave, among many others, not to mention reunion tours by the likes of Ride, Slowdive, the Chills, etc. The question for mercvrial is whether we can be more than just the sum total of our reference points, which remains to be seen.
Given your passion for ‘80s indie music do you employ any vintage equipment to assist in capturing the sound of that vaunted era?
Yes, of course. I run various vintage guitars – including a Stratocaster, a Dan Electro, and an Airline ’59 3P – through a vintage Vox AC-30. I also use a ‘70s-era Roland Space Echo for delay and modulation. The warmth you get from the old tube amps and the mysterious, inconsistent warble you get from old tape echoes are hard to replicate digitally. Ricardo also has loads of ancient equipment. But as far as actual recording is concerned, we use a standard digital audio workstation (DAW). DAWs are simply too easy to use as compared to tape machines – our commitment to the vintage ethos has its limits; Jack White would not approve, I realize, but such is life.
The themes on The Stars, Like Dust seem deliberately obscure. From where do you draw inspiration for your lyrics?
I don’t have any profound messages to impart, so my lyrics often refer to films or books or other pieces of pop culture whimsy, generally, but not always, of the melancholy variety. Otherworld refers loosely to the film Prometheus, for example, and Hsieh Su-wei is an homage to an unorthodox Taiwanese tennis pro. The subjects run the gamut of the relatively obscure. A lot of the lyrics are open to multiple interpretations. I suppose the singular theme that runs through all of them is the bewilderment of existence as a human being on a big rock hurtling through space on the outskirts of the Orion Bridge.
You covered The Chills’ Pink Frost on the EP. Are you happy with how it turned out?
Generally, yes. I’ve always been a fan of The Chills and other Flying Nun bands like The Verlaines and The Bats. In my view, Pink Frost is kind of the quintessential Flying Nun song from the early-‘80s – chimey and melancholy. So, we wanted to cover it but do something a little different with it – that is, a reinterpretation as opposed to a straight rendition of the song. Flying Nun purists might not like the result – it sounds like a collaboration between Depeche Mode and Sad Lovers & Giants – but we’re pretty happy with how it came out.
When will we see more music from the band?
It remains to be seen. We’ll see if we get any traction whatsoever from this EP and just take it from there.
Are there any plans for mercvrial to play live or tour?
Not at the moment. That would be a major undertaking as the band members live in different places and have very different life commitments. Having said that, anything’s possible. So, we’ll see.
Many thanks and best of luck with things; you’re off to a most impressive start. Please report back when time permits.
Of course. Thanks.
– Tomas Ramírez