Heart of Steel: Interviews

Mercury Rain - Jon Hoare

Interviewed by EvilG
Additional questions by Rick and JP

According to your bio, before playing the style of melodic power metal that you do now in Mercury Rain, you were involved with the thrash band UNDERTAKER and then with a band called CRISIS which your bio mentions was similar to Skid Row at the beginning. How did you find your way from thrash metal, to heavy metal and more recently to melodic power metal? 

Jon HoareThere was never any plan to try out lots of different styles, it's just what we were into at the time, and who was in the band with us. I think that 'Undertaker' were a product of the Metallica / Anthrax era, in the same way that 'Crisis' were a product of Guns 'N' Roses/Skid Row era.

I'd always wanted to do Power Metal though, and with bands like Nightwish / Tristania / After Forever having great female singers, as soon as Sonia joined Mercury Rain, it was like "yep, that's the way we're going!"



When Mercury Rain began you had a different singer (Dave Moores), what happened to him and was he ever really a member of the band?

No, Dave is a mate who helped us record 'Nowhere left to run' - he's not a metaller, but he did a good job. I was just getting in to PC recording, and we were testing the gear as much as anything!



How did you hook up with vocalist Sonia Porzier in 1999 who came to Mercury Rain from the French band 'Tears of Ea'?

I advertised for a singer in a local free ads paper. Usually you get the normal dross, but this time it was Sonia who responded to the advert. We arranged to meet, and she played me a couple of tracks from the 'Tears of Ea' demo, which were really good, and we went from there.



Was she living in France and moved to Bristol for the band or another reason?

Sonia was in the UK working as an Au Pair, so just a lucky coincidence.



Is she a member of 'Tears of Ea' any longer and what kind of music were/are they anyway?

I don't think that 'Tears of Ea' ever split up officially, but they all live a long way apart from each other, so it's very difficult for them to work together. Geographical differences rather than musical ones..!

In terms of style, heavier & darker than Mercury Rain, with Death style male vocals, and Sonia providing really nice gothic vocal melodies over the top. Good songwriting as well as strong musicianship.



How did the addition of Sonia change the sound of the band and do you see any benefits or drawbacks to having a female vocalist?

Sonia defines the sound of the band really. I have no idea where we'd be now with a male singer! As soon as she joined, we had a direction, and knew where we wanted to go. The first CD 'Where Angels Fear' was good fun to do, but the songs were written before Sonia joined and 'adapted' (for want of a better word) for her. 'Dark Waters' was built around Sonia's vocals and written & recorded in a totally different way.

It's definitely a benefit, as it makes us different from other UK Power Metal bands, but I also understand that female vocals aren't everybody's cup of tea in PM.

I think that live we are very different from most other PM bands. Much more atmospheric (as well as heavy...).

Sonia was a member of the Bristol Cathedral Choir. What training, if any, does she have and how does she think that singing in the choir has helped in her performance in Mercury Rain?

Sonia has regular singing lessons with two local singing teachers, but this is since joining Mercury Rain. I'm not really sure what training she had before in France. She's on holiday in Spain at the moment, so I can't ask her!



Would you say she is a "metalhead" or did you guys have to do any convincing with her to join a metal band? hehe...

No way! Sonia has no problem with the metal side of things. She introduced me to Nightwish (via 'Oceanborn') and she was a big Cradle of Filth fan before I met her, plus the fact that 'Tears of Ea' were pretty heavy... She's not that into the more traditional metal (or 'happy' metal as she calls it) but definitely the darker side of things. She's a big fan of 'Dead can dance' and those kinds of bands as well.



You guys are from Bristol. I don't think I've reviewed/interviewed a band from there...until now! So what's the current local metal scene like in Bristol in your opinion?

Getting much better! 'Phallicide' are a great metal band from Bristol, and 'Fourwaykill' and 'Legacy13' can be classed as Bristol area too I guess. The problem is that the lack of venues really. Bristol is mainly a dance orientated city, so there are few opportunities for metal bands to gig. The metal scene is generally North UK. Notttingham/Leeds/Sheffield etc or London.



