Following the release of her monumental debut album, Simulation Ride, Australian indie pop artist Merpire spoke to us about how her struggles with anxiety feed into her music and the impact her Aussie roots have had on her sound.
The Indiependent: Introduce yourself to our readers? How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
The best way I’ve been describing my music lately is like a soundtrack to a movie that you’ll want to think about your crush to. I write about my own relationship with anxiety, hoping to help others feel less alone in that, and wrap it up in dreamy melodies, harmonies, intricate ethereal moments and rocky guitars.
When we can, I play with my 5-piece, predominantly female band. My producer James Seymour plays in my band too which makes for getting the best out of the recordings for the stage.
I also like to describe the lyrical content as being like stepping into the horror and rom-com sections of my internal video store.
The Indiependent: What led you to choose the moniker Merpire?
I thought of it in primary school after combining the words ‘Mermaid’ and ‘vampire’. When it came to choosing a name for my project, Rhiannon or my full name just didn’t fit right. I remembered the word ‘Merpire’ and how much of a daydreamer I’ve always been. I decided using ‘Merpire’ would be a great way to keep that daydreaming spirit alive.
The Indiependent: What has been the highlight of your year so far?
RELEASING MY ALBUM! It’s been such a long time coming and I’m absolutely blown away by how much love it received on its first day of release. Emotionally it feels like I’ve had a musical baby and I’m so proud of what I’ve made with my wonderful team.
The Indiependent: Australia has a rich music scene, giving rise to acts such as Dope Lemon or Winston Surfshirt. How do you think your Australian heritage has impacted your own sound?
While I believe every moment I’ve spent working on my music has added up to become the music I make today, my project was most impacted by the Australian music scene after moving to Melbourne three years ago. I actually sing about the Melbourne music community in my songs off the album a lot. ‘Habit’ for instance is a love letter to them. I got so, so lucky falling into such a loving, motivated and passionate music scene here. Up until moving to Melbourne [from Sydney] I struggled finding my own community and many dreams and goals stayed in my head.
Melbourne has one of the biggest, most supportive music scenes in the world and every day I see why. Artists want to see each other do well. They’re pushing each other, daring each other to be better with the exceptional music and art they’re sharing. I feel really supported by local music organisations and radio stations too. That respect and connection from the non-artist music industry goes a long way in striving to keep the career going. Especially since the pandemic, we all know how much of a struggle it can be and more so how much the struggle is worth it when you get to share the music.
The Indiependent: Australia and the UK have had drastically different approaches to COVID-19, can you tell us about your experiences during the pandemic, has it led to any changes within you or your music?
Oh boy, that’s a big question. I will say I’ve been lucky to live with the beautifully caring housemates I do. To have the full circle support from the community and some funding from Creative Victoria for my virtual album launch to come in September.
I struggled big time when the news first hit last year. I’m someone that usually goes into hero mode upon something shocking happening. I try my best to diffuse the situation, want to save everybody and then a few days later I crash and I’m a shell of a human while I grieve. And, that is exactly what happened. With the help of some incredible people who are still continuing it now, I started an instagram streaming festival called ISOL-AID in March last year. It went world-wide and was all-consuming. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I was so determined to bring some joy and support to the music community and music lovers that I forgot about taking care of myself. I had a pretty big breakdown and had to step back after a month. Emily Ulman has continued to hold it strong ever since.
I spent the next few months recovering from this crash, working on my mental health and getting the album mastered! I also created another project with my producer James Seymour called ‘Wilson’s Prom’. We released an EP, some vinyl and merch. It was a really therapeutic outlet for us both to have fun with music, indulge our production senses.
The pandemic has taught me to slow down, be ok with slowing down and not to constantly “achieve”. I’ve become more accepting of my anxiety and have been striving to help others when I can through music workshops and events.
The Indiependent: Do you have any advice for artists who are trying to break into the scene right now?
This is something I’ve spent the past year or so figuring out – work out what success actually looks like for you. It’s easy to get swept up in what we think we SHOULD be striving for, aiming higher, moving the goalposts as you achieve small goals. Sometimes we focus on what success looks like for other people that we forget to ask ourselves. What we perceive is subjective. One person’s success is another person’s failure. I think that’s the most important thing. That and checking in with yourself as you do have those wins whether big or tiny.
The second most important thing once you know why you’re an artist is community. You could reach your ultimate career and be world famous or you could discover you love making music for yourself. At the end of the day, having a supportive network around you whilst on the rollercoaster that is the music industry is going to have a really positive impact on your mental health.
