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Mercy Arms - Show No Mercy

Author: Andrew Weaver
Monday, August 25, 2008

Sydney indie rock group Mercy Arms have released their debut album and, as 3D’s Andrew Weaver discovers, it’s been one hell of a journey thus far.

For too long now, Mercy Arms have been all talk and no action – the hype around the band was enormous before they’d even signed a record deal, let alone released anything for people to hear.

But as 2008 inches towards its conclusion, the band are emerging from their hibernation to release their debut self-titled album; made in Melbourne with Tony Cohen, it’s a riposte to all the non-believers who thought that the Sydney-based four-piece were all hype and no substance – an album that’s genuinely thrilling and deliciously bucks expectations of what the band would come up with on their first effort. It’s only taken two years longer to appear than many thought it would.

“I think we’ve made a better record now than we would have two years ago,” argues guitarist Kirin J. Callinan.

Back in those dim darks, the band signed a lucrative deal with the American arm of major label Capitol, and seemed destined for worldwide stardom. Instead their record label was sold to venture capitalists Terra Firma and the band, as frontman Thom Moore once explained, “negotiated” their way out of the deal.

“When we were with Capitol, or when we had all these opportunities and offers thrown at our feet,” Kirin reminisces, “there were all these ridiculous ideas about doing two songs in Buenos Aires and two songs in Iceland – the world was our oyster and we could do anything we wanted. But I think we’ve made a very real record, and a very human album, and perhaps that might not have been the case if we’d been able to throw a lot of cash at it.”

Instead, Mercy Arms are now completely self-sufficient; they funded the recording of their album at Sing Sing Studios out of their own pocket, and are independently releasing it into the bargain. “We certainly learnt a lot given the extra time we’ve been together,” he says. “We realised that as far as energy goes we’ve never really bettered our original demos, and so the way we made this record was to stick all the amps in a room, point ’em inwards and capture it like that.”

Recording the whole shebang to tape, as opposed to digital, the band wanted to capture the sense of energy that they bring to the live arena on disc – it meant that there was spill in the sound, so the take had to be as perfect as possible each time. “That wasn’t a problem,” Kirin claims, before admitting, “there’s mistakes all over it that no one bar us will be able to notice – but that’s all part of it. We wanted it to be natural and to do it that way, and we’ve been playing together as musicians for a while now so it wasn’t really a challenge. The opening song on the record, Down Here, So Long, I believe the bed track for that was the first take – we walked into the room, did it, walked back, and it sounded great so we moved on.”

The sound of Mercy Arms is so distinctive in part thanks to the interplay in the guitar between Kirin and Thom – they weave in and around each other behind Thom’s beguiling and compelling voice, with the guitar sound on the record sounding nothing short of amazing. It sounds very much like an instinctive response, where what was being played with very much thought up on the spot without a great deal of planning and preparation going into it, resulting in a thrillingly intuitive approach.

“I certainly don’t labour over it, and I don’t think Thom does either,” Kirin explains. “I know how I’d like it to sound, and that’s where Tony Cohen comes in – he’s an expert at capturing great guitar sounds. He excels at mic placement, and microphone choices, and everything just sounds so RICH on the record. It’s something that has developed in the rehearsal space and live, and we went in there and blasted it out, and then to have someone like Tony do it made it work.”

WHO: Mercy Arms
WHAT: Self-titled album through Levity / Play Oxford Art Factory
WHEN: Out now / Friday 29 August