Mercury Rev on ‘Opus 40’: “We were broken up on the inside”

Jonathan Donahue, Grasshopper and more on the making of their classic single

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DONAHUE: It’s strange, the Catskills have a quality of timelessness to them which can work wonders for you, but it can also work against you. You begin to lose touch with the outside world. Especially for Grasshopper and I, the Catskills were that still point where we could be really quiet and begin to reassemble all the points of light that made us up earlier in our musical lives. The entire area now is very commercialised. But back in the ’90s, it didn’t have that cache, the Midnight Rambles hadn’t happened, Deserter’s hadn’t happened, so it was almost like an abandoned musical amusement park. I just grew up with it, so I never was thinking, ‘I’m at the spot where Rock Of Ages was recorded.’ All the places there didn’t have that timeless history quality that would later become much more sensationalised.

GRASSHOPPER: Adam Snyder had joined the band to tour See You On The Other Side and we started writing a lot of stuff with him. With Deserter’s Songs, a lot of it, the first batch of songs were mostly myself, Jon, Adam Snyder and Dave Fridmann.

SNYDER: I remember Jon and I were sitting in a room in Kingston, which is like the gateway to the Catskills, I started tinkering around with a Wurlitzer, and that’s how “Opus 40” was born.

GRASSHOPPER: Opus 40 is a place here in the Catskills – Jonathan grew up around here, so that was a place that he used to go to, hang out there in the sculpted rocks of the bluestone. All the bricks of the Empire State Building and most of the Lower East Side came from this brick company that was here in Kingston.

DONAHUE: Opus 40 was built by one man over 40 years, it was one man’s lifelong endeavour to leave something greater than himself after he passed. It has a Rip Van Winkle quality – it’s an old Dutch tale that says there was a Dutchman who fell asleep in the Catskills for 20 years, until he was woken up by great thunder clouds, but the idea of falling asleep and then waking up into another world, that’s all within there. It’s probably within me, it’s just one of those places where you grow up with the mythology already embedded in your DNA. You don’t have to be an artist, it’s just one of those qualities to the Catskills. I can remember going to Opus 40 when I was a child.

SNYDER: The song was the beginning of a different type of chord structure for the band. You can hear it in other songs on the record, and then later you can hear it when the band started experimenting more with that descending chord structure.

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