Interview: 2017 Must-Know - Merk

New Zealander Merk’s debut album ‘Swordfish’ of last year is an underrated gem - on album highlight ‘Treehouse Club’ he sings, “Every day I’m getting older / Waiting for something better,” a relatable sentiment of growing up, and a lingering dissatisfaction.

Real name Mark, he’s a Brian Wilson enthusiast, a self-managed multi-instrumentalist (who played nearly every instrument you hear on the album), and one to definitely watch out for in 2017.

MUST-LISTEN: ‘Treehouse Club’, ‘I’m Easy’, ‘Manchuria’, ‘Ash & Sand’.
YOU WILL LIKE, IF YOU LIKE: Mini Mansions, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Whitney, Real Estate, Wild Nothing, Deerhunter, Beach House.

CDM: I really love ‘Treehouse Club’ - it’s so good! You sing, “Every day I’m getting older, waiting for something better.” Do you think that humans tend to have a innate sense of dissatisfaction? Do you think we’re always waiting for something better?
MERK: Yeah, I think our natural tendency is to either be consumed by the future or the past. I would say-- I would assume it’s just part of us, it’s kind of like that natural thing of why we always want to be progressing and being better.

CDM: At times, ‘Wonderbuzz’ kind of reminds me of vintage video-games. Do you have any favourite video-games?
MERK: Me and my brother used to play video-games all the time like 'Crash Bandicoot' and those 90s playstation games, we spent a lot of time on those sort of things. I really like video-games, I’ve gotta be careful though, because the escapism is too real.

CDM: You described making your album as an “weird/fun/lonely/happy/sad experience.” Was the process an entirely isolated one? Do you tend to work best alone?
MERK: I don’t think working alone is better or worse. If it’s right, I would probably prefer collaborations because it’s just easier in many senses because when you’re working alone the head-game is so strong, as in you’re kind of fighting your own inner demons, trying to overcome them. But they’re just two different products and are often no better or worse than each other, just a different process. Maybe working by myself is more rewarding but less enjoyable.

HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE RELEASE OF ‘SWORDFISH’…

CDM: You play live with a band - how does translating your music into a live setting work?
MERK: I just have my best friends in my band, so we are playing together all the time on other projects as well, for a few years now we’ve always played together so it’s pretty instinctive - we learn the parts and everything, but also try and give them some space to express themselves.

CDM: I love the cello in ‘Melody’ - do you play the cello, or did someone else play it for you?
MERK: No actually, that was one of the few things I didn’t play. I got my friend Alice to come in, she used be in a band called Farah Loux. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them but she plays the cello, so I just recorded her. It was really fun, I scored the piece and it all turned out.

CDM: I’ve loved all the visual accompaniments to ‘Swordfish’ - your press photos, the album cover etc, your lapel pins, they all are really visually creative and cohesive. Do you do all the design work for your music too?
MERK: Yeah, so the album art I had the version for what I wanted to do and a friend of mine, we collaborated on it, I just drew what I wanted and she helped me. I don’t speak sign-language you know, <laughs> so she helped me put it together. I do like that side of it as well and I try to work hard on having a cohesive image.

CDM;You released the album yourself, and are self-managed. It’s kinda strange, I feel like a huge deal is placed on up-and-coming NZ artists to have management, and be signed to a record label, but so many artists do really well without any of that. What are your thoughts on the necessity of management and/or record labels?
MERK: It’s an interesting one, I think the music landscape is changing a lot and I feel like labels are an important thing to have definitely and I don’t think any huge artist who has really changed things has done that without a label. I think the Arctic Monkeys, their first record [early demos 'Beaneath The Boardwalk'] was unsigned, it’s like that kind of thing. For me anyway, until I really need it I think I wanna be-- especially with this first album, I really wanted it more than anything, to set up the trajectory as in lay the good foundations. I don’t want anyone tampering with that. I think the most important things for artists these days is having a good manager. I think it’s good to have someone who is the ying to your yang. Maybe a good booking agent and a good publicist... I don’t know, it’s an interesting one. For me I’m going to try to do as much as I can before I go there.

CDM: You went to Montreal earlier this year as part of the Red Bull Music Academy - what was the #1 most important thing you learnt from that experience?
MERK: Oh man, the best part about it was the other participants I think, because it was just so cool to be hanging out with 30 people who are like you from all around the world. They are all doing such amazing things, so inspiring, so that was my favourite bit. The one thing I learnt... I don’t know, it just opened my eyes because in New Zealand the alternative music scene is dominated by indie-rock I guess, but there’s just so much more out there, as in talking to the participants, what we are doing in New Zealand is such a thin sliver of what everything else is. The world is big, that’s kind of what I learnt. <laughs>

CDM: I love your covers of Fazerdaze’s ‘Little Uneasy’ and Lontalius’ song ‘Light Shines Thru Dust’ - and our column is all about NZ artists. Who are some of your favourite New Zealand artists?
MERK: I really like Voom. I think his songwriting is really spectacular and I think he deserves more attention than he has at the moment. I think there is a really cool scene happening at the moment, especially in Auckland, there is a cool group of people. We’re starting to build our own little scene here and I think it’s really special, like Fazerdaze and Tom Lark, who I play for as well, so him and I, we share a studio on K Road, in the basement is our rehearsal space so that’s where Fazerdaze practices, Tom Lark, and Madeira. She’s got that practice space there and it’s just a cool community of cool people, so it’s exciting!

CDM: What other artists in general, would you say inspire your music or musical process?
MERK: It’s changing all the time. For the album, I was listening to lots of 90s indie-rock like Pavement and Weezer, but also classic pop, good strong pop songs like Burt Bacharach and The Carpenters. I really do enjoy that stuff as well as the cool attitude of the 90s.

CDM: If you could pick any five people (living or dead) to be in your entourage, who would you choose?
MERK: I would probably pick Nile Rodgers because he seems like a positive guy, so happy, he’d be real fun to have around. I would probably pick Beck because I think he is a really inspiring artist, and probably Bowie, because he is Bowie, the artist <laughs>, perhaps Brian Wilson because he’s positive, he’s just so loveable, the emotions I feel when I listen to his music or just hear him speak are just so complicated, so complex - it’s happy, but it’s sad, but it’s nostalgic! Maybe Serge Gainsbourg, he would be like a grumpy guy but the rest of the gang is so happy! I think it’d be nice to have a dark brooding character hanging about, he’s an amazing producer and I really love his stuff, so...

CDM: If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
MERK: Maybe I would steal ‘God Only Knows’ and I would be the writer.

CDM: What is your first proper memory, ever?
MERK: I remember when I was little my family moved, we used to live in Auckland then we moved to Tauranga, and I remember after a few months of living in Tauranga I was like, "Okay, I’m ready to go home now! I’m ready to come back from holiday!" And then my parents told me, “We’re not on holiday, we live here now,” and I just remember being heartbroken for a long time.

CDM: If you were a country, what would be your national anthem?
MERK: ‘Good Times’ by Chic.

ONE THING I’D LIKE TO ACHIEVE ON MY BUCKET LIST…

Click here to check out more of Coup De Main’s 2017 Must-Know Artists.

Listen to 'Manchuria' below…