When Sydney’s Mere Women began to record their fourth album early last year, it’s fair to say they didn’t expect a global pandemic to follow closely behind. However, as the process continued and lockdowns loomed overhead, a peculiar feeling entered the studio, providing the group with an unusual – almost visceral – sense of unease and uncertainty along the way.
It’s this feeling that not only underlined 2020, but permeates through the entirety of Mere Women’s Romantic Notions, along with a sense of pensiveness, profundity, and urgency. In that regard, it could be said that the band created one of the most prescient albums of recent times.
First arriving on the scene roughly a decade ago, Mere Women have been a staple of the local music community ever since. Releasing their debut album, Old Life, in 2012, two albums followed on, with Big Skies arriving as their last full-length release in 2017. Since then, things have been somewhat quiet, with a handful of singles arriving to keep fans engaged.
Now, Romantic Notions arrives as the band’s highly-anticipated new record, albeit a little later than first planned. Written and rehearsed in a riverside cottage in Sydney, before teaming up with Tim G Carr at One Flight Up studios to record it all, the album is undoubtedly the band’s strongest and most personal to date. Equal parts forceful and intimate, with raw emotion being exuded through both lyrics and music, it’s a powerful listen, and easily a contender for album of the year.
In anticipation of the record’s release, Rolling Stone spoke to Mere Women’s Amy Wilson to discuss the album, its creation, and how they’ve dealt with the events of a year on hold.
Firstly, some congratulations are in order for the new album – it must be something you’re really excited to welcome into the world?
Yeah, we’re really proud of it and we’ve been sitting on it for a while now. We can’t wait until it’s out in the world and everyone gets to listen to it, and we hope people like it.
How far back did Mere Women begin working on this one? Were you already looking ahead to new music straight after the last record, or did you take a bit of time off in between?
We really didn’t take a lot of time off. When we finished the last record, we were touring lots, and we started working with our new drummer Mac [Archibald]. We kind of started writing from that point, because Mac was so excited to be playing with us, and we were so keen to have a new voice in the band. So really, yeah, we started writing right away after Big Skies.
There’s also a worry that if you take time off, people’s attention spans start to wane. But in the time between you did have some songs – which are on the new record – arrive. Did that help tide fans over a bit while they waited for a new album?
Yeah, exactly, that’s kind of what we did. We sort of wanted to keep releasing little things here and there just to make sure we’re around and about, and that people are still listening, I guess.
It was said that this new record was written in a “special place”, which I believe is on the Hawkesbury River, is that correct?
It is! I’m looking out my window at it right now [laughs].
How does a “special place” such as this inform the writing of a record like this?
I think it was a place where we could all get together and write in a different way than we were used to. We were used to getting together at a seedy rehearsal studio in Marrickville, or our last record was written predominantly at Black Wire Records, which is awesome, but such a different vibe. We’d be working all day, then we’d come to rehearse and everyone was tired.
This was a really different thing. This was, we’d make a time for a couple of days or a few days where we get together in this beautiful place and write, and chat, and cook, and eat, and y’know, drink some beers and just try and enjoy ourselves more.
“For me, it’s probably the album I’m proudest of that we’ve created.”
That would obviously make the creative process a bit more enjoyable then, wouldn’t it?
Yeah, it was more enjoyable than previous experiences, and I think as well, we were quite fresh and ready to write, and we were excited about what we were coming up with. For me, it’s probably the album I’m proudest of that we’ve created.
What is the writing process like for the band? To me, the music and lyrics feel so deeply intertwined that it feels like a real ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ scenario, but I would assume there’s a bit of a method to the madness, so to speak.
There’s a kind of a few different ways that we tend to come at it. Sometimes I’ll sort of come up with a vocal/piano line combo idea, but it’s just a partial idea, not usually like a full-fledged song. I don’t like to come to rehearsal and be like, “This is the song”, y’know? It’s not as exciting as fun.
Or it can be the other way around where we’re all jamming and just come up with something and build from that end as well, or Flyn [McKinnirey] comes up with some really cool riff or idea or sound, and Trisch [Robert] comes up with some crazy sound from the pedal she uses on her bass. It kind of starts from all different places, and it’s a very collaborative writing process.
Was there anything in particular that inspired the lyrics of the record? I believe I read that the “Romantic Notions” single came about from stories from your grandmother.
