Graham Reid | | 9 min read
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Josh Mehrtens is the excellent dream-pop band Mild Orange.
Yes, there are other members -- Jah, Barry and Jack -- but Mehrtens is the songwriter, singer-guitarist, producer, engineer, mixer and controls the artwork and creative direction of the band.
So who better to talk us through their jangling, melodic pop-rock third album Looking for Space track-by-track?
As with our other albums, we understand the importance of the entry to an album. ‘Colourise’ sums up a lot of the album both sonically and lyrically. It sounds welcoming and like a journey is building, then it explodes with colour when the second verse hits.
Lyrically it outlines much of the themes in the album, touching on outlooks, perspective and ways of seeing the world. This is one of the tracks recorded entirely at Roundhead Studios. It was written in Oākura Beach, New Plymouth and in studio in Auckland.
F.E.A.R stands for Forget Everything And Relax. All of us are surely guilty of letting fear dictate our decisions, and this can be good to many degrees as a defense mechanism that protects us from making costly choices, but sometimes it prevents us from leaving our comfort zones which in turn can allow us to grow.
This is much what the video touches on too. It’s easy to get worried about everything that can go wrong when performing (or doing anything really), and something nearly always will go wrong, but you can’t stop, you gotta carry on, relax and embrace the moment. I’d recorded a demo of F.E.A.R in the first lockdown in 2020, and a lot of the vocals and guitar I did made it into the final recording.
The song really came together though when the four of us jammed it out and gave it more structure and parts in Carters Beach, NZ. It’s a fun and groovy tongue-and-cheek song, with some scattered Star Wars lyrical references that will get stuck in your head in the best of ways.
The Time Of Our Lives:
This song came to be after I was reflecting on a time in my life when I truly felt like I was free to discover who I was by finding my own space in the world. I travelled around Japan by myself when I was 21, just skateboarding, exploring and making friends.
I picked up little life lessons along the way and the song and video celebrates that feeling of looking for space. I first showed a demo I’d made to Jah, it had the same vocals, guitars of mine and glitchy beat you hear in the final recording. Jah started playing this xylophone sounding part over the song and it elevated the nostalgia and catchiness levels through the roof.
Jack and Barry loved it too and what they brought to the song in drum and bass brought so much groove and texture – it had sounded a bare before they’d gotten involved. I worked with Paddy Hill at Roundhead to get this bedroom recording sounding a lot more refined. Paddy painstakingly and amazingly got Jack’s real drum kit recordings to emulate the 80’s drum machine beat I’d put on the demo.
Full circle style kinda stuff.
Since the early demo days of the song, I would play it along to Kento Yoshioka’s part in the Evisen skate video with the video’s audio off and they synced so harmoniously. Kento’s my favourite skater.
I reached out to his skate team and they digged the song. After many hurdles in Tokyo including lockdowns, monsoon season and the Olympics closing half the city, many months later, the skate/music video for the song was finally filmed. Kento, Tomoyuki and Nion nailed it.
This Kinda Day
Midway through us making Looking For Space I came down very hard with double pneumonia and pleurisy. It wasn’t fun to say the least and it earned me nights in hospital, many trips to the doctor and gave me trouble and pain when breathing for months.
Jah and I had just moved to New Plymouth and our friends parents, Kat and Bern, kindly let us turn their new house in Ōakura Beach into a recording studio before they renovated and moved into it.
Looking out from the house at a storm battering the beach, it dawned on me that the gnarly weather that hits the coastline is a requisite part of shaping and forming the beautiful beach. It dawned on me that this too shall pass, just like the sickness I’d had.
My mates (especially the band) and family had been there for me through the dark times, and it helped a lot letting them know I was going through a dark patch. So, this song, like the video, tells the importance of understanding the transience of moments, and to reach out to your friends when life gets overwhelming.
The song was recorded DIY between Oakura, the MOHQ in New Plymouth and then also with Paddy Hill at Roundhead Studios.
Oh Yeah nearly didn’t make it onto the album. For a while it kind of just didn’t fit into the album tracklist. We always knew it was a cool song but we couldn’t figure out how it clicked into the album both sonically and thematically.
Until, and very ironically, it made sense at a later date once we’d finished all of the songs and were able to listen back undisturbed.
My Dad had been urging us to take the song seriously, so we tried it in the lineup and it sonically went well with This Kinda Day to close off Side A, before Side B kicked off more punchy with What’s Your Fire?.
In hindsight, it definitely fits with Looking For Space. It’s hard to fully assess a moment and it’s meaning while you are living it. But when you have some time and space, some living in between that moment and the now, then you are offered new ways of processing that moment. This fits into the ‘trying to understand life’ category that much of the album attempts.
We also feel like this song is sonically reminiscent of Foreplay’s DIY slacker, laid back feel. This was unintentional, but we feel like it’s a nice nod to fans who’ve fallen in love with MO for that kind of sound, while we continue to explore other sonic territory.
What’s Your Fire?
New Zealand locked down for two months or so in the first half of 2020. This meant that the four of us weren’t able to come together to write and record for a while.
