by David Nowacki
Carey Mercer is a personal hero of mine and he could be yours, too. He is the owner of an idiosyncratic wail and writer of equally unique songs. You might be listening to a Carey Mercer song if you find yourself wondering how a trombone learned how to sing and also how it got so angry, or if you find a palpable feeling of dirt and despair emanating from the words. You can easily pick him out of any musical project he’s ever been involved with. Even in the formative days of his first group Blue Pine, the aural aesthetic distinctly attributable to Carey Mercer has been evident. And since Frog Eyes’ first album, The Bloody Hand, he has taken that sound and with every album honed it and grown and explored the boundaries of what he could do with it—which, in practice, has proved to be fantastic and interesting and weirdly beautiful. Frog Eyes’ latest album, Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph, marks a more majestic, epic sound and a further step forward in the oeuvre of Mercer. He also (very occasionally) blogs, and writes opinion pieces such as one lambasting a gag clause in the contracts of the musicians who played the Olympic closing ceremonies. I tried to contain my fanboyishness as much as possible as I telephoned him in the faraway land of British Columbia.
Stylus: I’ve been noticing the more recent albums, Paul’s Tomb and Tears of the Valedictorian, you’ve been tending towards longer songs. Why do you think this is?
Carey Mercer: That’s not something that we set out to do, but I think it’s an after-effect of a general move to explore space a little bit more. So it’s maybe it’s good to think of, like, songs almost like the super-slow movement of an accordion. So on The Folded Palm, or The Golden River or The Bloody Hand, it’s the same songs, they’re just really condensed. It’s like, if we were to take some of those songs and stretch them out and build up the instrumental parts, which is what we’re doing now, you probably actually would end up with nine-minute songs. Maybe even more. There might be actually a lot more ideas in those early songs, I don’t know. [Laughs.]
Stylus: Do you think of your music a whole, continuing, ongoing piece, or is each album its own insular little world?
CM: I would say that each album is its own insular little world. But when I’m done an album, that’s it with that record, and those songs forever live on that record. And it’s kind of weird sometimes to pluck them out of a record. Say, in a live set, you’ll take a song from The Folded Palm and chuck it in to the middle of all these other songs. I don’t know, there’s something kind of odd—it’s not so odd that we don’t do it, but I always have to re-orient myself once the song is done. That’s the nice thing, also, about playing with different people, is that the song changes so much anyways because someone else is playing the bass line, or someone else has taken the piano line and put it up onto electric guitar.
Stylus: Being a Canadian musician—and it doesn’t really matter if you feel terribly connected to the country itself—you’re going to be sort of labeled as a Canadian Musician, in articles and reviews and that sort of thing- do you actually feel any sort of connection to the country you live in? Do you feel like you are a Canadian Artist?
CM: It’s such a complex question. I was watching the Olympics close, and I just couldn’t understand, I just don’t get it. I don’t even understand what Canada is, you know? Is it health care? Is it Stephen Harper? Is it the sheer geography of the place? But then, it’s so massive. How do you condense that into a single emotion? And this is why I find that kind of like, herd instinct displays of pomp really actually troubling, because it’s this massive outpouring of really, really intense, heartfelt emotion towards essentially meaningless symbols, and when that happens people are put in a place where they can be easily manipulated because they’re feeling so hard, but they don’t even really know what they’re feeling. I feel incredibly connected, in my own life, to where I live. I love it. I love the region that I live in. I mean, Vancouver Island is bigger than Switzerland. So, if you’re from Switzerland, you’re Swiss, and I think in your mind it’s quite easy to sum up what that means. Just as it would be easier for me to say, to talk about Vancouver Island, or you could talk about the Red River area, right? I don’t know anyone who’s from Moncton or Saint John, and I don’t know why if I see someone from Moncton or Saint John or Halifax walking down the street I should put my arm around them, start weeping [laughs], and start singing “O Canada,” you know? It’s a lie. Nationalism is the most pervasive lie, and it’s the one unifying aspect of history. There seems to be at the heart of all of the totalitarian regimes too, Great Mother Russia. Actually, the only thing that really unites Canadian musicians might be something like FACTOR, or SOCAN. That small fact that we are all able to apply on some kind of equal status for some funds. At least there’s that.
Stylus: The Internet: good thing/bad thing? From a musician’s standpoint.
CM: Good and bad. It’s like saying Planet Earth: good or bad?
Stylus: But for you personally, I mean, I know you’ve gotten into the internet culture a bit, you’ve got your blog, which, albeit, isn’t updated too often, but there is that involvement. Has it benefitted you as a musician, do you think? A lot of artists find detriment in the fact that anyone can get their album for free.
CM: I can’t answer that question. Truthfully answering it would necessitate being able to see what the world would be like without the Internet. And actually, when I think about it, probably the most rewarding things that we’ve done with Frog Eyes has been, you know, like we went to Tel Aviv, we went to Moscow, and when we played, kids totally knew our music, and there’s no way that they would have known it without the internet. So, in that sense, it’s good. But in the other sense, it’s really too early to break out the party hats. We need to figure out an economic model that works for the Internet.
Stylus: Do you have any statements about the record you’d like to make?
CM: No. [laughs] Not really. Just, in general, I don’t really like talking about music too much.
Stylus: Your own music, or just music in general?
CM: Music in general. Its beauty is in its mystery. You just can’t. You just lose every time you try to.