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How Mermaidens Made Their ‘Magnum Opus’ Fourth Album

The Wellington indie rock trio tell Rolling Stone AU/NZ how they overcame several obstacles to make their best record yet


Sarah Burton

The members of Mermaidens are rightfully in a good mood. Squeezed onto a small couch in the window of their vinyl pop-up shop, Abe Hollingsworth, Gussie Larkin, and Lily West are just an hour away from hosting their album release party in Wellington when they speak to Rolling Stone AU/NZ.

With an infectious energy, they show me around their crib. Merchandise lines one wall, while vinyl copies of their self-titled fourth album are stacked near the counter ready for purchase. Behind them, window paint displays their band name in appealing swirls of yellow, green, blue, and red.

But it was never supposed to work out like this: Mermaidens’ new record – released four years after their Taite Music Prize-nominated album Look Me in the Eye – almost didn’t arrive at all.

“In 2020, I was supposed to move to Berlin!” Larkin laughs. When the world went into lockdown, she didn’t. Instead, Larkin, Hollingsworth, and West retreated into their homes and wrote songs. A lot of them. When they emerged, the trio weren’t quite sure what to do with them.

“There were various conversations like, ‘Oh, we’ll just do one single, which was ‘Soft Energy’. Then, ‘We’ll do an EP’ and then ‘We’ll do two EPs,’” recalls Larkin. After much deliberation – including an idea for a dance EP – a full album was decided as the best way forward.

The end result is a carefully curated collection, according to West. “Side A is very boisterous and quite driving or aggressive.  It’s got a lot of punch,” she explains. “But Side B… it’s kind of smoothed out and undulates, it explores a bit more.”

A full album allowed the band the opportunity to experiment with the sounds they individually love, melding together touches of indie, emo, alternative rock, and psychedelia.

“I think we’re very hungry songwriters and love to explore so many different facets of music and different expressions of feelings,” West says. “We treated this album as a wonderland to explore so many different possibilities and hone in on them.”

Working on such an expansive record, however, necessitated some outside help. Enter Samuel Flynn Scott, founding member of Wellington indie rock icons The Phoenix Foundation, who brought over two decades’ worth of composing and production experience to the table.

From the days of West listening to Pegasus on her Walkman to working with him across his studios, bringing in Flynn Scott’s expertise was a full circle moment.

“We listened to Sam’s music when we were in high school,” she says. “To go from being influenced and inspired by him to working with him and getting the insight and knowledge on how he does what he does – and to be able to add that our knowledge and language of our music – was a real good match.”

With so many ideas and intentions pinging around, the band says Flynn Scott was able to push them to write and play better and distill the sound they were working towards. Hollingsworth, Larkin, and West smile at the memories of working with him, in awe at the fact they now call him a mate – a far cry from the days they felt shy and starstruck.

West laughs as she recalls how often Flynn Scott would put his hands to his face while they agonised over their songs not having the right feel to it yet. “He was invested emotionally as well,” she says.

“It’s nice when you have someone like him,” Larkin adds. “Especially as this person who I hold in really high regard, even just as a songwriter.”

While the album clearly tested the band’s patience, they’ve never been so proud of their work together.

“I felt at times like it would never be finished, to be honest,” Larkin admits. “But I think I just had to get used to admitting to myself that sometimes this is not what the final result should be. And we should strive to make it something [better].

“I’ve been learning more and more that your love for your own music can carry it so much further. You have to love it and believe in it to release it.”

The release of their fourth album comes during a tremendously busy period of each of their lives, but West says they’ve still given more than they ever have to the band. Hollingsworth, now rocking a baby on his knee as party guests begin to arrive at the shop, agrees.

“Life is pulling us apart now, but that is the greatness of this album being named Mermaidens. This is the statement. This is the magnum opus.”

Mermaidens self-titled fourth album is out now. Their album release tour begins in Dunedin on November 25th, followed by stops in Christchurch, Auckland, and Wellington (tickets available here).