Are most metal bands from Bristol cover bands?

There are a few metal/hard rock cover bands, as you would get in any city, but generally they stick to smaller pub type venues and play most weekends on that circuit.



What metal bands have emerged from there that have went on to bigger things, anyone?

Errrr... 'Jaguar' anyone?! Onslaught are the only ones that I can think of. Good thrash band from the 80's. That's about it. Richie Blackmoor's mum lives about 20 miles away Does that count?



What styles of bands play live in Bristol and is there much of a local following in Bristol for Mercury Rain?

Mainly dance/indie/hip-hop unfortunately. There are a few good local venues, but not many. We are confident of pulling a reasonable crowd, but we're not going to gig in Bristol much, it's pretty pointless playing the same places month after month. We've set out sights further afield. Certainly UK wide, and possibly Europe as well.



Do you play live very often in Bristol and for that matter anywhere else in the UK in general?

Live stuff is very much next on the agenda. We're rehearsing at the moment for gigs, and it's sounding really good. We're all experienced live, just not with this band...  The whole build up this year is for Bloodstock.



Yeah, you have a pretty important gig coming up at the Bloodstock festival this year with Nightwish, Masterplan, Hammerfall and Saxon. How did you get the gig and what are your expectations?

Hell Yeah! We did well to get this for sure. We went to the festival last year as punters, and said "wouldn't it be great if..." and here we are! The idea is to open with us, and then finish with Nightwish on the main stage, Saturday... This is the big one. The whole year is sort of built around Bloodstock for us. Gonna be great! Opening bands don't get treated brilliantly, so we're under no illusions there, but it will be cool to hang out with some of the other bands and we can play the gig and then enjoy the rest of the day...



The concept of DARK WATERS revolves around the sea. Its power, history, legends and myths. Why did you choose the sea as the focal point of the concept?

If it wasn't for Sonia, I'm pretty sure that we wouldn't have come up with the concept! She is very much into the Breton legends etc, and she writes the lyrics and came up with the overall concept. The sea and rugged coastlines of that part of the world are a very emotive place, and I think that the atmosphere works very well on the CD.



The band's name even revolves around water. Just as the current CD revolves around water and the sea. What if any is the significance of the bands name?

He..he.. No deep concept or significance on the name front I'm afraid. Mercury as it is a liquid 'Heavy Metal' and 'Rain' because of it's emotive qualities. The name came about almost right from the start, way before the 'DARK WATERS' concept.



Can you give us a few words about what each of the songs on DARK WATERS are about?

I wrote the basis for this song back in January 2001. It's been through a fair few changes since the original ideas, but the structure has remained the same. We kept my 'Dark' vocals in the bridge parts 'cos it makes it a bit more interesting... Dion's 'Nu-metal' style riffs were added probably Aug/Sep 2002. The alternative Roland V-dums in the second half of the first verse were Andy's idea, and one of my favourite parts on the entire album.

Bit of a different track for us this. More rhythmically diverse, and I like the balance between heavy guitars and majestic synths at the end. Another oldie, written probably Mar/Apr 2001, but constantly evolving for two years. The big synth lines on the end weren't added until November 2002.

THE CHOSEN ONE: Not really sure when this was written - probably around late 2001. Lyrically it's the second half of 'The Boat of The Dead'. Musically it's different again. Rich provides the solos, whilst Dion's riffs really bring this track to life. The slow synths over the double kick are another favourite part on the CD.

We're especially pleased with this track. Sonia and I wrote the song back in 2001, but it only really came in to it's own in January this year. Dion's riffs and Andy's kick drums really drive the track, with the synth sections giving it depth when needed as a contrast. Expect more like this in the future!

Another late addition this one. I wrote the song back in 2001, but threw most of it away late 2002. The grinding guitars and amazing drum section in the middle make this probably the heaviest song on the CD.

