Reinventing Song: Blackout Beach’s Blues Trip

14 03 2013

Upon its release in 2011, Blackout Beach’s Fuck Death took a lot of people by surprise. The album’s tight weave of synthesizers and sonic soundscapes, which provide a rich, multifaceted backdrop to Carey Mercer’s often hushed words on war, sharply contrasts with the guitar driven fury that defines much Mercer’s back catalogue. Fuck Death marked radical departure for Mercer, one that had taken him a long time to create.

“I recorded Fuck Death over the space of two or three years,” says Mercer “I wasn’t working on it every day but I would work intensely for weeks at a time. I wrote all the music and then I sat on it for about a year waiting for the right words to come. As I listened, I often asked myself ‘What does this sound like?'”

Mercer eventually found his answer in an unlikely place. While reading Michael Herr’s Dispatches, a first person account of the Vietnam war, something clicked.

“I read Dispatches and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, my record!’ Vietnam couldn’t be further away from my own experience, but it’s one of those things that keeps resonating: I feel kind of haunted by it. I thought this record could be not just about war, but how war is represented, how it’s fictionalized and how disgusting that is, but also how I get kind of giddy reading about it.”

With a renewed sense of direction, the words came quickly to Mercer. He discovered that the elements of war were hiding in the music all along.

“I just had to listen for a really long time. I noticed that there was a lot of static, a lot of helicopter sounds and short wave radio, which could be interpreted in several ways but because of what I was reading and thinking about at the time, I heard those sounds in the context of war. I wondered what it would be like to have an aggressive helicopter flying over me.”

After thousands of hours of work, mostly spent in solitude, Mercer had finally completed Fuck Death. Released in 2011, the album was met with much critical acclaim but, in hindsight, Mercer is largely ambivalent to his experience recording it. What began as Mercer’s labour of love ended as a war of attrition.

“I don’t ever want to make that kind of record again,” says Mercer “It represents thousands of hours of looking at a computer screen. There’s a kind of singularity to the album because it’s all me playing. I guess it’s kind of neat that you can do that now– you can hole up with your computer and synthesizers, become insular and after a few days you’re like, ‘Wow, I worked on this so much, it’s so neat, what a wonderful way to spend time!’ . But after a while you start to go a bit nutty: it becomes a toxic experience and actually starts to poison you a bit.”

Mercer’s remedy to the toxic experience of recording Fuck Death came last summer when he, along with drummer Melanie Campbell and bassist Dante DeCaro, stole away to DeCaro’s remote studio to radically reinterpret many of the songs on Fuck Death. Ironically, the three piece band ended up stripping down Mercer’s solitary constructions.

The session ultimately resulted in Blues Trip, which was released on Bandcamp in February and will available on limited edition vinyl later this year. As Mercer confides, the album brings new life to the material.

Blues Trip appeals to me because it was tracked in a day with friends. We thought it was kind of funny that we started off with this electronic record and reduced it to what a lot of people would call one of the more mundane forms–the blues. But we were so invigorated and excited by what we were doing, much more than if we had faithfully recreated Fuck Death. Doing that wouldn’t have been much fun for me.”

On Friday night, Victorians will have a chance to see songs transformed. Mercer, along with the three piece incarnation of Blackout Beach is set to take the stage Victoria’s newest venue, the Copper Owl. The evening promises to be a culmination of thousands of solitary, introspective hours in front of the computer and one fateful summer afternoon rocking out with friends. It shouldn’t be missed.

Nick Lyons

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