It took seven long years, but alt-rock icons Mercury Rev have finally returned with a vengeance with The Light in You, out today via Bella Union in various formats.
“It’s great to get out in the world again after being atop a mountain for seven years,” agrees Rev’s co-founder Jonathan Donahue. “The idea was to rekindle that spirit and spatially design the sound in ways we hadn’t done for a while.”
Along with his perpetual partner-in-reverb, Grasshopper, Donahue infuses Light songs with a broad mastery of the pop palette, from the trippy ’60s vibe of “Are You Ready” to the acoustified thrust of “Central Park East” to the vinyl-centric call to arms of “Rainy Day Record” — the latter song amazingly prescient and perfectly appropriate for the inclement wet weather that’s currently peppering the East Coast.
I called Donahue at the Mercury Rev recording compound in The Catskills to discuss the making of The Light in You, the power of good reverb, and how to make an album feel truly cinematic. Some of the HRAC-oriented highlights of that conversation follow:
Mettler: Do you have an opinion about streaming?
Donahue: I do and I don’t. I have an opinion about artists getting paid, which I am a fan of people taking a stand.
Whether it be Metallica, or even more recently, with Taylor Swift. At the same time, it’s hard to protest poverty when you’re at work. For bands who aren’t even as fortunate as we are to have labels and long careers, Spotify may be the only way people can hear their music — their discs may be out of print, or it may be too expensive, on import.
In that way, it does help people and music that doesn’t have a ready outlet on Apple, or isn’t racked in the front at Barnes & Noble. We need the Spotifys, but we also need musicians standing up for the rights of artists in those outlets.
Donahue: Obviously, as an artist, you spend so much damn time at the mixing desk, and you’d like to know that someone’s hearing it at that fidelity. Having said that, most of the kids are listening on earbuds. It’s really hard for a lot of people — especially young people, who spend most of their day working — to sit down in front of large speakers or put on $200 headphones when they’re barely making rent.
As long as the music is preserved and available in high quality — it’s just like what Deutsche Grammophon was doing in the ’70s. I’m glad someone is paying attention to great mastering. You’re glad it was recorded on really high-quality microphones. But, you know, not every punk band could afford a Neumann. (both laugh)
Read more of my interview with Donahue on Digital Trends.