Old Mercy’s Alex Gow has a nice summation of his just-released new album.
“It’s a smorgasbord of things I’m interested in,” he notes, “and I’m pleased that I managed to get them all on the record.”
It’s a smorgasbord at the Café Oblivion, no less. It’s a title that invites a both fantasy and distant memories for the acclaimed singer/songwriter.
“When I was 14 I got my first job at Safeways, and I discovered Blend 43 coffee because they had it in the tearoom,” he recalls. “I used to love drinking it and inducing severe, yet manageable anxiety attacks while I was trying to bag people’s fruit and vegies. That was my first kind of taste of Café Oblivion (laughs).
“For this record I needed to have some sort of physical place where the characters from the songs could sort of hang out and I pictured this absurd, psychedelic bar on the edge of the word called Café Oblivion.”
So the songs are the characters making their orders?
“A bit like that,” he notes. “And flirting, getting kicked out, drinking too much and falling over and getting propped back in their chair. That kind of thing (laughs).”
Gow once again worked with producer, Scott Horscroft, a decision based on their “a wonderful, practical and pragmatic relationship.” Going into this, his fifth album, Gow has stated that he felt he didn’t have to prove anything. Intuition seemed to inspire confidence.
“I was fairly conscious at the time that I was in a great headspace where I wasn’t making any decisions to prove any points,” he expands. “Whereas in the past I was like, ‘I’m gonna do this for this reason, then I’m going to do that’. This time around I went more with my whims and my gut and tried to make it playful, absurd and irreverent. Give it an air of romance. I think I was very much aware of it at the time, it felt good because it felt fun, and hopefully it sounds like a lot of fun as well.”
The momentum for this album’s creative process was easy to find. Two songs, Hot Topic and Ten Five & Zero were left over from the last album and were too good to just lose to history. They just needed to find a venue.”
“They did need to find a venue,” Gow concurs, “that’s actually a pretty apt word. And I wanted to call an album Café Oblivion for ages, but none of those albums suited it. Those two songs suited the idea, especially Hot Topic, and the ironic bravado of Ten Five & Zero, I thought, did so as well.
“It was like a running start with those two songs and the album title idea. I felt like they belonged there, and I was like, ‘well, let’s write songs that will fit in the same venue’, to use your word, which I think is spot on.”
While the majority of the album was written by Gow at home, the songs National Park and Keep A Light On were penned in Sri Lanka during a social cricket team tour. He revelled in a different writing environment.
“The thing was having a bit of time to write with not much else to think about,” Gow recalls. “In a practical sense, I caught a lot of trains in and around Sri Lanka. And I had to wait for a lot of trains. While I was waiting I was in such an incredible environment and one that so alien to me that I felt very inspired in that time. When I got home I put together some chords and got my notes from the train station and sang them over the top and they didn’t really change that much.
“Being in Sri Lanka was a real privilege and there are a couple of references to that experience, National Park has a line, ‘it’s likea breakfast buffet and I keep coming back for more’ that was a direct rip regarding the mountainous breakfast buffets we had over there - curries for breakfast, curries for lunch and curries for dinner kind of vibe That environment made its way into the songs as well.”
Many articles about Gow make note of his enduring love for iconic Perth outfit, The Triffids. In 2011 at an Oh Mercy show at Mojo’s. Gow was introduced by EMI publicist Dixie Battersby to Jill and Alsy McDonald and went on to perform with The Triffids in various live performances celebrating the songs of David McComb. Triffids’ pedal steel player, ‘Evil’ Graham Lee also appears on Café Oblivion. For Gow it’s been a dream come true.
“It’s just the best thing that’s ever happened to me, basically,” he enthuses. “I’m really lucky to have them as friends. They’re all kooky individuals and nuanced as people as you are when you’ve been around for as long as they have. They’re full of surprises and lovely and generous with their time.
“They’re my favourite band and I get to sing with them sometimes. It’s the best. I pinch myself.”
Oh Mercy perform at Amplifier on April 7 and the Newport Hotel on April 8.