Best known for his work as the frontman of London-based indie rock band, The Carnabys, Jack Mercer embarks on his latest new project, VC Pines. We catch up with this talented young musician after his most recent show at The London Social to learn more about what drove him from humble indie rock to adventurous Alternative Soul. Along the way, we learn of Jack’s rare Synesthesia — a condition that causes him to hear or associate sounds as colors.
Your other work with The Carnabys is quite different to VC Pines, can you shed some light on what drove this change in direction?
Absolutely, I feel like with this project I’m focusing on the sounds and images that I’ve always wanted to create, rather than writing to fit into a certain genre. I’ve always loved Soul music, and the sound of an organ, in particular, is something that really resonates with me. I’m also coming to terms with how my brain and Synesthesia works and trying to use it as a tool to paint these songs in the studio.
For those who don’t know, can you explain what Synesthesia is and how it affects you?
It’s essentially a rare neurological trait that results in a merging of senses that aren’t normally connected. For example in my case, I will hear or associate certain sounds with a color. So, I might hear a riff or line in a song and think, “ah, that sounds orange,” for example.
Fascinating. I can imagine that’s both difficult and creatively useful, all at the same time.
Yeah, although I’ve basically never known any different. With VC Pines, I think I now understand a bit more about how I can translate the way my brain works into great music that I’m really proud of.
You describe VC Pines as ‘Alternative Soul’ music. In my experience, genre definition is often very subjective; what does the genre mean to you?
It’s just a hole that this music seems to fit into. I think it’s quite a vague genre description too, which makes it all the more easy to dive into other techniques and sounds in the future. Soul music has such a vast space and so many levels of instrumentation; it’s an excuse to do what I want!
What are your ambitions for VC Pines?
I want to continue to create and perform music for the rest of my life — everything else is a bonus! I’d like to explore other avenues at some point too, music for film is something I’ve always been interested in. A headline slot at Glasto wouldn’t go amiss either.
How would you describe your creative process?
It really varies, I think, because I don’t understand how my head works yet. Maybe I never will. Do you understand yours? Inspiration can come from something seen/smelt/heard that reminds me of something I’ve experienced, or it can place a specific image in my head which is the focal point of the next song. I find there’s no blueprint to my writing, and I think that’s why each song has something unique about it. Things are plucked from the air without warning, they all have nooks and crannies to explore.
Are there any albums, people, or moments that have shaped your creative direction?
Definitely, but they’re so varied! I’ve always loved soul and Motown, my dad introduced me to The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. I also remember stealing his old Punk CDs. Richard Hell and The Stranglers are firm favorites. I tend to take old influences and pair them with current experiences to form something new altogether. I’ve had some experiences I’ll never forget, good and bad. They often resurface when I’m writing lots of music within a time frame.
You’re currently working on a few sessions at The Hub recording studio in St. Albans. Can you share a little of your experience from those sessions?
It’s incredible! It’s such a tight environment, filled with some of the best equipment in the world. It’s like a hidden treasure, and you can really feel that by spending all day inside. Time doesn’t exist. Paul Watson (the studio owner) and I work so fluidly together and feed off of each other’s ideas, it’s a great partnership. Sometimes you forget where you are, you can’t hear a thing and would have no idea there’s a bar beneath! Rumor has it there are a few ghosts too, but that’s for another time.
Do you have a favorite bit of kit, and why? This can be anything, from a guitar to a pedal, amp, triangle … anything you fancy.
The Nord Electro HP3 is something I could sit at all day. In fact, one of the latest songs started with me trying to create the strangest sound possible. Paul hit record without me realizing it, so next time I was there, he’d built a structure around it. It’s a universe of sounds; paired with the waves plugins we’re using, the possibilities are literally endless.
I read about your support of the Music Venues Trust through a donation of The Carnabys second album pre-sale and first-week profits. The future of small live music venues is obviously close to your heart; do you have a favorite small venue at which to perform? If so, what makes it such a special place in your eyes?
There are so many little gems that we played, and unfortunately some have now gone. The 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street in London was a moment I’ll never forget; I climbed up the beams in the room to antagonize the people who sat in the “VIP” section. Somewhere else that’ll always be dear to my heart because it’s so mad, is the Lincoln Imp in Scunthorpe. If you’re in sunny Scunny for whatever reason, you have to go there (imagine watching great up and coming bands on the set of Shameless).
Lastly, if you could share a beer with anyone famous (including those who are no longer with us) who would it be?
Working with Andre 3000 would be a dream, so I certainly wouldn’t miss the opportunity to have a beer with him Also, Jeff Buckley would be incredible. Someone non-music related I’d have to choose would be Terry Gilliam, the madman behind Monty Python’s Flying Circus — what a circus it was!
To listen to VC Pines’ work, view the embed below. To learn more about him, visit his website at https://www.vcpines.com/.