10.05.10 Fistful of Mercy Articles
Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur Bring Fistful of Mercy to Sirius
by Abigail Bull
Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur Bring Fistful of Mercy to SiriusFistful of Mercy is the product of a strengthening friendship between three musicians. Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur’s acoustic outfit—whose debut album As I Call You Down drops today on Hot Records—features a lot of laughs, (“I’ve just been in hysterics since I’ve started,” Harrison says), a passion for vocal harmonies (Harper was raised on The Carter Family, The Blind Boys of Alabama and The Byrds) and a growing bond that traces back to skate parks and rank bathrooms.
The trio got together with violinist/muse Jessy Greene—most recently of Foo Fighters fame—at the Sirius Studio in New York last night to play a few songs from the new record as part of The Spectrum— a broadcast that will air this Saturday.
The band seems to either be in the blissful honeymoon stage or these guys really do like each other a whole lot. The five-song (“In Vain or True,” “As I Call You Down,” “Father’s Son,” “Fistful of Mercy” and “Things Go Round”) mini presentation of the album came in between the most encouraging and respectful banter. “I messed up that one, “ No, that one was my fault.” “Sorry, I let it go two times.” “You could let it go five times—it’s happenin.’” They admire each other: all agree Arthur was “the first cat to loop things and bring it to life on stage,” and there’s respect for Harrison who didn’t take the easy singer/songwriter way out to avoid comparison to his “old man.” They were having a good time and all members seemed to be—above anything else—really excited that the first autographed copy of their record was just given to Pee-wee Herman in the lobby.
The creative collaboration began at The Cove in Santa Monica, a skate park frequented by both Harper and Harrison. Harper referred to Harrison (wearing purple Vans) as a “sick, sick skater” who allegedly got in some good practice by taking his wheels and grip tape off and skating on the carpet during rainy English days. Harrison reveals that Harper is “old school.”
Harper met Joseph Arthur during an “actual civilized conversation” that went down in a bathroom stall. Arthur was dragged in by none other than Peter Gabriel, who was pulled in by Harper, who just wanted a moment of Mr. Gabriel’s time away from all interruptions. A few years, sit-ins and text messages later, the boys of Fistful of Mercy found themselves facing each other in a room filled with ukuleles, pedal boards, samplers, cords and cables— much like they were in the Sirius Studio last night.
The album was recorded over three days at a pace of three songs per day at the Carriage House in LA. They met up at noon on the first day and by 1 p.m. had their first song. Arthur described the experience as a waking dream where one moment seemed to last for years. He said the mantra of the album is reflected in the track “I Don’t Want to Waste Your Time.” Not too much thinking; the songs were the conversation. Harper added that, in essence, the album took “three days and 40 years” because it took that long for everyone to get where they’re at.
It was Harrison who pushed As I Call You Down past its folk-y acoustic borders into more than just occasional bass territory. He has a soft spot for electronic dance music and had a hard time letting go of the idea of drums. So family friend and “majestic, god-like drummer” Jim Keltner was called up to sit in on the record. Even with the arrival of the “mighty Keltner” the band wasn’t sure if drums would work on the record. Keltner immediately proved his worth and had Harper on the floor laughing hysterically because in addition to his drums, “he was playing himself.”
As I Call You Down, aside from obvious three-part harmonies, has definite funk elements and brings together the collective styles and talents of three musicians from different backgrounds. As for the name ‘Fistful of Mercy,’ Harrison is sure to explain that it’s simply “the most powerful form of Kung-Fu.”
Fistful of Mercy will begin a two week run of small, unique venues in the US on November 9 beginning in Seattle, WA. The tour ends on the 20th at Philadelphia’s Temple University but not before making the rounds to places like The Hollywood Forever Cemetery and NY’s Apollo Theater.
Fistful of Mercy Visits Sirius XM's The Spectrum
October 5th, 2010 1:34 am ET
Brand new super-trio Fistful of Mercy paid a visit to Sirius XM's The Spectrum on Monday, October 4, 2010, and it was easy to see that their comraderie is genuine and this rapport shines through in their acoustic rich, earnest music. Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur joked around a bit before getting started, Ben tickled that he'd just given Pee Wee Herman an autograph, and throughout the session. Good-natured guys with quick wit, when it was time to get down to business, they were consummate performers and perfectionists. Violinist Jessy Green was also with them in the studio and her playing added an additional layer of melancholy to the already tony songs. They performed five of the tracks from their debut album, As I Call You Down, released on October 5, 2010: "In Vain or True," "As I Call You Down," "Father's Son," "Fistful of Mercy," and "Things Go 'Round."
When asked about how they first met:
Joseph: We first met after Lollapalooza, then we formally met. We also crossed paths at the Troubadour.
Ben: Actually we first met in 1994, in England. Peter Gabriel brought you back to meet me. Because it was so crowded backstage, we ended up having a civil conversation in the rankest, dirtiest bathroom...!
When asked about how the group came together:
Joseph: I texted Ben on a whim. I asked him to sit in with me at the Troubadour.
Ben: I'd met Dhani at the skate park, he's a mean skater. This kid can skate on the carpet in his home! Joseph and I decided to hit the studio and I invited Dhani. They had never met.
When asked about getting together for recording the album:
Dhani: I showed up at five to noon on Monday, three ukuleles in my hand. I didn't get the memo!
Ben: I was born three weeks late and I've been late to everything ever since! They were already working by the time I got there. But I saw they were sitting on the floor, legs criss-crossed, apple sauce. That was a good sign.
Joseph: There was definitely a friendship born, a brotherhood. There's a difference between friendship and musicality, and we had both. The illusion of time is extended in the studio, so three days can seem like three hundred years.
Ben: We shared the process of dreaming together and the songs were the conversation. I feel like I brought my 40 years experience to the project. I've always had an investment in harmonies. I grew up on the Carter family, the Byrds, the Blind Boys of Alabama, who I did harmonies with.
Dhani: A friend of mine asked me when he found out I was in the group if I remembered Ben playing at our spring show! He couldn't believe I was in a band with him. I've done a lot of surf rock, electro-psychedelic rock, probably because I didn't want any comparisons to my dad.
Ben: A solo effort would have been different for him..
On the name of the group:
Joseph: At first I wanted to name it something based on a Sergio Leone title, like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"...."Fistful of Dollars."
Dhani: Fistful of Mercy is also the most powerful Kung Fu. I asked RZA about that and he confirmed it.
Ben: We'll have a two week run in the states and ten days in Europe. We've also started work on the next album. Let's not talk about it, though. The vibe is there to do more.
On the current popularity of collaborating:
Joseph: Because record companies aren't really around any more, they don't have as much power, it's cool to collaborate now.
Ben: Music got a little boring there for a bit.
Dhani: Now it's like, 'Let's have fun again!' A lot of people talk about doing projects like this, but they never go anywhere. This just kind of seemed to effortlessly come together. Joe is responsible for us finishing. He was tireless. This record is honest and true, legitimate in its own way. I feel good about that.
FOM will be doing a live, in-store appearance at Vintage Vinyl, 7:00pm-10:00pm, in New Jersey on October 5, 2010, so be sure to check them out if you can. Also be sure to catch the broadcast of Fistful of Mercy's Sirius XM interview and performance on Saturday, October 9, 2010.
NY Classic Rock Examiner