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Published: 2010/10/05
by Abigail Bull

Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur Bring Fistful of Mercy to Sirius

Fistful 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.

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