The album is sort of very much influenced by one of my grandmothers in particular, but lots of the women in my family. I think “Romantic Notions” the track looks at imbalance in power dynamics and the way that people do really weird and controlling things in the name of love and disguise it as romance or passion.
And I think that’s definitely something inspired by things I’ve seen happen in my family and the people around me, but especially “Charms”, on the album. That track is inspired by this big stack of my great grandmother’s diaries that my grandmother gave me.
“This album is definitely the most personal out of all the albums. So I’m putting it all out there.”
It’s funny you mention that, because listening to songs such as “As You Please” and “Imperfect”, they feel rather confessional to the point where you almost feel like you’re reading a journal you’re not allowed to. Is there ever any apprehension when it comes to being so raw, personal, and open from a lyrical point of view?
Yeah, I mean it always is, and I’ve always been quite apprehensive of that, and I’ve gotten… I’ve kind of let that go a lot over the last two albums especially, and this album is definitely the most personal out of all the albums. So I’m putting it all out there.
It also feels much more special from a listener’s point of view to be invited in like that.
I think Big Skies was on that path, but his is definitely by far the most personal… and it’s not just me, but it’s about all these people that influenced me. It’s like a constellation of different ideas and people all kind of mashed together.
Returning to the “Romantic Notions”, what you mentioned about the likes of your grandmother and great grandmother ties into how a press release described the album as being about “uncomfortable truths relating to women’s lived experiences”. I assume this is something that is quite close to you then?
Absolutely, I feel like I’ve been so privileged in my life to have been able to learn from all of these women in my family and in my life who have been through some really tough times, and a lot of that has been to do with the way that society is constructed and the status quo, and they’ve fought against that, or been a part of it, or struggled with it, and I feel so privileged that I can learn from that.
“It was all just a very strange time, and it just permeated into the performances on the record, because it was a tense time.”
The album itself was recorded just in the nick of time as well, with lockdowns sort of looming overheard. Did that have any sort of effect on the process at all? I’ve heard some folks saying they really tried to rush their recordings so they wouldn’t get caught short.
We weren’t rushing it, which is good. We always record quite quickly because it costs money to have more days in the studio. So we just go in super organised and get it done. We knew that we had a week or whatever we had, and it was just more of a weird time because we were all unsure of what was going to happen and whether we’d get to keep our jobs, and things were developing on an hourly basis.
Then at one point, Trisch lost her job for a day, and this is all happening while we were recording, and it was all very stressful and weird. And Tim, the recording engineer, working with him and him navigating this outbreak with his family and two little kids… It was all just a very strange time, and it just permeated into the performances on the record, because it was a tense time.
How did you all fare with the events of last year? You mentioned Trisch losing her job briefly, but did you all manage to escape relatively unscathed?
Yeah, we’re all good. I mean, things have changed for some of us, but everyone’s fine, which is such a relief. But we’re all good, and we so lucky that we were in Sydney, really, and we got off a bit more lightly than other states.
With that in mind, I would assume that being unable to play live would have been a bit of a gut-punch for everyone?
Yeah, we haven’t played at all. It’s been… sad. It makes me realise how much of an important part of my life playing is, and I think for all of us it is. You really miss that community as well, because previously we travelled a bit as well. Y’know, we’d always get down to Melbourne, and yeah, it’s like a missing part of our lives. So we’re really looking forward to getting back to it.
Was the album’s release effected by COVID at all? I’ve noticed that a lot of records released around this time were originally planned for an earlier arrival.
Yeah, it probably would’ve been a bit earlier. I’d say it would’ve been earlier, but our record label – Poison City Records – is down in Melbourne as well, so they were affected by all lockdown stuff as well. So I would imagine that it would’ve come out in the second half of last year, but y’know, that’s okay, we’re releasing it now and it’s all good.
To wrap things up, what is on the cards for the band now? Are live shows in the works? Are you writing while you wait to return to the stage?
We’re doing a bit of both. So we are looking to play live shows, so we’re plotting out a tour at the moment – around the middle of the year. And yeah, we’ve been writing. Three of us live here, on like, the same block, so we’ve been jamming lots, coming up with new stuff, and we’re going to have lots of new content soon. And hopefully we can get back into the studio soon as well and record some songs.
Mere Women’s Romantic Notions is out now via Poison City Records