For Folk’s Sake Interview: Mercury Men

How long have Mercury Men been together?
Mercury Men have been together for just over two years.  We got together in October 2006, which was based around the opening track of our album which is called Keep Me In Your Heart, which I wrote in 2006 with a friend of mine who produced our album, Steve Smith, who I’ve been personally working with for the last 10 years or so. We wrote the song and it was originally gonna be recorded by Ronan Keating on what would have been his next solo album had he not reformed Boyzone – as ridiculous as it sounds to say that! We wanted to demo the song in the style of him really, so we decided to put some subtle harmony vocals on it, and I called up Gavin and Simon who are the other two members of The Mercury Men, and they came over to the studio – we’ve known each other for years but we’d never actually played together – and we recorded together, just an acoustic guitar and the various harmony parts around one microphone, and instantly it worked, and it just sort of made sense that we should carry on doing it really.

How did you come up with the name Mercury Men?
Well a few things got bandied around, but we’re called The Mercury Men just because we liked the fact that mercury is a bit of a volatile metal, and scientifically speaking, if you take a worksurface and put three seperate globules of mercury on it, they’ll be drawn together, like it has an eternal magnetism particular to its makeup that draws it together, and it was almost like that with us three really – three singer songwriters who were working seperately and something drew us together, and it just seemed appropriate that we should use a slightly dodgy hippy analogy like that!

How do you find going from being a solo artist to the three of you working together – do you work well together or find that you argue a lot?
No generally we get on very well indeed…I think if you put two or three artistically minded people together for a long time – I mean we spent the whole of this summer in the back of a minibus together and sharing very small hotel rooms – inevitably its not gonna be happy families 24 hours a day, but generally we do get on very well, probably the best that I’ve got on with yet, I would say.

Good to know! So what made you want to be a musician when you were younger, and has it been hard progressing from being a nobody to now being signed by one of the biggest record labels in the world?
Well its interesting really. When I was younger there was never anything else, music was always what I wanted to do, when I was three or four years old I started messing around on the piano and so on, and its always been the one thing I wanted to do really. I’ve been earning a living in music, writing songs for other people and just being a solo artist for the last ten years or so, working on independent labels and so on, and I just persevered – from starting writing songs when I was about 12 or 13, and just carried on working until I thought my stuff was good enough to be played to the general public, and when I was ready I went out, playing in various bands and doing some solo work and duo work…and now I’m doing trio work. 

Obviously theres a degree of artistic progression going from being a teenager writing songs, to now when I’m nearly 30 years old – I’ve been doing it my whole adult life really, obviously theres an artistic progression with that, but its more chipping away to get noticed, like when I started out it was chipping away to get gigs, then it was chipping away to get tours, then chipping away to get producers to work with you to make records, then it was chipping away to get those records heard by the music industry and get independent labels to sign you and get the records out.  And then you go to the next level and you chip away to get majors to hear you and managers who’ve got clout within the industry to hear you and it just progresses like that really and thats how its been for me – every year there’s some big break through and then it plateaus for a bit and you start thinking ‘where am I going, whats going on?’ and then you get another break through…yeah it’s a very progressive career working in the music industry, it’s a fairly strange experience, I don’t think it’s like any other career that you can draw parallels to because you tread water for a long time being a working musician or a creative artist in a way that you wouldnt allow yourself to do if you were in a different job, but it’s just part of the territory really.

So have you had any awful jobs on the way up to support yourself?
No I’ve always always just played music for a living really. The worst thing I think was when I got to my early 20s I realised that in order to make enough money to survive as an adult I’d have to take whatever work I could get, so once or twice a year I’d put out an album and I’d do the tour with that but in the interim I’d take session work, recording on other peoples songs and I’d also do various pub gigs, function gigs, weddings…that can be a little bit soul destroying in a way, if you let it. You have to make it seperate to your artistic life, this is making ends meet each month.

And at the end of the day it could be a lot worse than that I’d imagine
Absolutely! I’ve spent the last 12, 13 years making a living from nobbing around with an acoustic guitar! I can’t complain, its not real work!

You recently toured the UK with The Mercury Men, what was the highlight of the tour, favourite venue?
Its got to be the Royal Albert Hall I think, I mean that was just fantastic.  As a young musician, as a kid, there are boxes to tick – getting an indie deal, getting a major deal, getting a UK tour, then it goes to playing the Royal Albert Hall, having a number one record, breaking America and all the nonsense stuff that will never happen, but playing to Royal Albert Hall was really the realisation of a childhood dream. Also we played Liverpool Echo Arena earlier in this year to 9,000 people which was absolutely ridiculous – a sea of people as far as the eye could see, all of them wonderfully drunk!

Would you say your music is suited to massive stadiums or do you prefer to play the more intimate venues?
I think theres a kick to be had from both. I think our music translates in a big venue but I think in an intimate venue you get a lot more of us, a lot more of the three of us. This summer we’ve played everywhere from bars on the Isle of Bute in Scotland to fifteen people, to Liverpool Echo Arena to 9,000 so it wildly differs. I think a well-run intimate venue is a magical experience to play but big venues are great as well. You can shout and scream and holler a bit more in a big venue but you can communicate to the audience and connect in a small venue which is just fantastic.

So which other artists are you listening to at the moment – whats been playing on the tour bus for the last few months?
We’ve been listening to all sorts of people really, a lot of obscure stuff. Our tour manager is heavily into really obscure stuff like a lot of world music, also he lived in Australia and New Zealand for a little while so hes been playing us a lot of antipodean artists like Beck Runger, Calder Finger, Bernard Fanning who are wonderful artists that never really get heard over here, theyre busy doing their thing in their home town. I listen to a lof of people like Garin Nolan or Jeff Lang, Chris Whitney, Guy Clark. Gavin from the band, hes heavily into old soul, motown, that kinda thing. Simon from the band comes from a blues background, so its like a cross section of country, blues and soul.

OK, so three CDs to take to a desert island…?
Three CDs to take to a desert island? Oh my word thats a difficult one. There would be One World by John Martin….There would be Old Number One by Guy Clark and I would also pick….let me think…Flying Shoes by Townes Van Zandt.

Just to clarify – your album is out at the moment but comes out commercially in February?
Yeah it comes out commericially in feb in the UK, out in Europe later in the year I believe, but feb for the UK. There’s a limited edition pressing that’s got a different track listing to what will be on the final album that we’ve been selling on the website to people that see us live and really want to take home a copy, but the big push is going to be in the new year.

Finally, an opportunity for the plug – why should FFS readers go and buy your album?
Because its the best album of 2009 by the best new act of 2009! I don’t know..this is just an opportunity for me to be a massive twat isn’t it?! I would say buy it because it’ll make your life better, it’ll make you perhaps a little bit happier, maybe, or if you dont like it it might make you a little bit more miserable! I would say buy it because its a good record that you will enjoy, that’s the best way to put it.

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