Painting a picture of Wellington trio Mermaidens to NZM readers back in April 2014, Maddie McIntyre told it like this: If you took a dash of stoner rock, sifted in a bit of classic ‘60s surf, added a pinch of dark dream psyche pop and then stirred through a healthy dose of mood punk, you’d get the tall, long-limbed glass that is Mermaidens. About a year later the trio brought their musical pastiche into a studio, where they bashed out eight new mostly live recordings, now packaged together as a debut album titled ‘Undergrowth’. Over cups of tea and coffee, singer / guitarist Gussie Larkin and drummer Abe Hollingsworth discussed their new album, due for digital release in March, with Laura Dooney.
There is a slight discord between the rumbling, haunting music of Mermaidens, and the sweet friendly nature of two of the three band members I met on Cuba Street in Wellington. Gussie Larkin is the band’s co-lead vocalist and guitarist (both roles shared with Lily West) and Abe Hollingsworth plays drums.
Over the past three years since they became a trio Mermaidens has put out a couple of EPs and secured themselves a name with high rotation plays on student radio. A hectic tour schedule in 2014 saw them playing a heap of shows, both in their home town Wellington, and around the country. Mid-last year Larkin and Hollingsworth took off overseas for a bit – Larkin to the UK for six months, and Hollingsworth for a three month look around south east Asia and Japan.
Before they left Mermaidens recorded their debut album, for the first time swapping out flat bedrooms and lounges for Blue Barn Studio in Newtown. That’s where James Goldsmith, known for his work as an engineer at Munki Studios before it got levelled to make way for a new park, is now set up. Goldsmith is described by Larkin as “our number one favourite person.”
“Love him,” agrees Hollingsworth. “We’ve known him for a long time. When we first started playing gigs at Puppies he was always doing sound for us.”
“And he’s really, really, good,” Larkin adds.
Over three days under Goldsmith’s watch the trio bashed out a recording of their newest songs. As Larkin explains, ‘Undergrowth’ sounds like it’s live because it was live.
“We played it all together, and we can’t do it any other way, that’s just our style. It’s not polished, like it’s pretty loose, the playing…”
“It’s not polished pop music. That’s the vibe. It would’ve been weird if it was slick,” Hollingsworth affirms, “because it wouldn’t be right. Like, we’re not heavy, but we are a bit gritty.”
Recording in a studio setting did allow the trio to expand on their previous recordings.
“You can hear all the little guitar parts and we were able to do lots of different layers of vocal harmonies which is a really big part of the music,” says Larkin, adding that the songs are pretty consistent with the Mermaidens’ vibe, being very imagery based.
Under The Mountain, the second single from ‘Undergrowth’ talks about monsters and heads, sprouting from your teeth, for example. ‘I’ll float away, you can’t stop it. I’ll float away, sky is falling,’ it insists. “It’s kind of like a dream, it could be a dream,” Hollingsworth says of their lyrical style in general.
“It’s not really attached to what I do in my everyday life,” continues Larkin. “I definitely write about like, sticking it to the man sort of… it’s more abstract,” she half explains.
Songwriting is shared between Larkin and third band member Lily Paris-West.
“It’s really half and half on the album which is cool. There are four songs where I’m the main voice, and four songs where Lily is.”
With the two ladies on lead vocals it’s all too easy to draw obvious comparisons, but there are definitely some elements of Sleater Kinney to be heard, and a PJ Harvey-type ethereal quality to both the music and words. They kind of sound like a gruntier version of Washed Out. Mermaidens aren’t on a label, and the songs are only being released digitally, through sites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, though they’re thinking about selling tapes as merchandise at their shows.
“Well, it’s not expensive, and no one really wants CDs,” justifies Larkin.
“CDs are kind of irrelevant,” agrees Hollingsworth. “People would use CDs to put the music on iTunes, right – but then you can just download it, so why even have a CD? Whereas a tape is a different format. It’s really weird to navigate that idea of merch, of distribution, of releasing stuff – because people are just listening to music, so it’s kind of like a non-thing. But at the same time it’s really nice to buy the products,” he says.
With the album due out in mid-March, the band plans to do a release tour straight away, starting at Wellington’s San Francisco Bathhouse. Whether you’re into cassettes as merchandise or not – Mermaidens’ live show is not to be missed. This band really is one to keep watching over the next few years, both figuratively, and literally.