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Interview with Merpire at Bello Winter Music

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Merpire photo by Nick-Mckk


Merpire |  Bello Winter Music  |  Bellingen  |  10–14 July

Merpire is the conceptualisation of Sydney singer/songwriter Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt, who creates hauntingly beautiful melodies with intricate harmonies. She spoke with The Echo ahead of her appearance at Bello Winter Music.

Merpire is the conceptualisation of Sydney singer/songwriter Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt, who creates hauntingly beautiful melodies with intricate harmonies. She spoke with The Echo ahead of her appearance at Bello Winter Music.

Wow, things are really happening for you and your little band of musical trailblazers, really great to see. Can you talk us through some of the highlights of the last 12 months for you guys?

Oh, man, I’ve been so lucky in that there are many! Some standouts would definitely be Bigsound in Brisbane – an event I’ve been to every year as a punter and have always dreamed to play. So that was pretty huge! We also got to play Tassie’s Panama Festival. Being on the lineup of some of my favourite artists right now was a pretty big deal for me. Also touring across the continent with Didirri was a really wonderful time. He and his band and crew are some of the loveliest people in the industry so that was a really cool first national tour.

Where did your personal music career begin? Do you come from a musical family? And how long have you been playing with your band’s current configuration?

While I don’t come from a musical family, my family always supported my music dreams. I really started to take Merpire seriously when I won a songwriting program back in 2015 called Telstra Road to Discovery. I finally got a peek behind the music industry curtain to see how on earth to navigate it. I met some really encouraging and inspiring industry and artist folk who became lifelong mentors for me. My current band configuration actually is constantly changing in some way. At my level, it’s hard to lock down the exceptional band mates I have just to play with me. I usually need to find a replacement for one band member almost every gig. Melbourne has plenty of incredible musicians who know plenty of incredible musicians, so while it’s stressful sometimes having to find someone so far I’ve been lucky! The hardest part is not just having everyone playing with me all the time.

Your performance at last year’s Bello Winter Music was amazing and ethereal… there were tears in the eyes of the people around me during your set. Where did your sound originate? And who has had the most influence over your sound and your musical direction?

Oh thank you so much! I did not know there were tears shed, I hope they were good ones! I can’t really say where my sound originated in that it’s ever changing in some small way, but I guess you could say it originated with me writing the songs, which I still do, on guitar, keys, and also ukulele back in the day. Andy Bull, who was one of my mentors from Telstra Road, encouraged me to try synths/keys so I guess that’s where writing that came in. The most recent releases and songs yet to be released that you see and hear on stage now is a combination of brains coming together. James Seymour, one of my band members and also my co-producer, is really really great at live production so he’s often listening out in rehearsal for what the songs need. This is something that is being tweaked all the time. James and I will also co-produce the songs if we can before taking them to the rest of the band to learn. I find this the best way. Then the rest of the band members always put their personal touches on the songs, which I love! It’s really a team effort.

During 2018 and the beginning of 2019 you have been settling into your new home of Melbourne. How has that been? Such a dynamic music scene there. Have you noticed a big impact on your music or the way you perform as a band?

I’ve noticed a huge impact on my music since moving to Melbourne. I’m not sure if it was luck or it’s just the magic of Melbourne but I really fell into a beautiful, supportive, motivating community who honestly get me pinching myself every day, almost in disbelief at how wonderful they all are. My immediate friend group is growing all the time with such people and they’ve had a lot to do with my success and progression whether they know it or not. James especially has supported me so much in the music dreams I have. I think I’ve been a lot bolder in the moves I make with my live music and production aspirations. With such talented people pushinging their own boundaries surrounding me it makes it easier to push myself. In fact, my next single, which you’ll hear at this year’s Bello Fest, is basically a loveletter to my Melbourne family.

Returning to Bellingen this year. What can your fans here in Byron and Bellingen expect from Merpire at this year’s festival?

They’ll definitely be hearing the next single and other songs I’ve been working on that are yet to be released. We’ve got a few new sounds happening live that James and I have been working on when producing them. There’ll be more stories, more huge moments, and more very, very intimate moments too. The Merpire rollercoaster of emotion is still very much in motion.

And what else is in store for Merpire in 2019? Any big news you would like to share with your fans up here in northern NSW?

I’ll have a new single out, perhaps by the time people are reading this, called Habit. It’s that loveletter to the Melbourne music community I’ve been raving about. I’ve got a tour for that coming up soon, which will take me back to my home state of New South Wales and a few other support tours yet to be announced too. I can’t wait to share it all with you as it unfolds.

Merpire plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Bello Winter Music 10–14 July. Tickets at www.bellowintermusic.com

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