Artist Interview – Merpire

Australia’s Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt, now better known as Merpire makes beautifully crafted indie pop with a host of “sounds a bit like” to it, from Soccer Mommy to Liz Phair and Angel Olsen, while resolutely being her own unique style. I managed to grab her for some questions on her recent UK tour in support of Pillow Queens.

How’s the UK tour going? Hopefully well, your show in Newcastle was a real “Oh wow, who is this?” eye opener. Are you gettinto see much of the place between shows?

M – Thank you!! We’ve been having so much fun on tour. Being our first international tour, there’s been lots of “pinch me” moments from the actual shows themselves to driving the stunning English countryside as we travel from show to show. We haven’t been able to do a lot of exploring but we’ve been sure to stop in at as many quaint villages for a beer or a coffee as we can. We get so excited when we see stunning, ancient cottages and 100’s of years old pubs. We feel like we’re in a movie.

How did you get started? Are there any differences between the Australian music industry and the US/Europe side?

The set up of the band that it is now, formed 4 and a half years ago when I moved to Melbourne from Sydney. While I played for a few years solo in cafes and pubs and with makeshift band members from time to time, my sound became really defined and a sound I’m proud of once I formed the band in Melbourne. Where I live in Melbourne, the music community is unlike anything I’ve had the absolute privilege to be a part of. The passion for music between artists, industry and music lovers is ever-inspiring and motivating. Everyone wants to see everyone do well in whatever path their art is taking them on and we work together to grow and sustain this truly special community, particularly after the devastating impacts of the pandemic.I think I would have to live and be an active member of music communities in other parts of the world to truly compare but from a live perspective, the UK has a generous supply of audience members eager to see live music. The choice of live music venues in varying sizes has made me feel like a kid in a candy shop.  I caught up with a music promoter in London after he saw us at the Scala show and he was telling me how he likes to curate artists’ tours based on their sound, their themes and how it can be matched to venues – that blows my mind and makes me very excited to return to the UK to see where I could play my own headline shows! We don’t have too many to choose from in Australia, particularly for more emerging artists. I’m hoping with the arts funding from our new government, venues will be able to recover, re-open and blossom soon!

You have some visually striking videos from the weird creatures of “Heavy Feeling” to the fun choreography of “Habit”, is that an process you particularly enjoy?

Thank you, yeah I find music videos lots of fun to make once I have an idea going. I spend lots of time dreaming the idea up in my head – often keeping me from sleeping properly once I have an idea. In bed, in the dark, with my eyes closed and no other stimulation is when I can paint a whole music video in my head. I do this with songwriting sometimes too. I’ll write a song in my head, maybe write down a few lyrics I think I might forget and then sing and play it the next day. Once I’ve dreamed up the video, I’ll take it to Pinterest abd build a mood board and get inspired by colours and textures and themes. Then I’ll make a rough storyboard for each scene before taking it to my videographer to flesh it out.I live with my videographer, Nick Mckk. He’s one of my best friends and has done my last few music videos. I trust him to look over my ideas and then we just go for it on the day. He’s brilliant with editing and grading videos.’Habit’ was one I completely directed myself. It was a great confident boost for me. It was an all women project too from start to finish. I learn something every time I make a music video and it allows me to love the song again.

Merpire is a mermaid/vampire, right? I’m  not sure if that would be terrifying or cool. Or both. What’s the significance of the name?

You are correct! I thought of the name when I was a young lass, often frolicking at the beach in my own world. It was an ultimate creature to me – being able to be a mermaid all day and lurk around as a vampire at night. That’s as significant as it gets!

What’s your summer looking like? More touring? Festivals? 

My summer is looking like winter in Melbourne!! I’ll be staying cosy, recording my next album, working a day job to pay for it and organising another tour for the UK in October if all goes to plan, so keep your eyes peeled!