Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Some albums are enjoyable, some are accomplished and some are important. It's the rare one – such as Infinite Youth by Auckland's Merk (Mark Perkins) – which is all three.
A beautifully realised collection of songs around the loose theme of facing the threshold of adulthood while wanting to cling to the innocence and heartbreaks of childhood and teenage years it deals with love, doubt and hope in equal measure, wrapping al that up in sensitive and sometimes very beautiful songs.
It is Merk's second album – his first, Swordfish, won the Taite prize for best debut – and in its construction (see our review here) it is two cleverly constructed sides of vinyl.
Blue vinyl in fact.
With the album out and a tour pending it was time to ask Merk some questions . . .
Where did you grow up, and with who?
Tauranga, New Zealand. With my Mum, Dad, sister, and brother.
Was music an important part of your childhood?
It was. My Grandpa was a huge jazz enthusiast with stacks of records, tapes and CDs covering the walls of his house. Then in my teenage years I progressively became more and more obsessed with music for myself.
What are your earliest childhood memories of music which really affected you . . .
I can remember when I was five we moved city from Auckland to Tauranga and feeling very sad about it (later I was pleased), and certain songs would make me cry about it!
A few years later my cousin showed me ‘Because’ by The Beatles, and the sound and lyrics were so emotionally powerful, it really blew me away! These sorts of things taught me that music can speak to emotions in a way words cannot.
Was there a time when you felt it was going to be music and nothing else?
Yes! I still feel that way (when I don’t feel like giving up ha).
When you started on your music career were people around you supportive or did you have to find those people?
I’m very lucky to have some amazing friends who are incredible artists and the loveliest people. After high school, when I was 17, I started doing session playing bands with people who I learnt so much from, Tom Lark, Clap Clap Riot, Fazerdaze, to name a few.
ll were incredibly supportive when I started the Merk project. Also the team at Roundhead Studios where I cut my teeth as an assistant recording engineer!
The first song of yours which you really felt proud of was . . .? And why that one?
I am a very big self-critic and don’t often celebrate myself and my achievements (something I’m trying to get better on). But Laps Around the Sun on this new album was and is a song I’m very proud of. To me, it feels like a very ‘solid’ song with no wasted lyric or metaphor, everything is pointing back towards the main idea, like a well made chair or something. It also came together in a perfect marriage of both sheer flukey inspiration, and a lot of hard work.
Any one person you'd call a mentor, angel on your shoulder or invaluable fellow traveller?
My dear friend and co-producer Johan Carøe. We met in 2016 in Montreal at the Red Bull Music Academy, him a film-composer/ambient techno artist from Copenhagen, me an indie songwriter from New Zealand, and we really hit it off. I stayed with him in Copenhagen after a particularly hard tour and he really caught me and looked after me. Then we started working on this album together and he’s been doing that ever since!
Where and when was the first time you went on stage as a paid performer?
In 2010 (?) as a 16 year old I played covers at a garden party for the opening of Simon Bridges’ electorate office. John Key was there, he was Prime Minister at the time. Was weird.
Ever had stage fright or just a serious failure of nerve before going on stage?
All the time! It usually is OK when on stage, but beforehand can be hellish.
As a songwriter, do you carry a notebook or have a phone right there constantly to grab ideas they come? Or is your method something different?
I take a lot of voice memos and notes on my phone. This album has voice memos all through it to capture the intimate mood of the environment they were written, which is mostly late in the evening while everyone is asleep, me whispering into my phone with my guitar.
What unfashionable album do you love as a guilty pleasure?
There’s a few haha. Perhaps Shania Twain’s ‘Come on Over’, as a kid I thought it was very uncool, then I liked it perhaps ironically, now I just really like it! I recently joined Marlon Williams on stage during his most recent tour to play ‘Still The One’, it felt iconic.
Any piece of advice you were given which you look back on which really meant something?
I think early on I was told not to rely on inspiration to make good art and to not believe in writer’s block. Sitting down to do the work is the hardest part but once you’re there doing it it comes easier, it might not be good stuff but you’re working through all the bad ideas, then when inspiration does come you are prepared with the discipline to catch it and make the most of it. I have to write 10 bad songs before I write a good one, often more!
It's after a performance/concert and you are in a hotel room or back at home, what happens then?
This is always such a weird moment. The contrast between being in a loud venue performing to the quiet hotel room is stark. The adrenaline is still pumping but it’s all quiet and you have to sleep to catch an early flight. Often it’s a cup of tea and chats with the band, or staring mindlessly at my phone to chill out for a bit.
Is there any fellow artist you admire for professional and/or personal reasons?
So many, I feel very proud to be a part of the New Zealand music community which is so unique and world class in my opinion. One stand out artist for me is Aldous Harding. I’m very inspired by her art and her approach to it!
And finally, where to from here for you do you think?
I’m off on tour! Heading to Australia very soon and then New Zealand in May! After May will be a good amount of rest before taking stock and seeing what’s ahead for the future of Merk.
You can hear and buy this album on bandcamp here, and it comes in limited edition blue vinyl.
Merk photos courtesy of Lily Paris West