FEATURE: Oh Mercy “I had to learn how to hold my own without three of my best friends behind me.”

Melbourne lad Alexander Gow has had a phenonomenal 2011. Having unleashed Oh Mercy’s sophomore LP “Great Barrier Grief” to commercial and critical acclaim, Gow took the unusual step of walking away from the quartet that made his name to head out on the road with good pal Dan Sultan.

“I had to learn how to hold my own without three of my best friends behind me.”

When asked to contemplate his decision and its impact upon his enjoyment of 2011, the ever-so-thoughtful frontman explains, “I sort of split the year into two as to how I remember it. Embarking on the solo tour was the first big thing. I had to learn how to hold my own without three of my best friends behind me. It was a challenge that I was up for.”

While the deceptively shy song-smith knew he needed to step out of his comfort zone, the move was never motivated by a desire to ditch his close pals, but rather develop a greater understanding of his own onstage persona and to better his already amazing songwriting. He notes, “I think I kind of worked it out by the end of the tour. I worked out how to present my songs on my own, which was really satisfying to be able to play those songs in their most basic form and see how people react to them. It is a privilege that not many band guys get to have. I was so fortunate to have been able to do that. By the end of it, it was guiding me as to how I want to write in the future.”

With Oh Mercy all set to close the year with the release of Gow’s favourite song on the record, the chirpy, “Blue Lagoon” – and a set of full-band dates – Gow is clearly relishing being back with his buds and focusing his efforts firmly on the future for Oh Mercy. “I guess the second half of the year has been spent writing new material for a new album. I’m having a lot of fun doing that. It is going to be a marked difference from the last one. I will always try to make one album different from the other. I am not interested in making the same album twice. I also don’t think fans are really interested in hearing the same album twice,” says Gow.

While he is not an artist who criticises the work of others, he has clear aspirations as a songwriter that he feels some of his contemporaries lack. Without any hint of malice, he sighs, “Some bands have had wonderful careers out of making the same album ten times, but it doesn’t suit my interests.” While he is determined to make album three a different kettle of fish to “Great Barrier Grief”, he is currently not in a position to raise expectations. When asked to define his intended differences, he is only able to point to the fact that “the last album was quite romantic, so this will be a little less romantic.”

With the taste buds wet but wanting more, we switch our focus from his writing spree to the year that was. When asked about his highlight of that year that was (and still is), the sincere songwriter pauses. Not wishing to offer a flighty misrepresentation of his year, he takes his time and seriously thinks about what really has meant the most. He finally arrives at his answer. “I suppose my highlight of the year is being asked to join my favourite Australian band on stage at the Queenscliff Festival in November,” he offers, “I am getting to play a selection of early The Triffids singles. I also get to be one of the guest vocalists with the band themselves. I guess my appreciation and admiration for that band make it such an incredible honour. I am just so excited.”

“It has been pretty liberal about which tracks we can choose. There are a couple which I am really dying to do. “

Like a child in a sweet shop, Gow, despite his own incredible success, is all beady-eyed at the prospect of joining his own heroes. Completely void of any ego or expectation, the musician has already started his prep to ensure he does not let his own idols, or himself, down. “I have a had a bit of a fiddle around on my own. It has been pretty liberal about which tracks we can choose. There are a couple which I am really dying to do. One is called “Revelry” and another called “Spanish Blues”. I started looking at ways we can do it that are different to the original, so they suit my voice and the band.”

Though he concedes that the final decisions about who does what are yet to be made, the humble soul is happy to have been selected and is not about to push to the front of the queue with a list of demands. With a real innocence, he states “there are lots of vocalists who have already worked with The Triffids and I so I am quite happy to wait my turn at the end of the queue. I don’t necessarily have a favourite track. I am yet to find out which song I am going to do as a guest vocalist. But I guess the early stuff is my favourite, so I hope I get to do one of those.”

Words and Images: Jeremy Williams

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