MERCURY REV was formed in Buffalo, New York in the late 1980's. Consistently driven by Jonathan Donahue (vocalist/acoustic guitar), Grasshopper (moth-light guitars, clarinet, tettix wave accumulator), Jeff Mercel (drums, piano, keyboards) with Dave Fridmann (bass explore, telescope, knob twiddler), Mercury Rev have continued to surprise and enlighten listeners for over a decade and a half with their maverick musical explorations. In the beginning, MERCURY REV's first recordings emerged simply as a means for creating soundtracks to experimental films that they and their friends were creating. David Baker (sometimes vocals), Suzanne Thorpe (flutes), and Jimy Chambers (percussion) joined this loosely connected ensemble, and eventually recorded a demo during off-hours at the SUNY Fredonia studio. This demo somehow made its way to the British offices of the Jungle/Mint label, who contacted Donahue about signing the group. MERCURY REV reconvened to record their debut, YERSELF IS STEAM. Highlighted by distorted art-pop epics like "Chasing a Bee", "Coney Island Cyclone", and "Frittering", YERSELF IS STEAM was released to widespread acclaim in 1991. Later that year, the CAR WASH HAIR E.P. further convinced pundits of MERCURY REV's volatile genius.
The group's second show (playing to over 10,000 people) at the Reading Festival in the UK, showed the dynamics of their live show, and during the next year and a half they found themselves performing at such diverse venues as the Royal Albert Hall in London and in an opening slot for Bob Dylan at Yale University. The release of BOCES in 1993 was a continuation of their marriage of searing noise with crystalline pop. Although this became their first record to hit the UK Top 50, by the next year, musical differences led to the departure of David Baker. Dave Fridmann, on the other hand, decided to focus on sound engineering and production, and ceased touring with the band (continuing to work with them in the studio). By the time the beautiful SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE appeared in 1995, the first chapter in MERCURY REV's maverick career had drawn to a close.
Switching record labels and nearly broke, Donahue and Hopper relocated to the Catskill Mountains in New York State with newcomers Adam Snyder (keyboards) and Jeff Mercel to begin writing new material. Chambers and Thorpe, unable to deal with the band's continuous chaos, decided to move on. The band began recording what was to become DESERTER'S SONGS during 1997 at Dave Fridmann's Tarbox Recording Studio. DESERTER'S SONGS was released in 1998 to world-wide acclaim. On this influential album, MERCURY REV reinvented itself with sweeping orchestrations and poetically heartfelt lyrics. It would herald a rebirth for the band, allowing for further experimentation and thrill-seeking. MERCURY REV toured extensively for DESERTER'S SONGS, which was chosen as album of the year by the NME, MOJO, and many other international music publications.