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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


Ravi Shankar - Inside The Kremlin
I chose a live album because you can hear where East meets West. It's obvious Ravi's known for his traditional music with Indian instruments. But with Inside The Kremlin he has the strings going. He's got a very orchestrated formality to mix in with his own Indian-tempered scale melodies. You can also hear the giant strings very clearly, so for me this is heaven. You've got the Indian modality mixed in with classical music.

It's part of where we learned to orchestrate - where you can hear the sitars, for instance. It didn't take long for us to think, hey, this is how you put a cool guitar, strings or oboe piece together! Before that - and the same happened on Ocean Rain by Echo & The Bunnymen - it was the first time in a long time that we began to suss out this orchestration thing; it's not rocket science! I know the composers seem like they're physicists but if we can just take the melodies we can already play on the guitar and we put them on these classical instruments, that's orchestration, isn't it? We didn't have to be Mozart to do this. But in my case, this is where I began to figure some of these things out, certainly with Ocean Rain and Ravi Shankar. When I was in The Flaming Lips making the In A Priest Driven Ambulance album, it was very similar in that there was a guitar melody, but there were also strings doing it. That led to the beginnings of the orchestration in Mercury Rev as well as Flaming Lips. Listen to Ravi Shankar, and then listen to modern Bollywood - that's the Western or Hollywood side of Eastern music.

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