When we finally came together at Barry’s parents place in winter in the Mars-like Bannockburn (the most inland town in NZ), we made music with an explosive passion. We were both excited to make music together again, and excited to make energetic music for people to return to once live music could resume.
Enter What’s Your Fire?. It was the first song we wrote for the album (before we even knew there was an album). In light of lockdowns and not being able to play music and do other things I loved, I had been wondering where we were in life, what I truly burned for, and how I could continue to keep growing.
The lyrics led me, they flowed out of my mouth into the demo phone recordings we did without any planning or careful thought. Bit by bit I made sense of my utterings, and formed the lyrics to the song. They came from somewhere inside that I’m not sure that I’ve had access to since. It was this song that sparked us to engage with a proper studio. I realized that this song was too big for my laptop and bedroom mixing set up.
To get it to sound like a stadium rock song we took my Ableton file to Roundhead. Paddy - The Sonic Wizard - Hill made it sound huge.
Take A Moment (interlude)
This was an unassumed, unplanned tail-recording of Barry doing some descending chords on the bass guitar. I left it in at the end of the What’s Your Fire? demo for months because it felt calming.
Then we decided to split it into it’s own interlude so people could skip it if they didn’t want to take a moment haha. I love it as a peaceful moment in the full playback of the album to reflect and give the ears a little breather.
Aurora was written and recorded at the same time as What’s Your Fire? in Bannockburn. We’d jammed the idea a bit that I’d recorded onto my phone.
I’d listen to these janky recordings each day in the car driving to and from my family home about 30 minutes away and would find little intricacies that needed to be elaborated on, since we played it different each time. Aurora was the last song we recorded in Bannockburn, which meant it was rushed and incomplete.
I pretty much tracked Jack’s drums, Barry’s bass and then Jah’s guitar as fast as possible to get their initial ideas down. Then I added my guitar and vocals later when I would have time. I think that rushed and not over calculatedness brought out something free spirited, raw and loose in this song. It needed to be refined and listenable though, so with the help of Paddy’s skills, we got this to where it needed to be.
As for the meaning behind the song… you can’t live your life again.
This was recorded entirely at Jack’s uncles beach house in Carter’s Beach. I’d written bits of the song before we arrived together for the getaway but it really came together when we all had input on it and brought our own flairs.
This is our “try your best Covid, we’ll keep on believing in our dream!” anthem. As well as our attempt at making a 1970’s sparkly tune reminiscent of the old days in Hollywood where you’d buy a one-way-ticket to following your dreams in the city of stars.
Paddy helped us glitz it up by running it through the same tape machine that Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was recorded on, in the studio owned by Fleetwood member (and legend in his own right) Neil Finn.
I wrote this in the garden on an acoustic guitar while still recovering from sickness. Events like that, coupled with cancelling shows and navigating the difficulty of being a musician during a global pandemic can really test ones perseverance to follow their dreams. I got a taste for not being able to do what I loved. Music.
It really messed with my mental health not having music be the main thing in my life. So this song is about not letting the music stop, and doing everything in your power to keep the things that make you happy in your life. For me that was to get healthy again and value my health more in order to live a life full of music.
We’d jammed the song literally twice in the MOHQ a few days before going into Roundhead studios to have as a backup song that we would record if we maybe maybe mayyybee had time. For me, I’d been playing the song for a month or so. But for Jah, Jack and Barry they’d written their parts on the fly on one playthrough and then only played them once back.
On one of the last nights in Roundhead, we’d finished tracking Photographics and another song which is not on this album. It would’ve been about 12:30am and we’d all had a huge day and a healthy dose of beers. We started playing Music. just out of fun.
We decided to record it. Jack and I managed to get to the end of the song in a very loose and jammy way which was quite amazing given the state we were in. Jack and. I improvised the drums, vocal and guitar.
I need to add that we don’t normally drink in the studio, it was more celebratory. Barry played out of key for a lot of the song somehow, and then Jah was unable to remember what he was playing and didn’t manage to make it to the end of the song. It was a funny moment, but was all on record though.
For months I studied this weird recording of professional musicians sounding like a 12 year old battle of the band’s entry that only made it to the first round. However, there was a hell of a lot of passion and raw rock’n’roll energy in it and Jah and Barry’s takes both had the occasional stroke of genius in them.
I got those two to re-record their parts and I Frankensteined some of the original live jam bits in too. Paddy cleaned up the recording, and boom – this lovely, glowing recording was complete. It’s my favorite on the album for so many reasons.
We recorded the instrumental live to the 1970’s tape machine in Roundhead with Paddy, which gives it the warm and fat texture. Barry sparked the song with the bassline and we had initially intended for it to be an outro or reprise to The Time Of Our Lives.
It took shape as an album exit/summary, whereby I strike a poem at the end while the intensity of the band builds. It feels nice to leave the album on such an intense wall of sound. I find it interesting with this recording how in some moments on some sound systems it can be overwhelming, but when you find the right conditions it is just pure melty goodness. It’s intentional, something that we deliberated with.
It’s part of the art of Photographics.
Mild Orange's Looking for Space is available on digital outlets and on pre-order vinyl through their website here.