Jack Mercer is a musician who’s been perfecting his craft and grinding his way through the industry since he was a distraught teenager looking for somewhere, anywhere, to put his unrelenting energy. Now a thoughtful and prolific artist operating under the name VC Pines, he is on the cusp of an exciting and expansive debut record which is set to claim the fruits of hard-fought labour.
With a celebratory run of ten UK live dates soon to blow the roof of venues around the country, Jack has been getting his practice in on the festival circuit – just some small ones like, you know, Glastonbury. “It was amazing,” he enthuses. “It was my first time there so to turn up and have three different performances was wicked – hard work but it all paid off. I still can’t really believe that happened, I only found out we were doing it like 2 weeks before!”
Despite a decade of constant performances, the excitement clearly remains very much intact for Mercer. From gigging in pubs to touring with his old indie outfit The Carnabys and finding his feet as a solo artist, the stage is one thing that has never left his focus.
“When I started VC Pines, before even recording any music, my first priority was finding band members,” he recalls. “Now that you can release music in so many different ways, a lot of artists now tend to build their online following to the point where people are wondering when you’re going to do a show. I was the complete opposite; I found a band straight away, started gigging straight away and then went on to release some tracks later. Even when I’m writing and producing music, I’m always thinking about how I’m going to do it live, how it’ll come across on stage, and what needs to happen next to amplify it during a performance.”
VC Pines – Colours (Glastonbury 2023)
As such, when he’s not in front of a crowd Jack can usually be found in the studio firing suggestions around the room. Although he enjoys taking ownership of his own direction, there is no denying the immense power – and pleasure – of sharing the creative process with others.
“I’m steering everything myself from a business side at the moment, managing the whole release team. It’s a fuckload of work,” he admits, “but you learn something every day. I also love bouncing ideas around with someone else, so I’ve spent the last couple of years working with loads of collaborators, hanging out in various studios and making a lot of tunes.”
Recent single ‘Colours’ is one track that benefits from the bashing of multiple brains, with the track being co-written by Ed Thomas and The 1975’s Ross McDonald. Having already spent some time with the proven talents beforehand, Jack was able to capitalise on strong friendships and relax without any pretences. “I always feel like I can share anything in a studio,” he explains, “because that’s what you’re there to do. Studio sessions are my therapy, making music is my form of therapy. I’m never shy to voice ideas or use my experiences in a song alongside someone else.”
That comfort with sharing all parts of himself becomes more obvious when you hear Jack Mercer’s first full-length as VC Pines, ‘MRI’. Accompanied by artwork displaying a scan of his own brain, the personal flavour is present from the get-go and only deepens the more you listen. The very title itself comes from a technology Jack is uniquely familiar with, having lived with temporal lobe epilepsy for the entirety of his adult life.
“It’s all to do with memories,” he elaborates. “A lot of the time, my senses will trigger a memory in my head – if I smell something or hear something specific, it can evoke a memory or thought, even a sense of nostalgia or Deja vu. I’m often using nostalgia as inspiration for my songs, then in turn I can see colours for segments of the songs as they come together. For example, the intro track on my album (‘Chamber’) is solid purple to me.”
“If someone said take this pill now and you’ll wake up tomorrow without epilepsy, I would never take it,” he adds. “I’ve learned to navigate the world and myself, and make my own style of music, because of this.” Although he clearly presents a positive attitude here, the record itself is fleshed out by the more melancholic emotions; neuroticism, jealously, addiction and confusion.
“I’m usually getting something out of my head or off my chest that I might not even realise is there,” Jack says of the writing process. “I don’t think too heavily about what I’m writing until I’m physically writing it. When I first start a song, my first instinct tends to be the most natural and true idea so I just follow it – and it’s usually never that happy!”
Don’t expect a bunch of ballads, though. By pairing his vulnerable side with an empowering production style, ‘MRI’ expresses a diverse tracklist of bangers; from the silky hooks of ‘Running’ to the rich instrumentation of ‘Dangling’, angst has never sounded so good. “I’ve always been a fan of contrasts and juxtapositions,” Jack mentions, “so to have lyrics that are melancholic paired with something that makes you want to dance – that’s a technique that I’m naturally drawn to.”
VC Pines – Dangling (Official Music Video)
Although cohesive in its sonic and thematic, the LP still diverts listeners through ups and downs, peaks and valleys, good times and bad. This journey is one Mercer compares to his experience living as a working artist in England’s capital: “it’s a fucking rollercoaster. One minute you’ve landed an opportunity, the next minute something else gets swept from beneath your feet, you’re constantly climbing whatever mountain you’ve got your eyes on but the destination keeps changing.”
In the modern age, all those who make the choice to follow a creative path will inevitably have to deal with varying degrees of difficult circumstances, and this artist is certainly no exception. He has previously shared that his worst nightmare would be being forced to up and leave the one thing he knows he’s right for.
“That reaction comes from not feeling very financially secure,” the singer divulges. “It is scary to think that you might get to a certain age and not be able to afford to live your life and the only option might be something you’re not qualified for because you’ve spent the last ten years having therapy in a dark room with a producer.”
Rather than letting that fear take over him, VC Pines uses it to fuel a whole-hearted and all- encompassing investment in the arts. Putting his all into every aspect of it, using every spare minute to tinker in Ableton or nail that vocal line, the effort is well spent and drives a performance as open as it is intimidating to the man behind it.
“I do feel vulnerable on stage,” he acknowledges, “because you’re not in the studio anymore, you’re sharing this deep material with people you’ve never seen or met. You’d hope that at the very least people are there with an open mind. No one is there to tear you down, and that’s something I’ve had to remind myself of.”
This journey of confidence, development, fear and joy is one that any listeners are bound to experience for themselves whilst experiencing ‘MRI’ for the first time, and it’s one that VC Pines can’t wait to share.
As he aptly concludes: “my favourite albums are ones that I have strong memories attached to, good or bad, and I’ll love those albums regardless of whether it’s something that makes me feel sad or something that bring back a happy memory. I hope my music can mark points in people’s lives and give people a memory to look back fondly on.”
You can see VC PINES in Newcastle on October 3rd at Zerox.
Tickets available here on shingigs.co.uk
Debut album ‘MRI’ due for release on September 8th via Believe.