10.19.10 Relix Interview with Fistful of Mercy
Talkin’ Shop in the Back Room with Fistful of Mercy
Published: 2010/10/19 by Tim Donnelly
The back rooms of record stores are sacred and vanquishing. They are not hallowed because they are on the edge of extinction and for anyone who has done time in a record store will tell you, it is where the real fun takes place, where the real conservations between connoisseurs are held, it is an exclusive club for lovers, fanatics and geeks.
In the back of a Jersey strip mall store named Vintage Vinyl, is a spot where the songs and the intellectual and societal debates live on through the fading band stickers and posters that adorn the cluttered walls.
It is where the members of Fistful of Mercy, Joseph Arthur, Dhani Harrison, Ben Harper and I form a circle, and like thousands of times before, we speak in the air of record store clerks of a time gone by about the how three solo artists formed a group, not because of money but for art’s sake.
The record, the self titled Fistful of Mercy, was recorded in three days last January, over Grammy weekend at The Carriage House in Los Angeles. Nine songs recorded in three days is no joke, especially for three guys who have never worked together before, never mind two of them being total strangers.
Dhani Harrison: Ben called me to play on Joseph Arthur’s record and I wasn’t familiar with Joe at that time. I was supposed to be starting my record, a whole crew coming in from England to start on a Monday morning. They (Ben) called me on Saturday to start on the Monday do this record with us? I called my band and my guitar player was like, Joseph Arthur? Get over there. So my guys only had to wait around for me for three days to make the record, they could have waited for three months.”
Ben Harper: It took me 40 years and three days to be in a position, to have my ego checked at the door, to be able to make a record like this, it took R7, working with the Blind Boys, a lot of collaborating, awareness, consciousness, to check my ego at the door and be a voice in the chorus, not THE voice in a chorus. There’s a big difference.”
Their collective harmonies and “group think” mentality has allowed each of them to grow and push themselves to new levels vocally. In particular, there is a specific soul to Joseph’s Arthur’s voice, that has previously been untapped and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Arthur’s biggest fan, Ben Harper.
Ben Harper (pointing at Arthur): When I heard your voice on “When Things Go Round” I was like, you just broke some shit wide open, I had never heard that, it was something else.
Dhani Harrison: And I thought he just sounded that way normally.
Joseph Arthur: Being around Ben and the way he sings and Dhani, and they way he sings they way they sing, I mean they are such great singers, so it inspires me.
Dhani: I’ve sounded the best in my life on this record, because I had to keep up these guys, you get a verse and you have to do something with it.
Joseph Arthur: Just now, when we just played I was tripping out, Ben was singing a verse, and I was looking at him thinking, damn he’s a good singer. I’m a fan of both these guys.
Dhani Harrison: Me too.
Joseph Arthur: It’s great to be in collaboration with people you have a lot of respect for.
Ben Harper: It pushes you in such a healthy way and that mutual respect enables us. The mutual respect: its wind at our back, its wind in our sails.
Joseph Arthur: It’s the driving force.
Dhani Harrison: Because we had a no time to do it in, we had no time to think about it.
Joseph Arthur: That’s what galvanized it. We were on the spot to invent something, we booked the studio. It had to happen and we didn’t want to waste each other’s time.
Dhani Harrison: Three songs a day, “chop- chop,” cancels all the ego out of it.
Ben Harper: This record for me, is like “Welcome to the Cruel World,” it’s like “Fight for Your Mind” it comes from where I’m from.
Joseph Arthur: It’s a young record.
Ben Harper: It’s got this young innocence and this mandatory sincerity I feel. You don’t profess your own sincerity ever because that’s an insincere sentiment in itself. I didn’t know what I was doing when I made “Welcome to the Cruel World,” and “Fight for Your Mind” and it was the same feeling with this. I am 12 records deep man, I know how do this. It is as fulfilling as it is frustrating, because once you know how to do something, there’s a certain something you can never retrieve and this retrieved it.
Joseph Arthur: There’s a Lester Bangs quote, “Rock n’ roll is all about not knowing what the fuck you are doing.”
Dhani Harrison: I agree with that.
Joseph Arthur: You have to keep putting yourself in positions of discomfort so your sub-conscious can reveal itself, because you re on the spot to invent something.
Dhani Harrison: I showed up saying, where are the songs? Oh we haven’t written any yet. (laughs)
Just because a studio is booked and three accomplished musicians get together it doesn’t automatically and necessarily translate to success. The music business, the labels and lawyers tend to get in their own way when it comes to these kinds of collaborations from seeing the light of day, but when it’s good, and Fistful of Mercy certainly is just that, it’s impossible to keep it back, especially when one of them owns a label.
Dhani Harrison: I knew that it had to come out, and soon as possible. To be to able to go make the next one.
Ben Harper: It is so meant to be, because that process, which I can’t believe to this day, triple pinch me, man was curiously smooth. It was meant to be out into the world, because it was too smooth.
Joseph Arthur: It was kind of effortlessness to the whole thing.
Dhani Harrison: Well, I don’t know if it was effortless.
Ben Harper (pointing at Harrison): He’s the head of our label.
Dhani Harrison: In my mind I had to think a lot about on how this was all gonna go down.
Joseph Arthur: That’s why it was effortless.
Ben Harper: He’s been on the phone with iTunes all day.
Joseph Arthur: Oh you’ve been working! I was wondering why it’s so effortless.
Ben Harper: By the way, he’s a killer record exec. I’m just blown out, by what this kid gets done.
Dhani Harrison: I hate record executives. I had to become that which I hate in order to not to deal with those people. Now we all get to not deal with those people.
Ben Harper: But you are born to do it man, you have the shoulders.
Dhani Harrison: You have to become more of shit to do it. I have “prick-i-fied” myself a little bit in the process. But I’m happy because I’ve got thicker skin.
One of first things I notice about them is that there is no clear cut leader of the group. It’s an even trade off, and it seems like the mantra of “checking the ego at the door” worked all the way around, and is instilled in each member, and they have taken notice of me taking notice.
Ben Harper: (smack his hands) Yeah.
Dhani Harrison: Good. I’m glad you noticed that and that’s a cool thing. Because we’re pals.
Joseph Arthur: We’ve got a good chemistry, kinda like family.
Dhani Harrison: (pointing at Arthur’s ear): Are you wearing a skull, dagger earring?
Joseph Arthur: Ah yeah, I did that for you. (laughs)
Dhani Harrison: It’s wicked.(laughs)
Ben Harper: It’s a great opportunity for us to grow together musically in our own direction for years to come, while still staying equally connected to our solo endeavors.
Joseph Arthur: Yeah.
Ben Harper: It’s such an opportunity.
Dhani Harrison: It’s awesome.