Track By Track: Oh Mercy goes deep into his new album, Café Oblivion
Get to know album #5 before he tours Australia with it this April.
One of the country's most loved/acclaimed singer/songwriters, Alexander Gow has today released his fifth studio album under the Oh Mercy moniker, and what a ripper it is. An ecclectic and engrossing journey at every turn, Gow is in fine form as he finds himself somewhat growing up, and feeling comfy in his own skin: "Café Oblivion is an exercise in abandoning personal struggle. I’m a grown man now. I’m not out to prove anything to anyone, not even myself. Especially not myself. I’ve made an album that is entirely me. My ideas, my sense of humour, the type of melodies I hear. I’m proud and I’m comfortable. I’m excited."
And that confidence is reflected in Café Oblivion, a ripping yarn from start to finish, with guitar flourishes where they're required, and restraint in other places. You can take a listen yourself, and go a little deeper into each track's creation (or involvement with cricket) with an awesome track by track, below:
1. Keep A Light On
When I took a second to assess the songs on the record I realised I didn't have anything outside your classic 4/4 time. So, I fooled around with a shuffle, like Fisherman's Blues, a song I have unsuccessfully attempted to rip off several times. Found some chords I liked. Looped them on my computer. Scanned through my notes for lyrics that might fit. Settled on a set on a rambling story I wrote while bowling leg spin in Sri Lanka. The Australian cricket team were touring there at the same time. Test and One Dayers. I wasn't bowling for them. My team got bussed around the island with a tour guide. His name was (and probably still is) Ravi. He didn't like Chinese food very much.
I remember writing the words that would be Keep A Light On while waiting for a train heading to a coastal resort north of Colombo. The train was late. I thought about Ravi and his love life. Thought about his 'Day Nighters'. I thought about me and mine. Thought about the things I'd seen while bowling leg spin through Sri Lanka. Thought about throwing a tennis ball to Nathan Lyon in a pool. About three wheeled transport and the Mount Lavinia Hotel. 'Evil' Graham Lee form The Triffids played the pedal steel on it. Cecilia Dowling, the viola. Shuffles are great because drummers can do that fantastic idiot snare fill leading into a section. Chucka ka chucka ka. I love that. I do it with my guitar too.
2. Hot Topic
Wrote this one for When We Talk About Love, my last album. I was living in Nashville at the time. Writing very much not country songs. It was too saucy for that album. It started with a two-chord loop. A major chord, then another major chord two steps down. Nashville had a cold and irritatingly introspective winter, then in perfect symmetry with the first day of spring a fiery ball of gas blew into town in the shape of a woman. From rural Tennessee. Somewhere. She thawed the hearts and pants of all. Everything orbited around her. And like the sun you went mental if you looked at her for too long. Her nose was that of an ancient Roman Emperor's and she dressed with the flare of an off-season Americana version of our, Peter Allen.
Like any cowgirl worth her weight in cliché she drank more than anyone else and she was sadder than anyone else and she demanded one’s affection more comprehensively than anyone else. As spring made way for summer, her destruction of Nashville in full swing, I left town. Speaking of, I asked Laura Jean to sing the rock'n'roll cliché backing vocal response to my call part. She did a great job. Some time I sing "pot of coffee" instead of Hot Topic. Because I'm bad to the bone.
3. Ten Five & Zero
This song was written by harnessing the power of the internet. Mitchell Froom and I wrote it. Mitchell is a legendary producer and musician, and a mate. He knew I was a fan of his work with the Latin Playboys. So, he sent me a bit of music reminiscent of their sound. Over email. From Santa Monica to Nashville. I learnt the chords and wrote some words. Charles De Gaulle makes an appearance. Like in 20th Century man. I sent him back a demo of me playing the song, playing acoustic guitar and singing the words. He then re-recorded his demo to suit. Then I sung over the top of that. Then Donny and Laurence replaced his programmed drums and bass. Then Scott mixed it. Then Leon Mastered it. Then I put it on Café Oblivion. Now I'm writing about it.
I like the meletron strings, it reminds of the kind of the '60s samples Portishead find.
4. National Park
I get curious, skeptical and terrified when I hear the words “You should read this book, I think you’ll like it”. You have to be prepared to understand the person that person thinks you are. You’re not always gonna like it. Like when I was recommended On The Road or Fear & Loathing. No thanks. Mel leant me Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion – An Historical Romance and I felt it a comfortable fit. No surprise, Mel Gal knows me best. I took it to Sri Lanka where at the time I was playing cricket and drinking black coffee. Leg spin with the worst of them. Playing with my mortality too. On kamikaze tuk tuks featuring ominous bumper stickers reading ‘live every day like it’s your last’. Indeed. There’s a line in that book, Brautigan describes Vilda as being “so beautiful that the advertising people would have made her into a national park if they could have got their hands on her”. After reading that, in-between expert leg spin and coffee that tasted like tea, I wrote the song National Park. Just before writing Keep A Light On. Have a listen to Spirit by The Waterboys for the rip off.
