Big Dreams

Mercury Rev looks to the future without forgetting its past

After a period of well-documented turmoil -- rumor has it Donahue once tried to gouge out Grasshopper's eye with a spoon while on an airplane -- Baker left the band after Boces, and Thorpe split after 1995's See You on the Other Side. Under the aegis of Fridmann, who's become a high-profile indie-rock super-producer -- recording albums by Sparklehorse and Mogwai, as well as every Flaming Lips record since 1990 -- Deserter's Songs constituted a major shift in the band's sound. The substitution of the singing saw for the flute as the instrument du jour was the most cosmetic change, but the near total absence of noisy dissonance was the most drastic one. Grasshopper's wailing noise blasts reappear on All Is Dream, most notably on the sublime "Lincoln's Eyes," reenergizing Rev fans who might have been as put off by Deserter's Songs as old-school Flaming Lips fans have been by the replacement of drummer Stephen Drozd's kit with a tape.

"We don't look ever to divorce ourselves from those early records and say, 'Well, that was then,' and we weren't really trying like we are now," says Donahue, whose former band (he was a full-fledged Flaming Lip from 1990-92) seems to have done just that. "There's a lot on those early records that we love, and without them Deserter's and certainly All Is Dream wouldn't have been possible. For us, they're just a long series of experiments, learning experiences. I suppose we just change as people, and you find new challenges, sound-wise, texture-wise. There are threads that run through all of our records. I don't really give it too much thought of how we change as much as, can we change, do we change?"

For Donahue, the wonderfully peculiar wail of the singing saw, an instrument that dates back to vaudeville and before, was a catalyst that helped transform the soundscapes in his head into an aural reality. The instrument's fairy-tale quality wedged itself into the singer's subconscious, providing the spark that unleashed all of the mythological Muses that make All Is Dream such a delightful fantasia.

Mercury Rev: A band that formed around soundtrack experiments for University of Buffalo film projects.
Mercury Rev: A band that formed around soundtrack experiments for University of Buffalo film projects.

"I don't think it was conscious to leave one [instrument] behind for the other," he says. "You just always get interested in something else, find another sound that seems to come closer to what's in your mind."

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