The first song that I wrote after 'Where Angels...' It stayed fairly static for a while, then really got a shot in the arm late 2002 when Dion and went back to the drawing board with the first half guitars. Lyrically the second half of 'City of Ys' but very different musically. The 3/4 end section really brings the heavy part of the album to a close nicely.

An acoustic track to close the album. This song has been through a LOT of changes. We've written heavy versions, with full-on guitars and synths, and Dion rewrote the main acoustic part late in 2002. Always difficult to know where to go with it, but we ended up with keeping it simple. Lyrically this song is an introduction to the CD.



The cover art for DARK WATERS is very interesting and I have seen it before used for another release. Could you tell the readers a little bit about the piece itself and what significance you feel it has to the concept of the CD?

The cover is really 'The City of Ys' with Gradlon standing on the castle walls before it all goes to hell..! The piece is by Stephanie Law at www.shadowscapes.com. She is a brilliant artist, and we license the artwork from her. It's a lot cheaper than having artwork commissioned. I had no idea it had been used before! Stephanie does a lot of work for fantasy games etc, and the cover for 'St Mattieu' has been used before as well.



You helped produce the DARK WATERS album and for a self-done album it is very good. What kind of a studio did you record in and was it your own?

Yes, I produced the album, but we all contributed when it came to mixing etc.

It was basically recorded in one of my spare rooms which I've turned into a studio complete with vocal booth etc. I use a PC based studio with two MAUDIO delta 1010s to get audio in/out, a Roland XV5050 synth module, and a Rode NT1 mic. The guitars and bass were mainly recorded with a Johnson J-Station, (solos were mic'd).

Andy has Roland V-Drums (TD8) which is amazing, as we can work totally with MIDI (no more recording 'real' drums). Dion records some guitars in his studio on his Roland VS1480, and we get the whole thing going like a production line...

We had loads of 'gremlins' which is why the album took so long, but we got there! The CD was mastered at an external facility, which I felt was important (I didn't want to ruin it!).



Do you record/produce other local bands?

No - I don't have any spare time as it is! I think that I would like to, but it would have to be metal. I'm not detached enough to work with music I don't like.



Do you have plans to record the next EP or album with help from outside or are you all happy to "keep it in the family"?

The new EP will be recorded in the same way, but we may Mic the guitars, and I want to get a better bass sound this time around. If we get signed this may change, but this is where we are at the moment... We will still get it mastered externally.



You guys are working on a new EP called 'St. Matthieu'. Why are you doing an EP as opposed to a new full-length album?

The EP going to finish this chapter for us. The two main tracks 'St Matthieu' and 'Sortileges' were originally going to be on 'Dark Waters' but we ran out of time & it was just getting too much. We wanted to get the album out, and see what reaction we got before embarking on the EP (the reaction has been excellent so far).

A new album maybe next year. I plan to farm more of the writing out next time - Rich is going to be much more involved, and I see him and Dee working closer on the new material. The new stuff will be faster, heavier but still in the same vein. Gonna be a blast!



Is a release date set for this yet?

It's set to coincide with Bloodstock I believe (end of August 03).



On the upcoming EP you are going to do a cover of 'Here comes the Rain Again' by Eurythmics. Tell me first what made you pick a non-metal song, and second what about that one made you choose it?

I love metal bands covering pop songs. Sinergy doing 'Gimme Gimme Gimme' by Abba is great. Everyone knows 'Here comes the rain again', plus it has the female vocal thing going for it as well, and we are Mercury 'Rain' obviously...



Looking at the cover art you have posted for the EP and the title name, 'St. Matthieu', makes me wonder if Mercury Rain is a Xtain Metal band? Are you, and if not, I wonder why are you choose to use religious imagery for the album cover?

Hmmm... We are definitely not a Xtain band. I am a confirmed atheist! The imagery is purely co-incidental. The songs are about storytelling and legends, and there just happens to be a religious angle to some parts. Nothing more to it than that!

