The day before boarding a flight back to Australia from his current home in L.A, Rai Thistlethwayte is happily munching on Jalapeno flavoured chips and is as laid back as ever about the upcoming Thirsty Merc 10 year Anniversary tour and their new & aptly titled ‘Acoustic Anniversary Album’ (AAA). Asked how life is in L.A, he wistfully tells me that “It’s been good, I’ve been pretty busy and getting ready to head back to Australia tomorrow (Fri Sep 12) so it’s a bit of a scramble.” I’m stoked to be coming back, looking forward to the tour, and catching up with the guys who I haven’t seen for a couple of months. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve toured at this length. There’s nothing better than travelling & getting to see it all (Australia), and getting to play music with some of your best friends at the same time.”
Known for their true appreciation of their fans, Rai acknowledges that the band are excited to be reconnecting to their listeners/fans and making this tour a way of saying thanks for all the support. “ We just wanted to say a big continuing thanks for the past ten years of good times making music & sharing it with other people.”
With a string of easily recognizable hits like ‘Mousetrap Heart’, ‘Twenty Good Reasons’, and ‘In The Summertime’, Thistlethwayte’s approach to songwriting is one of poetic proportions, with a storytelling element featuring strongly in the design of most of his songs. ”I think storytelling is inbuilt in Australians, we’ve got that Aussie ‘yarn’ thing happening, and to quote a line from the movie ‘Chopper’- ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’.” (laughs). It’s so cool and unique, that approach, and is what’s cool about songwriting. Not that you lie through your teeth, but you use the metric element of poetry along with a craft element to put down an emotional vignette and tell a story”. I think the interest (in songwriting) came from my dad who was a language teacher.” Both parents were also music teachers, which explains Thistethwayte’s own natural gifts as a musician/songwriter and his foray into a music career. Not that he sees himself as having ‘made it’ in terms of accomplishment as a writer yet, he sees his journey as a work in progress. “I feel I’m learning more by being a fan of songs and other writers, and working as a collaborator with other people teaches me a lot too.”
Fans of the band will understand that its songs remain lyrical in their approach as well as melodic.
After ten years as Thirsty Merc, the group remains philosophical about their future and despite the recent departure of Karl Robertson from the band on amicable terms, they feel that they are a Band of Brothers all the way. “When we started we had no idea we’d still be around ten years later doing an anniversary tour saying Thanks to all our fans, but it’s really great and there’s still enthusiasm there for us. The aim (for us) is to stick around and not lose that childlike enthusiasm behind it- it’s gotta be there.” Not that he doesn’t think that bands shouldn’t be taking a break now and then for various reasons, they’ve gone away and missed it yet came back recharged each time. “I like to think of music as a long term thing, and these guys I play with have become some of the most important people in my life. You just have to make a show work and we have to make people happy through our music. To make people feel better despite whatever they’re going through in life- that’s our duty and music can be that healing element. That’s why we can’t let our ego’s get in the way.” A very healthy approach given the music industry’s notoriety for massive ego’s and colossal attitudes! Thistlethwayte is testimony to his own methodology, as he has genuineness in his communication and takes the time to respond to questions frankly and personally- there’s no facade here, just the real Rai!
For those who may not yet be aware, Thistlethwayte also performs solo under the moniker of ‘Sun Rai’ and has a penchance for jazz. Regularly playing the L.A circuit at venues like Piano Bar and Bardot alongside fellow artists like Ben Vanderwal, jazz serves as a nice sideline to Thirsty Merc. “Ironically all of the guys in Merc are pretty happening jazz players,and we all have a love of classic rock but try not to mix things too much so Merc is rock based. Jazz is pretty broad term in 2014 though, but what most jazz musicians agree on the improvisation side so Jazz for me is the ability to have that improv element. ” Pressed as to whether he might be considering a solo album, this was his response. “That is a very good question! I’ve got some stuff and it’s coming- so stay tuned! I’m in the process of putting things on the page.” Keep your eyes and ears open!
On the upcoming Thirsty Merc tour that kicks off at the Caloundra Music Festival on October 5, Rai adds that there’ll be some classic Merc songs with some acoustic versions and a few ‘mash ups’. “There’s different ways of doing this and we really want to think outside the box. We’re going to experiment with some different instrumentation, arrangements, and improvisation but essentially we don’t want to ruin the song, just add something to them. It’s going to be a tour that’s fresh and full of surprises!”
The band will be taking the ‘Acoustic Anniversary Album’ on the road commencing in October, and will end up in Ravenswood WA in November.
Adelaide fans can see Thirsty Merc at Highlanders Hotel on Sunday Oct 12. (www.moshtix.com.au)
AAA is out now through MGM Distribution and more info on the album and tour dates can be found at www.thirstymerc.com
Interviewed by Darren Hassan