Going Inside Merpire's Mind (And New Album) Is Like 'Getting Into A Video Store'

22 July 2021 | 2:34 pm | Joe Dolan

On the eve of her new album, 'Simulation Ride' being released, singer/songwriter Merpire chats vulnerability in music, and some surprising cinematic inspirations, with Joe Dolan.

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Melbourne-based alt-pop artist Merpire has forced herself to be introspective for her newest record, Simulation Ride. But while there are difficulties associated with putting yourself out there, the singer - also known as Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt - says that the process was as therapeutic as it was expository.

“Catharsis was a big thing on this record,” she explains. 

“I guess for a lot of artists, writing music is less a job at the heart of it and more something you need to do. And it’s different for everyone in all walks of life: like, a carpenter might go to town on a beautiful table to get out some hard feelings, and for us musicians it’s writing songs. But I think something I wasn’t doing until a couple of songs in on this record, is looking back on those songs and getting a sense of catharsis from them later on, as a reminder."

In the year and a half since Simulation Ride was put to tape, Atkinson-Howatt confesses, “I’ve changed and grown a lot since then - and with times of feeling extra low or indecisive about what I’m feeling or where I’m going, I can look back on these songs and be like ‘oh, remember when you felt this way? You don’t feel that anymore.’ So writing songs, especially lyrically, that’s a chance to get that anxious fear out of my head and onto the page.” 

The singer adds, “It wasn’t until I started writing short bits for my label, for what each song is about, that I realised I write about anxiety and social anxiety a lot. I didn’t realise. I was thinking later that I could have called the album Love & Panic Attacks if it wasn’t going to be Simulation Ride.”

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While personal issues like anxiety remain at the forefront of her most recent creative endeavours, Atkinson-Howatt also reveals that a classic ‘90s film spurred her recent hit, Dinosaur.

“I guess it just reminded me of something I was going through,” she says. “In Jurassic Park, it was the dinosaur being there trying to scare these kids, and the kids being like, ‘what the hell do we do?’ - sometimes that’s exactly how being socially anxious feels. You’re out and you’re with friends, but there’s that looming feeling of ‘why don’t I want to be here? Maybe I’m a psycho and I don’t want to be around my friends.’ I’m scared of that feeling, and I can specifically remember feeling that I wished I were invisible.

“I guess the playfulness in writing about Jurassic Park and punting around a lake helps balance out the really heavy content with something quirky and playful that’s also a personal experience.”

A self-confessed film buff, Merpire says that a huge part of her process is imagining what the songs might look like on-screen.

“I feel like I can’t even write songs without having a visual attachment to it - it just goes hand in hand,” Atkinson-Howatt divulges. 

“As a movie watcher, especially, I love really juxtaposed situations. I don’t know if you’ve seen Green Street Hooligans - I don’t know why this is the first movie I thought of - but right at the end of that there’s this huge fight between these gangs, and there’s this beautifully slow folk song playing in the background of this bloody brawl.” 

She continues, “I think that was one of the first times I thought ‘I didn’t know you could put visuals with an opposing audio,' and in some cases it can get the point across even more, by stretching it out this far. It’s quite deliberate for me, especially when writing and in the production as well, is to sometimes gets the emotion across without the lyrics. To create these sort of movie scenes for people to dip in and out.”

It seems that nostalgia and movies pop up a lot in the Merpire ethos, with the two coming together to become the perfect encapsulation of Simulation Ride itself, as Atkinson-Howatt explains.

“I think the best way I can describe the album is like for you, as a listener, getting into a video store that is my mind, looking through all the aisle and genre sections. There’s a horror section, a romcom section - I even write in one of the songs that life is like either a horror or a romcom depending on the day - so I feel like that’s the best way to describe it. It’s like a video store of my diary.”

Merpire's Simulation Ride is out tomorrow, Friday 23 July. Head here to check it out and pre-save.