Had you asked a year ago, Mark Perkins was excited. His solo music project, Merk, had gained momentum, fast. So fast the musician had tickets booked for an overseas tour, Austin’s 2020 SXSW festival on his itinerary and discussions on releasing his sophomore album internationally looked promising. That was all before what came next. Fourteen months later he readily admits to Justin Hu that lockdown sucked, but he is catching up, reflecting and getting around to releasing his coming-of-age album ‘Infinite Youth’.
Now an established producer on the Auckland indie pop music scene, Mark Perkins has been busily active as a musician for several years. Back when just 17 he moved from Tauranga to join his friend Shannon Fowler (Shannon Matthew Vanya) in creating the pseudonymous alt-pop hit that was Tom Lark. Now 26, Perkins recollects on what prompted him almost a decade ago.
“Shannon needed a keyboard player and I’d never played keys before, so I had to learn keyboard two weeks before our first gig. That was great – and then I got to tour the world with that!”
From his current home studio on Auckland’s Karangahape Road, the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is known for his work with other up-and-coming musicians on the local music scene including, most recently Bluey Green and Georgia Lines. He’s also known for playing with Fazerdaze.
His solo project quickly gained prominence, with the first Merk album ‘Swordfish’ winning the Best Independent Debut award from IMNZ back in 2017. Now, Merk’s sophomore release ‘Infinite Youth’ promises to examine that mostly unclear and blurry transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Retaining the bedroom producer origins, Perkins says the album’s direction and sound were often driven by the very nature of his shoe-string working space.
“It was all recorded on really low-quality recording equipment, but that’s kind of added to the sound. This is a very ambitious album, I would say, but it’s like within the confines of a bedroom.
“I like to use the term bedroom universe – Laps Around The Sun for example, it has an expansiveness to it, but the whole time there’s an intimacy as well. Playing on a contrast, we were trying to make these stadium big songs, but I’m making them in my context, which is a bedroom. Especially at the time, I just had no equipment, and so I had to borrow everything!”
It’s not all K’ Rd bedroom basics though, the album was produced with Danish producer Johan Carøe, who flew to Auckland to help develop and guide the sound of the album. Perkins credits him as being a fundamental part of the album’s development.
“I’d say it’s our album. I wrote all the songs, but he really helped me find the sound for it and in coaching me. He was really good at pointing out that I was kind of hiding how it truly felt behind these quirky sounds, or whatever it might be.
“He’d be like, ‘Oh, that silly synth sounds cool, but you‘re really hiding what you‘re truly meaning to say by doing that.’ And so a huge part of the process of this album was really simplifying things so that I could say what I felt earnestly, honestly and truthfully, in a very simple way.”
The two had met while both attending the 2016 Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal and they’d worked together on the album over the past three years. Perkins did fly to Copenhagen at one stage but it was mostly virtual,.
“It actually worked well because Denmark and NZ are 12 hours apart for most of the year. I would send what I worked on that day and sign off for the night, and then he would wake up with a new set of music. He would make notes and then I would wake up with his notes and change stuff. It was like a little 24-hour production factory!”
Having already recorded the tracks in 2018 and 2019, Perkins says he was readying ‘Infinite Youth’ for release a year ago.
“We were planning to put it out last year, but it just proved too hard. With SXSW we were ramping up to release and we had label interest in America. I mean, like that just evaporated when we weren’t able to go over there.”
The global travel lockdown also created opportunities for the musician to take on some unplanned jobs back home.
“I’ve started doing some film soundtracking, and last year I worked on a film with Marlon Williams. We co-composed it, which was great fun. It was great to have a project like that, which was home-based.”
Pressed further about the project, he teasingly says the film itself is still under wraps.
“It’s a NZ drama and it’s really, really special – I feel very glad to be part of that. Coming out soon!”
Coming towards the end of the interview, Perkins picks ‘Designer’ by Aldous Harding as the one recent Kiwi album he’d take to a desert island with him. He adds that artists up and down the motu are special among their global counterparts.
“I just think Auckland and NZ has a world-class calibre of music and the cool thing about NZ is that everybody is doing their own thing. There’s a uniqueness to what every artist is making and I’m just constantly inspired by all of my friends.
“I’m part of a really cool community of musicians – and we have a social netball team. In that team, there’s Shannon Matthew Vanya, Wells, Lucky Boy, Fazerdaze, A.C. Freazy… I’m probably forgetting many of the cool people. We lose miserably every game because we’re just like gumby, awkward clumsy musicians, but I’m just constantly inspired by what they’re making.”
Finishing our interview on the future, Mark says his primary priority is on producing work that fits his sense of what’s missing as he moves into adulthood and, of course, what’s cool.
“In five years, if I’m still making albums and writing songs, I’ll be stoked. Obviously, it’s really hard because it’s like, as you get older, you know, more responsibilities.
“It could be cool to change the format a little bit and then make a studio album, or like put a band together. Once we’ve put something new out in the world I’ll take a minute to kind of have a think and see what comes. I don’t know, I’m looking forward to that.
“Making cool stuff is just what I love doing and if I can keep making cool stuff, then I’ll be stoked.”