Since we last spoke with OH MERCY, the band has played South by Southwest, added another member to the existing quartet, released their latest album Deep Heat to great acclaim and are about to head on a massive national tour. We had a chat with frontman Alexander Gow on performing in America, reading the classics and filming a music video.
The first thing we noticed about the Deep Heat album is of course the semi-nude woman on the cover, a follow-up from the Ken Done nude on their last album Great Barrier Grief. The striking shot of a carnival scene in Brazil was snapped by the late photographer Rennie Ellis and Gow relates this to an historical practice.
“Well, there’s a great tradition of having provocative photos and images of people, women, that have nothing to do with a particular making of an album on album covers and it started in the late 50s and through the 60s,” he says.
“It’s just something I’ve always admired and from the word go I wanted to keep that up in my music, I think it’s a point of interest and it’s putting feminine beauty on a platform, and I think it’s fun as well.”
And back to the music – Deep Heat is something entirely different for the band. There is no acoustic guitar rhythm or chord changes applied by piano. With more of a glam rock flavour and homage to music of the late 70s and 80s, Gow attributes this to a switch-up of instruments.
“I knew it was going to be a groove-based record and to do that you work from the bottom up, so there’s bass and drums and then the vocals and everything else is just, you know, bits and pieces,” he says.
“I suppose the main difference is the execution. I’ve always written in a similar way, whether it be on the guitar or the piano, I have a certain ‘song-writing style’ – I guess you could call it. The difference being this time that I decided to execute it differently in terms of instrumentation and arrangement.”
Before the release of Deep Heat, OH MERCY toured the states around the same time as some other Australian bands including Big Scary, DZ Deathrays and Dead Letter Circus. Performing at SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas provided the opportunity to catch some international acts but also see their Australian counterparts perform in-between.
“The idea of going to somewhere like America is really charming because of the extent of people that are always going to be an audience that will appreciate what we are doing,” Gow says.
“Austin itself is a really unique and beautiful part of the world and so basically when we go and tour in America it feels like one big holiday and we’re really lucky.”
For this new album, Alexander Gow actually taught himself how to play the piano. After four consecutive tours, he had a problem with one of his arms from playing the guitar so often but it didn’t hurt while playing the piano. “It actually wasn’t as romantic as it sounds,” he says, “I didn’t have to get very good at the piano to write music. For instance, I was not very good at the guitar either, I learnt a handful of chords, just enough to get by to write a song, so I’m no aficionado on the piano but I got by.”
A prominent influence which appears on Deep Heat, particularly track ‘Europa’, is that of classical literature- no, not even Jane Austen, think earlier, a millennium earlier. Gow spent some time reading the ancient myths and stories and was fascinated by the concepts. He cited Roman writer Ovid as a favourite for his sense of humour. “Lots of the concepts come from these stories, stories that are super perverse in terms of their sexuality and the violence – really, really out-there kind of things, things that would make most people quite squeamish and yet they write things that are generally considered taboo these days, and I found it really enticing and inspiring.”
Two months ago, OH MERCY released their debut music video off the Deep Heat record for single ‘Drums’. Alexander Gow also has a firm control over these elements of the band, making conscious decisions on aesthetics. (Check up our write-up of ‘Drums’ video here). “I knew for the first clip of the new album which was entirely different to anything else we’ve done, I didn’t want to make a narrative-based clip nor did I want to make a performance-based clip.” The actual production of the video was fairly homemade- inviting over the band’s friends for party time.
“Musically is probably the most carefree song on the record, so I just wanted to put on a party for my friends and I just wanted to dress up and have a bit of fun and see if we could capture that on film and we did just that. We even filmed for a couple of hours and the party went on for a fair few more!”
Gow hopes that this sort of atmosphere seeps into the music. What situation best complements OH MERCY? “I guess I’d like to think that it would be one to be played after a dinner party after a few too many wines or something like that when the table gets cleared out of the lounge room and that kind of vibe.”
Heading on the Deep Heat tour with OH MERCY will be Brisbane’s Millions. As far as being the support act goes, Gow thinks it’s a crucial part of breaking into the industry. OH MERCY themselves gained fans from supporting for the likes of Sparkadia, The Panics and Crowded House. He says, “Being the support act is the almost wonderful is that you can turn up to a venue and not have to worry about how full or how empty it’s gonna be – you can play to a ready-made audience and ideally you can win new fans. So that’s a really carefree, wonderful way to go about it.”
From this tour we can expect classic OH MERCY with a bit of a change in roles. “I’m not playing the guitar anymore so I’m having to take on that front role kind of front-man role and that’s different. I’ve got a gold jacket, that’s different. I won’t parachuting in from a helicopter or anything like that.” (phew!)
“I know my band so intimately that I know the way that they express their joy or dismay. I can tell when everyone’s having a good time and it’s contagious and a really wonderful thing when it happens.”
In the near future we’ll be looking out for a music video for ‘My Man’ which OH MERCY worked on last weekend. “That was Saturday and Sunday, like a 2 14-hr suit and hopefully that’s ready in like a week or two. It was really ambitious and lot’s of fun to make.”
How has the music been received so far? It’s too early to tell but fans are already catching on to the mood. Gow says, “I’m yet to be tucked away in a dark corner of a club when they’re playing it and watching people but I look forward to that day and I know people kind of get that and appreciate the change in direction.”
Published on Purple Sneakers.