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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Oh Mercy

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

His band’s name may come from a Bob Dylan record, but Alexander Gow, (pictured right) lead singer and principal songwriter for Melbourne band Oh Mercy, is no folk hero. He is a natural, purposeful songwriter who demonstrates growing maturity in his band's second album “Great Barrier Grief”. This promises to be one of the most liked Australian releases. Eleven tracks of evocative acoustic pop, the album was inspired by the Australian ‘sound’, and our way of life: the classic songs and songwriters who’ve soundtracked our lives. Timeless in feel, Great Barrier Grief is a confident album. I recently had a chat to Alexander about the new album and all the things that have gone on around him.

Q. Firstly, I haven't had a chance to congratulate you on winning the 2009 Red Bull Award in recognition of Outstanding Potential…

A. Thanks. Winning the 2009 Red Bull Award helped us fund this second album. It was very valuable for Oh Mercy in being able to remain an independent band a little longer until EMI signed us up. We were honoured to have been shortlisted amongst so many wonderful artists.

Q. Just to go over a brief history for our readers, what brought you into music, and what type of music did you listen to beforehand that brought you to where you are now?

A: It came about from the music that my parents listened to. I was very lucky that they both had incredible taste. Most of their favourite bands are my favourites now. My earliest musical memory is watching my mum in the kitchen or doing whatever she was doing about the house listening to the Burt Bacharach catalogue and that had quite a big effect on me. I still love listening to that now as Bacharach had this uncanny knack to make things seem easy. On the other side my dad listened to some eclectic songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. I was very much into lyricism, so that was interesting for me.

Q. You got well noticed with your first record “Privileged Woes”. What did you learn from that as to the next steps you had to take for “Great Barrier Grief”?

A. I had in my mind to construct a series of timeless, acoustic-based songs that show a reference to a point in time, a challenge to overcome. I suppose it was a different mentality in compiling this album.

Q. The album cover is interesting…

A. I really wanted a vibrant colourful image with no restraint, no precision. Our debut was very precise and black and white, so I wanted to leave that behind. The cover is a vibrant nude by Australian artist Ken Done.

Q. And the title?

A. You could say that it is a social comment on the relationships that people have with one another, and the way that they sometimes make it difficult for one another.

Q. Tell us about the production?

A. Once I had the songs it was then a matter of selecting the right producer to put things into place for us. a person suggested to us was Mitchell Froom. He had recorded albums with the likes of Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow – not to mention recording Crowded House’s seminal self-titled debut. Therefore, he was the right choice to help guide us in our next endeavour. I spent time in Santa Monica, working out of Froom’s home studio and we whittled the 30 tracks down to a final 12. Mitchell was and is a wonderfully generous, kind and talented man. I consider myself privileged to have worked with him, along with his engineer David Boucher. I think we made a very good album of simple arrangements, lots of acoustic guitar, lots of words, and a healthy amount of congas.

Q. The finished product sounds quite riveting in parts and overall well crafted. What should the public get out of the album?

A. Of course, I hope people understand that I care about music, and that I have respect for the craft and myself. It's written by someone who is inspired by his cultural identity. I read a lot of books and that is essential, I believe, for being a good songwriter.

Q. When did EMI Music come on board to sign you?

A. We made the album independently and then EMI approached us afterwards. That meant that I could retain creative control. Creative control is important to me.

Q. Oh Mercy have a busy schedule now, with a national tour…

A. Yes, we're looking forward to playing around the country with the new album under our belts.

Q. After the tour, what’s next for Oh Mercy?

A. I hope to get some writing done. I look forward to making another album as soon as possible.

You can see Oh Mercy on the following dates:

Wednesday March 23 - Clarendon Guest House, Katoomba, NSW
Thursday March 24 - The Maram, Canberra
Friday March 25 - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Saturday March 26 - Northern Star Hotel, Newcastle
Thursday March 31 - Neverland Bar, Gold Coast, QLD
Friday April 1 - Alhambra Lounge, Brisbane
Thursday April 7 - Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Friday April 8 - Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Sunday April - Jive Bar, Adelaide
Saturday April 30 - Amplifier, Perth
Sunday May 1 - Mojos, Perth

Oh Mercy's album “Great Barrier Grief” is out now through Capitol/EMI.