Psychedelic dreamers Mekong Merchants are one of the more intriguing new discoveries on the Gold Coast musical landscape. The core axis of the group consists of guitarist/vocalist Stu Tume and bass player Kenji Tamura, long time musical sparring partners whose unwinding psych-infused guitar jams, in turns languid and urgent, take one on an out of body listening experience.
The pair recently laid down some tracks at Love Street Studios in Currumbin, with all-round local legend Scott French on drums, and Rhea Robertson on vocals. The fruits of their labour is the recently released debut EP, ‘Ocean Tone’, which is also reviewed in this issue.
We recently had a chat with Stu Tume to find out a bit more about the band and their background.
Mekong Merchants is an intriguingly worldly band moniker. How did you come up with the name?
I spent three years in Saigon and used to get coffees at a great café in Thao Dien called The Mekong Merchant. When thinking of a name it just seemed right to reference this past, as some of these songs were conceived in that place. I’ve also lived in a bunch of other cities across the world (Sydney, Seattle, Shanghai, Bangkok, Bristol, Lisbon) and the “Merchant” side of the name seemed to measure up to that background nicely. Kenji the bass player is from Tokyo and a bit of a travelling merchant himself so we kind of agreed it suited.
Who is in the band, and how did you get together?
Kenji and I played together in Sydney in the early 2000’s, but then we both ended up going overseas. We kept in touch intermittently and when I moved to the Gold Coast around two years ago, I found out he was back here as well, so we started jamming on things. We then decided to record some songs and ended up at Love Street Studios, which is run by our drummer Scott French. I was waiting on a drummer friend from Seattle to come over and lay the drums down, but I couldn’t get him on a plane. Scott liked the stuff and said he would give it a go. I didn’t know he even played the drums but he nailed it. I then met Rhea through Love Street and she laid those dulcet tones that I can only dream of reaching.
Have you been active in the music scene prior to forming Mekong Merchants?
Yeah, but nothing to write home about 🙂 I’ve played and jammed around the world but I’ve always had a day job to pay the way, so I haven’t really had the time to do what we’ve now put together. It just seemed like the right time and place here on the Gold Coast.
Who are your major musical influences?
Kenji comes from that raw, solid three piece blues/rock background, stuff like John Spencer Blues Explosion’ and some obscure Japanese punk bands he knows. I like sounds from what is termed in the States as “drone and roll”. Bands like The Black Angels, Wooden Shjips and The Brian Jones town Massacre. I’m from New Zealand, so I also have in my bones that Flying Nun sound (legendary Kiwi record label) that flirts between the drone of The Gordons and the epic sounds of Strait Jacket Fits. We’re a guitar band at heart so there is a thread between all of these influences, as well as stuff like Hendrix and the Doors, that we channel as well.
How did the writing and recording process play out with the EP?
We usually record two songs at a time. Most of our songs are written by me at home on my guitar, and then jammed on with Kenji. When we record we lay the rhythm tracks down, one on top of the other to get that right feel. Mostly we already know the sounds we want to make with the guitars either acoustic, fuzzed or reverbed depending on the song itself. We then put a guide vocal down and take the recording away for a few weeks. In that time we figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the recording and usually find something to add. We then do a mix down with the changes and additions, including vocals and take it away again for another few weeks of listening before doing a final mix. Sounds easy, but the trick is to not to over analyse everything, If we like the groove then we know it works. The sounds we make come straight from our guitars and amps, so we’re not trying to over think or over engineer anything.
What plans do you have for the band moving forward?
We’re recording the next set of songs to try and release over Christmas. Beyond that none of us have actually planned anything. No one is really driving this ship, we’re just floating down stream seeing where we end up. We should have called the band “Wandering Minstrels” haha!