Australian indie rock/alt.country group Mermaid Avenue was founded in 2015 and is based in Brisbane/Meanjin. Peter Clarke wrote the songs. Since making their live debut in 2015, they have established a steady presence on the Brisbane music scene thanks to the prolific songwriting of lead singer Clarke and the musicianship of the band’s current lineup, which includes Chris Wong, Mike Kearey, Mark Egan, Casey Lee, and Nathan Poetschka on guitars, keys, bass, and drums respectively.
A finalist in Blues and Roots Radio’s International Song of the Year competition, their second single, “Rise,” from their debut album, “Temptation and Half the Truth,” was released in late 2018 to positive reviews. The band’s “Sugartown,” their second album, was released in 2022. Each of the album’s singles received favorable reviews and radio play both domestically and abroad (including more finals berths in reputable international songwriting competitions).
Album #4 is well into preproduction, and album #3, “Loveday No. 9,” is scheduled for release in the middle of 2023.
‘In the studio, Mermaid Avenue has been ably served by the talents of Steve Robin (The Barn), Lachlan ‘Magoo’ Goold, Jason Millhouse (Recordworks), James See (Airlock Studios), and Greg Tuck (BDJ Sessions).’
The song “Darkest Hour,” which combines a majestic grand piano and an ethereal lap steel guitar, tells a tale of the redeeming qualities of love. The song is grand in nature but delivered in a straightforward manner. It is unapologetically romantic and is in 6/8 time. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
MERMAID AVENUE: We are based in Brisbane, Australia where we all live, work and obviously play music together. The band first came together around 2015-16 as a four-piece based around Peter’s songwriting. The original line up of Mermaid Avenue released “Temptation and Half the Truth” in 2018. Following this the band have had a few line-up changes as all bands do expanding the line up to a six-piece however Peter has remained the songwriter of the band.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
MERMAID AVENUE: Three of us have formal music training – Nathan is a current music teacher, Casey has a music degree and was a teacher in her past life, and Chris is very near the end of his music degree. Mark and Mike have a wealth of experience playing in cover and original bands over many years. Peter has taught himself to play guitar and write songs by trial and error.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘MERMAID AVENUE’?
MERMAID AVENUE: Peter’s first and strongest influences really come from 90s – growing up in the grunge era followed by the Brit Pop era. In Australia (like a lot of other places) a lot of bands that probably would have never got a leg up otherwise got deals and airplay during that time. He would go and see bands like You Am I and Even whenever they passed through Brisbane, and they still have an almost subliminal influence on his song writing. He will also admit to a soft spot for Noel Gallagher’s knack of writing anthemic songs that can be sung by a football terrace which are essentially about nothing!
The other members of the band have eclectic influences which range from funk to soul, to blues, indie pop and the great wave of bands that came out Australia in the 80s such as the Church and Australian Crawl. All of this goes into the melting pot in the practice room and in our regular studio sessions.
The name “Mermaid Avenue” came from the Billy Bragg & Wilco album of the same name. Wilco remain a big influence as do many other alt country/americana bands such as Whiskeytown, Son Volt, and Drive By Truckers.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
MERMAID AVENUE: Ultimately the key element of our music is that we try to serve the song. Peter provides the bones and we put the flesh on. The sum is bigger than its parts. It would be very easy to get carried away particularly as six-piece band and play all over a song. We try to make sure everyone has their part but also that we don’t step on each other’s toes. Describing your sound is always a hard one especially when you are in the band! For an objective opinion we have been compared to quite a variety of acts by reviewers such as REM, Son Volt, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, even Elton John! We would say that yes there are elements of those acts in there, but there are many more of their ilk with a splash of Brisbane for good measure!
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as COUNTRY?
With respect to to the songwriting aspect, as mentioned previously Peter is self taught. This has been by trial error. First learning a few simple open chords on the guitar followed by humming simple melodies, learning to write lyrics to that melody and then putting it together. Obviously, the early ones were terrible but over time with patience you get better. Emulating others in songwriting is always in the equation. Every songwriter starts by ‘borrowing’ aspects of their songwriting hero’s work. That is how you learn what works and what doesn’t and when you can break the rules. Peter continues to write almost daily thus we have been able release a new song every 6-8 weeks over the last 18 months with the culmination of the album “Sugartown” which we put out this year. We have already recorded album number 3 “Loveday #9” which we have started to release tracks from in the last few months – “Darkest Hour” and “Someone Like You”. The album proper will be released next year. In the meantime, we have already commenced recording album four.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
Tough question! We would say music has a role and function in all these things – otherwise we would not bother being musicians. With respect to our work as mentioned above we try to serve the song which may require any of those things. From a lyrical perspective Peter takes a variety of experiences, some of which are personal and some of which are not and tries to connect to a more universal experience that listeners can relate to. If that involves some political or social cause type issues than we would approach that from that type of perspective rather than trying to overtly push a particular viewpoint on listeners. A good example of this is “Horses” from our first album which is probably the most overtly political song in our catalog. It was written about the return of authoritarian type politicians and existential fear.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
As an independent band, we are not in it for the money – though a little more than enough for a cup of coffee occasionally would be nice! We are realistic in the age of streaming etc that we are not going to be paid “millions” for what we do. We are also in Australia which makes touring more difficult with our major cities being thousands of kilometers apart with not much in between let alone the geographical distance from the rest of the world. We all work day jobs and have our feet planted firmly on the ground. Ultimately this is about putting out music that means something, not only to us but also hopefully to our listeners. We understand that people have many forms of entertainment available to the them and we appreciate every stream, download, like or view that we get. We have built up a good following on social media and streaming services over the last 18 months to 2 years by steadily making releases every 6-8 weeks – almost like the early days of rock music – and we are going to continue that looking forward as we release the songs from our third album “Loveday #9” over the course of 2023 and record the songs for album number 4 which is already in production.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
Peter generally sits down with an acoustic guitar, comes up with a chord progression, maybe a melody and a few fragments of lyrics. Occasionally the idea may just start with a title or a line. Then it really depends on time i.e., how quickly he can put the song together – some may only take an hour others may take months or even years. Once he has the lyrics, mainly melody, progression and general arrangement worked out, the song will find its way to the practice room. Once the band gets hold of it, they will put the flesh on the bones. Everyone contributes their ideas and parts to turn it into the finished product. We usually have this all done before we hit the studio to record. Our mixing engineer Jason Milhouse puts the finishing touches on. He has a great ear for what we do
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
MERMAID AVENUE: Like most people all of us have had some difficulties either personally or involving loved ones over the years. If one was to do a survey of the band each of us would have at least one experience of battles with illness, depression, deaths of parents, and relationship breakdowns. All the stuff of life really. These experiences feed into what the music we play and why we play it. On the other side of the equation, we are all appreciative of the fortune that we have to be in the position to be able to play music due to the stability of where we live and our personal circumstances.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud, or significant point in your life or music career so far?
MERMAID AVENUE: The release of “Sugartown” has been a proud and significant point our career thus far. It showed the significant growth of the songwriting and the musicianship of the band over the last couple of years. We have been flattered by the reviews of the record and positive feedback we get from listeners all over the world. Having said that we think our next record is going to a further positive step up in our career – as demonstrated by the tracks “Darkest Hour” and “Someone Like You” which we have already released.
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