Alright Gandhi are Vulture Hound’s artist of the week this week, so we caught up with bassist and song-writer, Rosa Mercedes, to pick her brains about the band’s recent visit to the UK, debut album Little Traveller, Berlin, cosmic love and improv comedy vibes.
Hello, how’s it going?
You’ve just returned from a mini tour of the UK, what was the response like?
Good! The people who loved it told us they loved it, and the people who didn’t kindly left us in peace and ignorance. It was our first tour with Albertine Sarges singing harmonies, and everyone agreed that should happen again myself included. One divorced couple managed to speak to one another again after years of antipathy, and said the atmosphere at the gig helped them to feel their talking wasn’t such a big deal. That was probably my favourite complement. My parents like it. So I’d say it was a success.
How did the turn outs and venues compare to other countries you have toured?
So far we’ve totally relied on the help of friends and friendly bands to play in England, and this trip was an eclectic mix of venues set up DIY style (thanks to Sophie Jamieson, We Used to Make Things and Solus!). But that’s a theme for us: we like playing everything. There’s no one sound environment we look for, we like to get that kick of playing an unfamiliar and unique room. Union Chapel was quite a special example. In Casablanca, Morocco we had the pleasure of playing in a school canteen to one of the best crowds we ever had. In the Baltics we have a really great manager so get to play lovely big stages and get spoilt with perfect sound and people who listen carefully. We haven’t done much in England yet but we’d love to do more, Dom didn’t even get the time to try a full English breakfast. And musicians in England can be inspiring collaborators and friends, worth sticking around.
As a band you are well travelled, has this had an effect on your song writing?
Totally. Plus we’re a mixed bunch to start with. Pietro spent some time playing guitar and bass in Senegal, and he’s from Italy. Dom is American, I’m a euro-mix. A venue we played in Weimar tagged it tentatively as ‘intercultural song-writing’ which made us chuckle. Some people collect stones or postcards, we collect little licks, moods, phrases, themes or styles from the places we visit. We do our best to add something new to what can sometimes feel like a monotonous hammed-up electro frenzy. Little Traveller is also a collection of stories about people travelling off-limits, for example Lillith (on album track ‘The First Wife’) who falls in love with the devil paving the way for all girls who like bad boys; Pluto (‘Dark Matter’) who doesn’t get to be called a planet because he doesn’t have the gravity to push and pull; or New York voguers (‘Wannabe’), among them men who make the most gorgeous women.
Musically where do you take influence?
To name some influences: Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Gospel spirituals, English traditional folk, Bach, Michael Jackson, Mali music, Renaissance Madrigals and Gnawa. But we try to do our own thing.
How are you influenced lyrically?
I read a lot of books and poetry, I love the literary genre ‘magical realism’ and we try to open that genre to music. ‘Widening Circles’ from the EP is largely based on a Rilke poem under the same name. Ah and I try to avoid human romance as a topic, that’s way overcooked. Cosmic romance on the other hand! Now that we can all relate to.
Within your recordings there are variations on song writing and lyrical styles, do your recordings group in subject/topic or is it a case of recording once you have written enough songs?
We’ve always had way more songs than is needed for an album, but we’ve been quite impulsive about brand new songs (day old – ‘Wannabe’) mixed with songs we’ve played for longer. It’s looking like the next album is naturally more tied together style-wise, but for me it’s important to not let these things get neurotic and cramped. It can happen easily if you’re the kind of people who think a lot and work a lot, which we are.
You have quite a loose line up and your recordings and tours seem to involve regular collaboration, is this reflected in how songs come together?
Yes! We’ll often invite people to join in a recording session or join us on stage, and they shape the songs and give us new ideas of how to play them.
Photo by: Jan Gerhards
How do your live shows differ from your recordings?
The recordings are the same every time you listen, the live shows are different every time you listen. We’ve never played the same set-list twice. Once we played in an improv comedy theatre in Warsaw, the drum kit didn’t turn up and so Dom hung his cymbals on coat stands and played an empty barrel as a bass drum. Sometimes I think we bring the improv comedy vibe with us, especially during Pietro’s jazz odyssey scat solos.
As a live entity there is an element of freedom within song lengths does this come from judging the reception of an audience?
Yes… although it’s a learning curve for me! I have an impulse to change some fundamental thing every 5 seconds, so Dom, Pietro and trance musicians are teaching me to let people dance and get into it.
You live in Berlin what is the local music scene like?
Here’s a collection of words that relate: friendship, basement, smoking, no PA, late, hedonistic, electronic, self-organised, infinite free drinks, impulsive, improvised, open-minded, experimental, unselfconscious, international, lots of time, discussed a lot.
Do you have any venue/artist recommendations?
Check out Albertine’s duo, they sing nostalgic Italo pop and know how to perform, they’re called Itaca (http://www.itacamusica.it/)
What are you listening to at the moment?
Still a lot of Haitus Kaiyote
‘Once In A Lifetime’ – Talking Heads
‘Twice’ – Little Dragon
‘Three Times A Lady’ – Lionel Richie”
Where can people hear more or buy some releases?
We’re on Bandcamp (where you can download the music), Itunes, Spotify, a little bit on Soundcloud etc, and if you want an actual CD just write to me firstname.lastname@example.org