Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt, better known these days as Merpire, is a Sydney girl who’s been performing for almost five years and has been settling into her life as a Melbourne musician since the end of 2017. In a promising first year down south, she ticked all the right boxes; forming a band and gigging within two months, then a manager and a Bigsound performance within six. “I really transitioned quickly and well,” she says of the move, “Melbourne’s vibe of having such a beautiful supportive community down here, it’s hard not to stay motivated and inspired, everyone else is doing the same thing.”
Her EP, 2018’s Endless Chatter, unveiled a performer inspired by a wide range of influences, from bigger synth driven sounds on ‘Haunting’, to more intimate, folk inspired works like ‘For The Best’. “I had a bit of a hard time leading up to it,” she says of the EP release. “I was wondering that there wasn’t going to be enough continuity across the different songs… I decided in the end that my voice for one, carries across… and artists can get away with blending a lot of different genres as long as you hold true to it and they’re still your own songs you can do pretty much whatever you want. Once I remembered that, I thought it’d be cool to showcase my different styles”. The launch of that EP sold out Collingwood’s Gasometer hotel, she remembers “standing up on the mezzanine when Gena Rose Bruce played, with my mouth just agape like ‘who are you all, why are you here?’, it was so nice.”
Her latest single ‘Lately’ represents the next stage in her career, with a convergence of all of her influences into a more polished, and uniquely defined sound. “I think I’ve definitely defined my style now… l love really dreamy vocals and atmospheric synth sounds, and then I love opposing it with some distorted guitars and heavy drums.”
The track brings the listener in close early, with a quiet intro and personal lyricism, “Observing my world and the people in it,” she says when asked what inspires the lyrics in her songs. “I pick up little things. I tend to write songs sometimes in small parts. I might think of a line while I’m driving or in the shower and I’ll write it down, then it won’t be until two weeks later that I’ll get the chords going.
“‘Lately’ was just a few different observations over the last couple of years,” she continues. “It’s still a personal song but the story is a broad experience of breaking up with someone. I think the second or third line I say, ‘I’d rather forget it ended,’ and that’s literally from my brother bringing up my ex, asking ‘Oh how’s that guy going?’ and I’m like ‘Oh… yeah… we broke up, remember?’ which is kind of like a really unfortunate, but laughable line. The spray deodorant line was also a direct reference to staying over at my ex’s place who had work before me and he would spray deodorant and id wake up choking on the fumes, which is like ‘Oh that sucks it’s so annoying,’ but it’s a really good line.”
Looking forward into the year, Merpire is looking forward to playing a set at By the Meadow; “I’m so excited for that. I didn’t know that Lucy Dacus was headlining until the rest of the public was notified about the line-up. I was so excited, I was on my lunch break at work and had to put my food down because I felt sick with excitement knowing that she was going to be playing the same festival as I was.”
Merpire’s unique brand of dreamy indie-pop is set to take her to ever bigger places in 2019.
By The Meadow goes down March 29-31 in Bambra (90-minutes South-West of Melbourne). Tickets at www.bythemeadow.com
Written by Liam McNally