Ahead of the start of their ‘Soft Energy’ Aotearoa tour, Lily West, one-third of the critically acclaimed Mermaidens trio, chats all things lockdown, ‘Soft Energy’ and the Auckland gig scene.
I’ve caught you in a pretty busy period, off the back of a big summer of festivals like RNV as well as your own Mermgrown shows, and right before the kick off of your national ‘Soft Energy’ tour! You were supposed to launch with a show in Palmy today too. I’m sorry to hear it’s cancelled because of COVID restrictions… how are you feeling amongst all of it?
Yeah, I’m a bit sad to not have a show today. We just love doing stuff, so when things can’t go ahead, we’re always gutted. I loved being so busy over summer, and I really, really enjoy touring. There’s always a bit of ants in your pants when you’re not out and actually doing things.
Yeah, the harsh transition is pretty jarring, I’m guessing especially so after the Pōneke Mermgrown festival.
Mermgrown was so much fun. I am the most nervous and pessimistic of the group so I was very nervous about things going wrong, but it went so well! We have such an incredible team and it was such a nice day. We really loved hosting other acts too.
I’ve been tuning into your last album Look Me In The Eyes this week, and I almost feel like it’s been expressing my nervous, yet hopeful lockdown emotions. Obviously that album was released pre-pandemic times, but has the meaning and sound of the album shifted in the time that has passed?
Oh, I’m glad it’s been bringing you some hope. I honestly haven’t listened to that album in ages, but maybe I will after this. We still play a few of those songs live and do really enjoy that. I guess they do have a kind of optimism to them. The whole album is kind of positive and optimistic, coming away from earlier stuff that was all quite dark and moody, and fresh out of being grumpy teenagers. But I’ll give it a listen and have a think!
And in the time since that album, do you feel that the restrictions and lockdowns we faced have affected you guys musically and aesthetically? I watched the ‘Bastards’ video, which seems to be pretty dystopian and sci-fi…
Yeah, that Bastards video had already been made before COVID and then we released it, I think, during Level 3 or 4 last year. And it felt, because there’s literal coughing in it, very prescient. I guess since then, with the lockdowns, there’s been a lot more time to be introspective which is really cool for songwriting. There’s also more to worry about, and everyone’s a bit more anxious, which is kind of a fascinating social phenomenon. In terms of writing, we’re doing more by correspondence because Gussie lives in Auckland, so we have to work a bit harder on collaboration which has been a nice challenge. I’m quite an introvert so I’m not necessarily writing more about being at home alone because I already do that (laughs).
‘Soft Energy’ is fresh out today… It’s pretty 70s, really dreamy, quite a shift from the ‘Bastards’ video. Where do you feel like that came from aesthetically?
It doesn’t feel like a shift because it’s all us. Gussie and I are mad into science fiction. We love to be able to experiment and play with what we create and put out visually and sonically. We were really excited to be a bit more silly with ‘Soft Energy’ because I think that there’s a tendency in music to get a bit serious and pigeonhole yourself into a space that people get familiar with seeing you in. We’re all real stupid and silly and we joke around a lot; our approach to the band is really playful so it made sense to bring in a bit more comedy. It feels very us. It’s retro, but a bit twisted.
What’s most exciting when you’re thinking about playing this song specifically on tour?
That song is quite a journey. It’s kind of relentless. There’s this juicy bridge where it kind of chills out with some nice harmonies. That bit is kind of the light when you’re playing that song. But about half of our set that we’ve played over summer has been new songs, so that’s been really fun to test out songs and get the reaction. We can see what’s working and what’s not, which is really nice before recording anything.
And what is that response looking like?
We’re so close to [the songs], it’s hard to have perspective on how things are sounding. It’s really nice to have people come up and say that the new songs sound different, or like a step up. That’s great to hear because it makes us think we’re doing the right thing!
And with Mermgrown coming to Tāmaki Makaurau, what should we be looking forward to with that show?
Oh, I think it’s going to be such a fun time, it’s going to be a really different challenge from Te Whanganui-a-Tara because that was all outside. Inside, in Whammy, I’m really excited to transform the space and make it into something juicy and different from what Aucklanders are used to. I reckon it’s gonna be an awesome party with great music.
How do you go about forming that connection between your music and the feel of the stage?
We just love the whole world of being in a band; it’s all part of it. We definitely enjoy playing with presentation and how visuals can add to the music. It’s part of adding to the experience for the listener and the viewer. It also feels really powerful as a performer to, you know, wear a cool outfit.
On campus, we’ve had a lot of first-years who have just arrived in town, and are maybe feeling a little underwhelmed and alienated from the scene because of the snap lockdown. How would you describe the experience of gigging for students who haven’t been in that space before?
If you haven’t been out to gigs in Auckland, I reckon Mermgrown is going to be the best crash course ever. There’s gonna be so many different kinds of music there, you can get a taste of everything. They’ll be some dancing, they’ll be some rock, they’ll be some chill stuff. You can go to Whammy, Backroom and Wine Cellar. It’s the full Auckland experience.
It’s like Orientation Day!
If they think they like music then they should get down to Mermgrown – it’s gonna be a really fun time. We can’t wait to see them there.
Catch Mermaidens in Tamaki Makaurau on the 20th of March for Mermgrown, where the band will fill out Whammy, Backroom and Wine Cellar with a long list of other acts including Kane Strang, Leaping Tiger and Phoebe Rings. Tickets are available from undertheradar.co.nz