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Baker's Dozen

Constellations In The Sky: Jonathan Donahue Of Mercury Rev's Top LPs
Yousif Nur , October 22nd, 2015 10:15

From spooky narrations in the Catskill Mountains to avant-garde masterworks, the New York band's singer and guitarist tells Yousif Nur about the albums and one song that have had a lasting impact on his own music


Terry Riley - A Rainbow In Curved Air
The avant-garde comes to the mainstream. At the time, Terry Riley was an avant-garde composer. He still is, but he's probably more so known for his work in the late '60s. Indian music at the time was coming into focus because of The Beatles and psychedelic music. So his compositions - especially this one - were really hypnotic, very mantra-esque. I think Terry Riley influenced more in a pop sense than in a rock sense, and I think A Rainbow In Curved Air has probably equal influence to Sgt. Pepper's. And you can quote me on that! It's obviously where The Who got the name 'Baba O'Riley', where the band used synthesisers - that's from Terry Riley. We cut our teeth in Buffalo, NY, in the early '80s and in that time the place was at the height of avant-garde. They opened a music school where they featured all the greats - Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Tony Conrad - just a ton of avant-garde composers, who later became more famous. It was such a central point for the electronic avant-garde movement, one that hadn't been around since San Francisco in the late '60s.

It influences everything that Grasshopper and I do. We have strange polarities of the melancholy, romantic side of us. Then we also have the avant-garde side of us. The rock & roll side of us is probably the least prominent in our music. One of our albums, Snowflake Midnight, is also our homage to that bygone era of electronic music. Once you put it on, you think, "Oh that's where all that William Orbit and Moby stuff comes from." If you look all the way back, that's Terry Riley. It was the beginning of synthesisers, arpeggio synths also, which eventually became modern dance music. It was his motif of making it more hypnotic.

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