Lastly, work out what you’re good at and want to do in terms of the broad spectrum that is a music career, especially if you are self-managed and if you have the means, palm off to someone who might want to help the things you don’t want to do.
The Indiependent: What led you to name your album Simulation Ride?
It’s really quite fitting for the state the world is in, isn’t it? Ha. It’s a line from the opening track, ‘Village’, “I feel like I’m on a simulation ride when we arrive at the party.” I do feel like I’m on a simulation ride sometimes, watching my life from outside my body or something… I’ll be amongst some of my best friends and feel like an alien in my own body. It’s a surreal feeling. I’ve learnt to be OK with it rather than freak out and try to resist it. It’s the biggest topic on the album. I also called it ‘Simulation Ride’ because just the fact that I’ve put together all these sounds over the years in the shape of songs, in the form of music that people actually want to listen to and buy, is pretty amazing to me!
The Indiependent: ‘Village’ is a particularly rousing tune; can you tell us what inspired that song?
I was working at the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne at the time, taking people on punting tours around the lake. It was a really unique experience to be surrounded by and talk about the flora and fauna – another way to get out of my head. That’s how the idea for the comparison of bell miners (birds) and psyllids (insects) to human relationships came together. Witnessing their reliance upon their network to keep each other alive and thriving was like a light bulb in my head. It really does take a village to nurture a relationship, romantic or otherwise.
It wasn’t hard to explore this as an idea for a song as I was living it in real time. I was going through probably the most anxious time in my life at the beginning of this relationship which I’m still in now. I’d moved to a new city – Melbourne, formed a band and started a new relationship all within three months. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself very fortunate but I guess my anxieties and self-doubt were responding to this with “Hey, you know you’re not worth all of this good stuff right?
With the help of a psychologist, I started to develop a more positive relationship with anxiety, accepting myself and being kinder to myself. Without the anxiety I do sometimes feel, I wouldn’t write the songs I do and be sensitive to certain things the way I am.
The Indiependent: The album tackles quite sensitive and personal topics such as self-doubt and vulnerability, how does music help you process these experiences?
Like many of us, I look to the lyrics in other artists’ songs to remind me I’m not alone in certain thoughts around self-doubt, self-destruction, depression. Many people feel it from time to time. With music being the way I also express this, it means so much to me that my music can be a vehicle for others.
There’s been times I’ve looked to my own songs to help feel less fearful and anxious. For instance, when I’ve had low self esteem around being enough for my partner, I’ve sung this line from ‘Village’ quietly to myself “sometimes what you need you can’t get from me” to remind myself that I’ve already dealt with that. It’s just old feelings popping up.
The Indiependent: What would you like your listeners to be left with after listening to ‘Simulation Ride’?
A sense of connection. Anxiety itself is such an isolating feeling so I hope this album can help others feel less alone in their thoughts. I’d also love to hear that listeners daydreamed while listening to it. Nothing compares to going for a walk with or catching a long train ride to songs you dream up romantic scenes for. It’s one of my favourite things to do.
The Indiependent: Touring is beginning to make a comeback in Australia as well as the UK, have you got any plans to get on the road?
Pending the state of our country, YES YES YES!!! I’m hopefully doing a really special, small album tour within Victoria. I’ve got a bunch of creative mates involved to make the album launch at Howler in Melbourne, 9 September, undoubtedly the best show I’ve ever played. I know it.
While I can’t get overseas anytime soon, the Howler launch is going to be recorded and then re-released as an online launch two weeks later. In addition to this, I’ll be hosting a streaming event called ‘After (the) Party’ where I chat about my album and mental health with mental health facilitator, Ash King. The online launch and after party Zoom session will be completely accessible with captioning as well as an Auslan (Australian sign language) person.
The minute I can physically get to the UK though, I’m there!!
The Indiependent: When you do get to perform again, which of the songs on the album are you most looking forward to performing and why?
I love playing ‘Village’ every time. I love letting my voice soar in the chorus. Same reason for the outro of ‘Dinosaur’ actually. The band and I have been practising ‘Yusiimi’ and that is a standout too because it’s probably my favourite song off the album and everyone in the band plays such a special part in playing it live.
The Indiependent: Finally, where can our readers keep up with you and your future antics?
I’m mostly on Instagram! – @merpiremusic and for more focused news, my website www.merpiremusic.com
Interview conducted by Ella McLaren
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