The cover art is great - the Angel and the round window represent the re-vamped 'Where Angels fear', and the knight is St Mattieu. It ties in nicely with the four tracks, and marks the end of this chapter of Mercury Rain.



What do you think of Xtain metal bands, or for that matter any band whose lyrics are grounded in a faith no matter what that faith is?

I have no problem with Xtain or faith based bands. I prefer the darker side of things personally, but if a band has a message then why not? I sometimes wonder if 'Freedom Call' are a Xtain band, they have some religious references in their lyrics. 'Barren Cross' were really good Xtain metal band in the eighties, but maybe never got the success they deserved in the mainstream because of being Xtian... I'm sure that their faith-based music didn't sit well with a lot of people.



Power metal today is such a clogged genre with what some would say as too many bands already. Why do you play power metal and what draws you to this sub-genre of metal over others?

I love the epic melodies, double kick drums & fantasy based lyrics in PM. I like songs to have strong melodies, atmosphere and good musicianship. There are a lot of PM bands out there, but I think that we've found a niche. We tune down to 'B' which heavies up our sound, plus with Sonia's vocals and the fact that we're from the UK, it gives us an edge...



The UK seems to be turning out some quality power/traditional metal bands in the last couple of years including Dragonforce and Shadowkeep. Do you see any causes for the growing number of quality melodic bands coming from the UK and what do you think of those bands that I have already mentioned?

I don't know much about ShadowKeep, but DragonForce are a great band (if a little too 'international' to be classed as a UK outfit..!). Power Quest & Intense are doing quite well also. We're playing live with DragonForce at the end of May which is going to be a blast. I don't know why the UK has a handful of decent bands all of a sudden. I guess that we started the whole NWOBHM thing, so maybe we're the NWOBPM?

One thing with these bands is that they seem to share members with each other, - there doesn't seem to be enough PM musicians to go round! We're lucky in as much as we have a stable lineup, and although Rich has bands at college, Mercury Rain is the number one priority for all of us.



What styles of metal do you listen to and could you name some bands?

Pretty much all styles of metal really, I even appreciate Linkin Park - really well written songs with great melodies. In terms of 'metal', all the usual suspects really: Lost Horizon, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Heavenly, Edguy, Nightwish, Tristania, After Forever, Rhapsody, Dark Tranquility, W.A.S.P., Megadeth etc. etc...



Do you have any favorite all time albums?

Helloween - Keys I & II
Lost Horizon - Awakening the World
Blind Guardian - Follow the Blind
Nightwish - Oceanborn
Dio - Last in line / Holy Diver



Who do you think have influenced you the most as a songwriter?

I guess Tuomas - (Nightwish) is an obvious influence, and Hansi - (Blind Guardian) but I don't think that I ever set out to copy anyone. They are influences in the sense that I admire what they do, and I try and achieve a consistent output like they do (I said 'try' !). I write what I like. Epic melodies with heavy guitars and lots of drums. I usually structure and 'direct' the songs, but the guys turn them into something workable!



Where do you see Mercury Rain in 5 years, or where would you like to see the band?

I would like to see us signed, playing gigs & festivals in Europe, and with at least one more album under our belts. It's a simple plan really. Stick to our guns and do what we enjoy.

What we will not be doing is listening to bullshit from non-metal heads. There are people around who knock us, and we say fuck 'em. Too many people piss their lives away never doing anything. I intend not to be one of those people, and I intend to push Mercury Rain as much as I can...(OK, rant over).



If no record label releases your new material will you be disappointed; would you consider changing direction to get a record contract (if that is even the primary goal?)?? Or are you happy enough that some people like myself are listening and interested in the band?

We would love to be a 'signed' band - it would open up avenues that are not readily available to us at present. For instance, we are lucky enough to have some funds at our disposal for promotion etc, but knowing how to target these funds is difficult, and it would be easy to waste the money. A label would have all right contacts to get the gigs & exposure, and leave us to get on with the songwriting etc.

We wouldn't change direction to get a record contract. We love playing this style of music, and to be honest we're not really suited to playing anything else!

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