5. Ring & The Jewel
This song was written while drinking a coffee at Cam's Kiosk in the Abbotsford Convent. Admiring my then cafe-crush. We had a little thing going on. I walked through Abbotsford streets to get there, cueing the singers of the familiar dog choir along the way. The Convent wedding band rehearsed Love Really Hurts Without You, I could hear it through Cam's open door. That hit hard. What a song. Then I thought about the song Magnet & Steel by Walter Egan. I love naive expressions of love like that. Cafe-crush wore a beautiful amber ring. I thought, 'I am the ring, you are the jewel'. But then I felt embarrassed. I'm no ring. She was an historical beauty, with a profile that would look good on a coin. So I fixed it - "you are the ring, and the jewel".
I went home and played a spooky descending line on the piano. 'Doo doo doo, doo, doooooo'. Then I put together some '80s cowboy chords. Like Chris Isaak. The words floated easily over the top. Then I channeled my inner shit Neil Young for the guitar solo. That's essentially it.
6. Auto Bellissimo
A couple of years ago I played cricket for this team that liked to drink at the Terminus Hotel in Clifton Hill after winning. We went there twice. At most. Directly across the road is a luxury European sports car dealership. Called Auto Bellissimo. That really cracked me up. Talking to dudes I'd already spent 8 hours that day with wasn't my highest priority so instead I wrote Auto Bellissimo. I'd like to say I wrote these songs on Café Oblivion on a fucking typewriter, camped out at base camp on Everest, high on Xavier Rudd's pubic hair tea, in the future of the past. I wasn't. I was at the pub, typing into my iPhone. Ignoring people. Listen out for baby Jesus, the monster mash and euthanasia.
When writing the music, I went for a 1980s Italian pop vibe. A couple of nods to Leonard Cohen too.
7. Lee & Nancy
I love Lee Hazlewood. I love Nancy Sinatra. I essentially ripped the pre-chorus line from You Only Live Twice. But did such a poor job of it that the lawyers will certainly not come-a-knockin'. Lee & Nancy sees me in rare guitar hero form. I played the shit out of that thing. Couldn't do it twice. Did it in my room in my jocks. It was cool. I couldn't sleep for four days I was so confused by myself. "Yahoo" I shouted from the Centrelink line! "Hats off to me and my ability!" Donny and Laurence really brought this one to life. It was an exciting time in the studio. Scott did a really good job of mixing this one, I think. Lots of good spooky sounds. Over and out.
8. Leave That Way
This song has a lot of D major 7th's in it. My favourite chord. It's got a guitar solo over a modulation in chords. I really like when songs do that. Shags wrote the bass line in Melbourne, on tour with Ariel Pink. I remember taking off all my clothes and strapping on cricket protective gear while doing my best Ray Manzarek impression on the organ. Pads, gloves, thigh guard. And boots. There's not much more I have to say. I don't love this song but I think the album really needs it.
9. Get On
Oh Mercy goes Baggy. Why the hell not. I've always been into the Stone Roses and the Madchester music. Thought I'd give it a crack. Simon from Slow Dancer played the drums. I dusted off the wah pedal from Deep Heat. I sing the word "whence" at some point. I think I read it in the Bible when I was a kid. A funny word from a funny book. When in Portland I heard someone at a bar say, "You know, you gotta get on before you can get off". That was all I needed.
10. Crocodile Meat
Crocodile Meat is my favourite song on the record. It flies the Café Oblivion flag higher and with more enthusiasm than the rest. Irreverent, romantic and absurd. A brew of which, if I've achieved my goal, is the essence of Café Oblivion. It made me think about Split Enz at the time, but maybe it's more a John Cale circa Paris 1919 vibe. If a may be so bold!
I wrote the words after reading Donald Barthelme's The Dead Father. A post-apocalyptic love story featuring Phar Lap. The ridiculous outro is supposed to represent the drunken festivities these apocalypse survivors indulge in after a day of execution, feasting and love making.
11. Restless Woman
This song, the last on the album, was also the last to be written. It came about after a conversation with Laura Jean about one of her dreams. Usually listening to people talk earnestly about their dreams sends me auto-gallows but not with Laura. Her dream was funny and telling. Another three-chord song. Featuring fake timpani and a meletron string loop. I wrote it to end the album, I think it does its job well.
Sat 7 Apr - Amplifier, Perth
Sun 8 Apr - Newport Hotel, Fremantle
Fri 13 Apr - Lansdowne Hotel, Sydney
Sat 14 Apr - Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Fri 20 Apr - Howler, Melbourne
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