Alex Gow is perched next to a fireplace at The Gasometer Hotel in Collingwood, armed with a pint, breathing an air of relaxation. After our chat, he’s heading to a small bar to watch footy with mates.
It’s all very Melbourne; a town Alex had to reacquaint himself with after a lengthy sojourn Stateside. It was a period of time fraught with trials for the singer-songwriter, which, thankfully, were parlayed into the makings of When We Talk About Love, Oh Mercy’s fourth full-length LP.
After touring the 2012 album Deep Heat extensively across Australia, Gow returned to Portland, Oregon (where much of Deep Heat was gestated) with little in the way of concrete plans for Oh Mercy – now effectively a solo vehicle for Gow featuring a rotating lineup.
“The whole experience was different,” he says of his second overseas stint. “I was a couple of years older than the last time I was in America. I had some monumental roadblocks – personal, creative, emotional and professional – thrown at me this time. That was something to navigate, and it took me to places I didn’t want to be. Then again, you could also argue it was just another 12 months of my life. Nothing’s going to be easy-breezy for anyone at any point in their lives. The other argument is that it was difficult, but it was just elsewhere. I can’t really figure it out. There were some unique things that could have only happened to me in that spot, those defining moments. It was just a year of figuring out what I liked about myself and what I didn’t, how I wanted to write and how I didn’t want to write.”
There’s a romantic element to Gow’s American journey, like something from a bygone era, especially in the literate recount on his website earlier this year that doubled as an album announcement. He remains grateful for the introspection that transpired from the vast landscape of ups and downs.
“I surprised myself realising how much of my life I took for granted, these wonderful people in my life,” he says. “I had no idea how wonderful I had it. I was surprised with how much I could loathe myself. I got to a point where it was a matter of self-respect to write about that – my emotional and personal development – out of respect to myself. If I didn’t, I would be ignoring the fact I’m an adult and a human being. I owed it to myself and the subject of those songs to write about that.
“I was surprised how resilient I was for a sensitive city boy, and a mumma’s boy. I made the best of some confusing situations. I’m surprised I’ve managed to write about it in a succinct way, but I didn’t really feel like I had an option. People who are interested are going to be critical of what I write, if they’re listening.”
When We Talk About Love is an album resplendent in tone, reaching melodramatic, ‘Georgia On My Mind’ style heights with occasional orchestration. It’s a vastly different tone than that exhibited on Deep Heat, which often delved into a romp bordering on delightful self-parody.
“I don’t think this album is a truer representation of myself – I was 24 when I wrote Deep Heat, I was 26 when I wrote this. They’re just different times in my life and I tried my best to represent how I was operating emotionally at any point. I don’t think one point is necessarily truer than any other. Maybe at one point the wind will change and I’ll plateau as one kind of person, or maybe the next record will be different again. What I can say is that it’s a good representation of where I’m at now and where I was when writing it.”
And what is it that keeps Gow on the creative path? “When I listen to music that I love, it encourages an emotional and physical response I don’t get from anything else,” he says. “It’s a euphoric feeling – the music of Dionne Warwick singing the Bacharach back catalogue will get me there, or Rufus Wainwright, or John Cale. It’s just a state of pure joy I don’t get from anything else. I noticed that from an early age, and I thought if I could tap into that, and be responsible for it, then it’s a worthy pursuit.
“I still get that feeling all the time from music that I love. When it stops making me feel that way, then I’ll probably stop. It’s a special thing, therefore a worthy pursuit.”