Rai Kah Mercury are set to break into the Oxford scene with an atmospheric gig in Hertford College Chapel on 3rd March. Known for their blues-meets-indie-rock sound, the four-piece plan to put on an intimate and experimental show, unlike anything the chapel has likely seen before – supported by Oxford’s own Gigi Williams.
I sat down and talked to Nathan de Giorgi, second year music student and keyboardist of Rai Kah Mercury to pick his brains about the upcoming show, balancing being in a band with an Oxford degree, and his ultimate musical bucket list. We chatted in Hertford Chapel itself; a picturesque setting and unexpectedly a perfect venue for a rock show, its acoustics and aesthetics alike well suited to live performance.
Rai Kah Mercury’s signature sound hails from Birmingham – the hometown of all four members and where they have recorded and crafted most of their music. Due to work and university commitments, however, the band are now based all over the UK, with Nathan in Oxford and the other members spread across Brighton, Manchester, and Reading.
I asked Nathan how this impacted their creative and collaborative process – to which he frankly admitted: “It’s hard! Because we’re based all over the country, we don’t have too much time together at the moment. When we do, we try and get a good balance of rehearsal and creative time.” Despite the time apart, the band’s creative process seems to be effective. “Our frontman Tomas writes most of the songs,” Nathan told me. “I actually came into the band a bit later, in late 2018, early 2019. We used to be a three-piece, but the addition of the keys fleshed it out a bit.”
We talked about all that comes with balancing the band commitments with his degree – two opposing yet equally challenging feats. “I guess it helps that I do study music!” laughed Nathan. “Strangely enough, rock isn’t covered on the syllabus – hip hop is – but sadly no rock. It’s quite nice to have the aspect of performance and creativity on the side, it’s something I don’t think I’d get to explore otherwise.”
Rather than seeing it as a difficulty, Nathan feels that his degree studies have indirectly complemented the band’s sound. “When we’ve been fleshing out songs as a group, it’s good to have input from different backgrounds. I’m the only one in the band with a kind of classical background, so I think when we’re making songs, that element comes through and gives us something more interesting to work with.”
This is a range evident in Rai Kah Mercury’s sound. Their most well known track, ‘Terror Incognita’ (racking up nearly 39k streams on Spotify) has a classic indie rock feel, whilst ‘Road leads to nowhere’ is a heartfelt pop ballad. Nathan ascribes this to the band’s diverse array of influences: “Radiohead is definitely the main one, but I know some of the boys take inspiration from Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and Elliott Smith. The first gig we all saw together was the Black Keys – I still have the t-shirt and it still fits, better now actually!”
It’s this blend of inspiration, mixed with the band’s own creative backgrounds, that gives Rai Kah Mercury their distinctive bluesy and experimental sound, “What hopefully makes us stand out,” Nathan commented, “is the variety in our songs. We have a kind of extended and eclectic mix of sounds, from heavier things to the more understated. It’s pretty varied!”
This variety plays a significant part in the band’s live performance, conveying their versatility and originality. “I’d like to think that with keys, we have more options and our sound feels inherently more varied. We can add little synthy bits that keep it interesting. We’re definitely not a straight up synth band, but we’re all interested in playing with soundscapes, something that hopefully comes across when we play live.”
Rai Kah Mercury are no stranger to the stage – earlier in the year they joined the lineup of Discover Birmingham 2020, a showcase of up-and-coming talent in their hometown. They have played several sold-out headline gigs, as well as a range of support slots in London and Manchester – making the most of having members based up and down the country.
Whilst highlights of their live career so far include playing the Salisbury Hotel and the Sunflower Lounge, we talked about the band’s pipe dreams when it comes to performing. “A world tour is the dream,” Nathan laughed, “but in the meantime we’d love to play one of the O2 Academies, Birmingham would be cool, a very full-circle moment. The dream support slot would obviously be Radiohead!”
Whilst it’s not O2 Academy Birmingham, Rai Kah Mercury are making their Oxford live debut in a very well-respected venue, paving the way for the indie-rock takeover of college chapels movement. Asked what attendees could expect from this one-off gig, Nathan reflected: “it’s our chance to be a bit more intimate as a band. We’re still gonna be amped up, and we’ll still play loud songs, but the focus of our set will be more geared towards the intimate side.”
“People who come along on Tuesday night can expect good music, hopefully! A nice environment, people that are passionate about music making. We’re really lucky to have an amazing support act before us – Gigi Williams, she’s going to play an acoustic set for us. Hopefully we’re gonna have some strings, too, it’ll really complement the whole experience. It’ll be a great aesthetic experience and something more personal than anything we’ve done before, – we’re all really excited!”
To get a taste of the refreshing and experimental sounds that Rai Kah Mercury have to offer, come along to Hertford College Chapel from 19:00 on Tuesday March 3rd. More details can be found here.
Rai Kah Mercury’s music is available to stream here.
You can find them on Facebook here.