Where has Merpire been for 5 years? Catch up with the Sydney sensation before her star-studded single launch

The brainchild of Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt, Merpire is a Sydney-based singer/songwriter shooting for the stars. Relaunching her career after a five year hiatus with the lilting ballad Holding Breath, it’s a new beginning that she couldn’t be more exciting about.

Ahead of her twin single launches in two of Sydney and Melbourne’s best venues, we caught up with Merpire to chat the last five years, the new single and her vibrant new live set.

merpire music Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt holding breath

After making waves with her comeback single Holding Breath, Merpire is poised to take on the road ahead with a newfound and addictive enthusiasm.

HAPPY: Hey, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?

MERPIRE: Hi! I’m pretty bloody great thank you! At the moment I’m in my best track-pants, guitar in my lap, practising the songs I’ll be playing at my launch shows, where you’ll hear a completely new live set.

HAPPY: How have you found the initial reactions to Holding Breath?

MERPIRE: I’ve found reactions to it to be excitingly wonderful to receive. I’ve managed to tick off a couple of big goals like being played on Triple J Unearthed and then Triple J and FBi and landing a support slot with Ainslie Wills. I happen to be one of her biggest fans so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry with happiness when I was asked. There is such a big build up before releasing anything. Anxiety levels can be high. Holding Breath has been waiting patiently to be heard for almost a year now so I was both very nervous and very excited to release it in to the wild.

HAPPY: It seems to come from a pretty dark place. What’s this one about?

MERPIRE: A few people have asked me if it’s about domestic abuse. I can definitely hear how it could be translated that way when taken literally. It’s not about any one person in particular but more about noticing when I, or others around me look for love the same place we were hurt. Whether that’s with a loved one or a friend. I over-dramatise by using violent and exaggerated descriptions of the effects on the body that kind of emotional anguish can produce. I then wrote the pitch-bending violins to help convey the ups and downs of that kind of situation.

HAPPY: Do you find writing from struggle, or those darker places, is a more comfortable or easier output for you?

MERPIRE: Absolutely. It’s very therapeutic. I’m definitely not a sit at home crying all day eating ice-cream kind of gal when it comes to dealing with something. I tend to put it away, get on with things and then every now and then I’ll write about it. I’m not sure if this is the healthiest way to deal with things but writing is a pretty incredible tool to have. Sometimes I’ll just be mucking around, not intending to write at all and a whole song comes out in 10 minutes, music and all, about something I thought I was done dealing with. I then step back and think, “Woah, how long was that sitting in there?”

I’ve had some pretty magic writing moments too. I once stood with my ukulele in the exact place where I kissed someone, eyes closed trying to summon a song about it. It worked! Just yesterday, on a cosmic coffee high, the genius behind Timber Timbre, Angel Olsen and Ainslie Wills came to me as transparent, sparkly, glitchy 90s CGI heads, floating and bobbing in a galaxy, singing to me these new lyrics as I sung them. It was like they were my guardian space angels helping me write this song. I know that sounds ridiculous but there it is.

HAPPY: There was a five-year gap between your EP and this single. What made you decide to come back to Merpire?

MERPIRE: It wasn’t until winning the Telstra Road To Discovery in 2015 that I started to take my music seriously. For many years, even before releasing my first couple of EPs, I was really lost. I didn’t know what kind of music I wanted to make and to be honest I didn’t give myself the time to really delve deep and find that out. I just didn’t think my music was anything special or worth giving the time too. I of course had lots of support from family and friends but I didn’t know anyone personally who was doing what I wanted to do so it never seemed like a realistic goal.

Just being accepted in to the Telstra Road program was a huge surprise so winning it alongside Liv Cartledge honestly blew my mind. It completely opened my eyes to this world I had always longed to find and so I decided that maybe this was worth taking more seriously. So I spent the next year working really hard to rediscover what kind of music I wanted to produce, listening and writing a lot. If you’ve watched Mighty Boosh, just think of the New Sound episode and that’s pretty much my life. Not really. There are definitely still days I feel like giving up. I’m not sure those feelings go away but I’ve learnt to just keep going and to recognise and be proud of the good stuff.

I stayed with Merpire, to stay true to the little girl that still lives inside me who wanted to be in a band called Merpire one day. We’re doing it kid!

HAPPY: Were you nervous at all about coming back?

MERPIRE: Yes. Yes I was. I still am! Through the Telstra Road, I’ve learnt more about the industry in a year than I have in the last ten. I can’t stress enough how much the people involved in that program have helped me and still help me tackle and tame every facet of the industry I need to.

I mentioned earlier, I’m learning not to dwell on and freak myself out with the big picture. I have a plan that I keep checking in with myself on and I just do my best to tick off little goals along the way. Andy Bull, who produced this track, has been an amazing mentor for me this past year. For instance, at the stage when I was rediscovering my music he taught me not to fight what was coming out naturally, to just work hard and build upon what’s there, shaping it in to something I can love. He’s full of great advice for which I am eternally grateful.

HAPPY: You have some amazing supports on the tour. Have you played shows with Liz, Georgia or Liv before?

MERPIRE: Don’t I just?! Liv I obviously met through the Telstra Road and we’ve become really close buds since then. Going through a very similar year together, we bounce ideas off one another and share what we’re learning. It’s easy to support her because I love her music so much. I played for her at her beautiful EP launch not long ago. It’s so great that she gets to be a part of my launch too. She’s one of the only people who know the truth behind a lot of my songs too!

I heard Georgia’s Any Given Day on Triple J one lonely night driving. I instantly fell in love with her sound and went to a show where she was supporting Liz’s EP launch a couple of days later. I was blown away by both of them. I got quite drunk at that gig because I was so excited by the way their music captured me. I tried to play it cool and introduce myself to them later, only to introduce myself twice within a minute I think… obviously, I didn’t fail too badly. I really am honoured that these three women will be playing at my shows.

HAPPY: Do you have a message for any fans coming to the shows?

MERPIRE: Firstly, I can’t wait to watch you feel the way I do when I listen to Liv, Georgia and Liz! It’s such an incredible feeling to be a part of something like that. Secondly, I really hope you enjoy my new songs! There’ll be some big moments and some more intimate ones. There are a couple of songs that are only a few weeks old.

I’ve put together a pretty legendary band. I was actually really lucky to get them all together for these two shows. They’re all very busy slaying it, playing either their own stuff or for other people. So you probably won’t find this magic team in the same room again. I also won’t laugh at you if you want to come say hi and introduce yourself twice.


Catch Merpire launching her single Holding Breath in both Melbourne and Sydney:

Thurs July 6 – Oxford Art Factory Gallery,  Sydney – Event
Fri July 7 – Wesley Anne, Melbourne – Event