1. What are you currently up to? (e.g.
We’re currently in the studio recording the follow up album to The Mermaid Kiss Album – we’re eleven tracks in, so we’re getting there - and we’ve just started rehearsing the new live set.
2. Brief history of how you got into the music business and the style of music you play…
Evelyn and I were writing songs for our own amusement when, in 2000, we were asked to write and record the music for a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ and for the soundtrack for a short, locally made horror film called ‘The Vawn’.
We recorded these tracks at The Goat Shed, which is Andy’s studio – that was how we met him – we all had such a great time doing those projects that we decided to continue working together.
Evelyn left the band last year to concentrate on her University studies, and Kate joined as lead vocalist. Andy and I have played in various bands since the 1970s - but for Kate this is all very new.
As to the style of music – that’s a difficult question. The Mermaid Kiss Album has been reviewed in everything from a traditional folk magazine right through to a Polish heavy metal mag.
We’ve always let the songs dictate the style, rather than trying to cram everything we write into a certain genre. I’m guessing the majority of our fan-base comes from the progressive rock area, but it certainly isn’t exclusively so.
3. Your debut album came out in 2003. What reaction did it get from the reviewers and fans?
We were amazed at the number of great reviews we received. I think the fact the music doesn’t fit neatly into any genre got us the originality vote – but it’s also made it hard to promote – so much of the music business seems genre based.
At that point we were strictly a studio band – Andy, Evelyn and I did everything on that album – played all the instruments, did the engineering, mixing, mastering – even did the artwork. But following the reviews we were continually asked to play live, so we put a set together and got out there.
I guess most bands do it the other way round, but there are no rules.
4. Since then you’ve got a new vocalist Kate Belcher. What direction will the new music take and what plans are there for a new album?
Obviously Kate’s brought things of her own to the band; she’s an inventive guitarist in her own right, and her voice is very different from Evelyn’s, which in itself has influenced the feel of the new songs.
Another significant change on this album is that Andy’s done some of the writing, so that’s brought another new element into the mix. We got Nigel Hooton on board to play lead guitar - and we decided to use more guest musicians – for example, Paul Davies, the ex-Karnataka guitarist (and now with The Panic Room), plays some great solos on a couple of the tracks on the forthcoming album.
We’re also expanding the live band; Elly Goulding will be playing with us, providing additional guitar, harmony vocals and maybe a bit of clarinet as well.
I suppose the first album was very intimate in many ways, the new album is more expansive and outward looking – and it has more of an edge.
5. How do you hope to get Mermaid Kiss heard above all the other bands vying for attention out there?
I think it’s basically down to commitment and hard work – putting in the hours. Everybody needs a slice of luck, but I guess the harder you work the luckier you get!
We’ve always believed in a slow build being the best way for the band to have a prolonged life. Make sure you’ve got a solid fan-base and gradually grow from there. It may seem very old-fashioned in these high tech days, but, outside of mainstream pop and rock, word of mouth is still the best and most reliable way for music to spread.
To be honest though, we’re still learning the promotional side of things – it’s obviously crucial – a band could make the best album in the world, but if no-one hears it, what’s the point?
So far I think we’ve been pretty lucky with gigs. We haven’t had to go looking too hard for them – fans have helped a lot with getting us spots – and we’ve had some very useful introductions.
6. Have you seen an upswing in interest in all things rock over the past few years? How do you view the current live scene in the UK as regards new bands getting exposure?
There has been an increase in interest in the independent rock scene recently – not surprising given the paucity of decent music fed to us by the major labels. The ability of bands to make their own recordings at home has meant there’s so much more original stuff out there – finding it isn’t always easy, but the effort’s definitely more worthwhile these days.
It’s always been hard for new bands to get significant live exposure and I don’t think that’s changed very much. In the same way that bands now do a lot of recording themselves, maybe we should also organize more live things ourselves – put on our own gigs, or get together with other bands to do shows.
7. How has the Internet helped spread the word about the band? Do you think downloading is helping or killing music?
The internet has been crucial in spreading the word about Mermaid Kiss – especially early on when we were exclusively a studio-based band. And, apart from word of mouth, the website is still our best tool for promo – it’s the major source of info going out to the fans, of sales of the CDs and also most importantly, of hearing back from the fans.
As to downloading – well like most things it has an up side and a down side – certainly it’s enabled more people to sample the band’s music – but also it has hit CD sales to some degree – though I guess this is probably more to do with copying than downloading.
What I do feel however is that the major labels are wrong when they say that downloading has had a significant effect on their sales. The reason they sell less is because the music they put out is so poor!
I buy more CDs now than I ever have, but maybe only 1 in 12 or 1 in 15 is from a major label – the rest are from small labels or independents. Most major label stuff is repetitive and derivative.
8. What bands/artists do you admire and/or are an influence?
This may be avoiding the question a little, but having been there, I can safely say I admire any person or band who’ve got it together enough to record and put out a CD and put together a live set to promote it – that’s not to say I’d necessarily like what they’ve done – but I admire them immensely for having done it.
And having said that it would be invidious to pick out specific artists, so I’ll just mention some of what I’ve been listening to over the last couple of days.
An extraordinary album called Bluebird by an American named Sarah White – it’s 10 short tracks, less that half an hour in total and totally mesmerizing; an album called Status by US band Elk City – what else… the Flower Kings; ’Slowed Down’ which is the first album by the Finnish band Kemopetrol; Stephen Stills second solo album from 1971; some Saint Etienne; Imogen Heap; Yes’s Close to The Edge; Carina Round; The Ruts; Catherine Wheel; The Clash and one of my favourite album’s from last year ‘Mellow Garden’ by the German trio Tenfold Loadstar.
Andy’s been listening to John McLaughlin’s Heart of Things; John Patitucci – Sketchbook; Omar Sosa - Free Roots Natacha Atlas - Best of Natacha Atlas and Weather Report - Mr. Gone - and Kate’s pleasure has been Fiona Apple, The Sundays, Massive Attack and Damian Rice. Between us, it’s a pretty varied selection.
As to the bands we admire and listen to being an influence? – I really don’t think they are in any significant way – or maybe there’s a tiny bit of everything we listen to in what we do… I guess that’s for others to decide.
9. What has been the highlight(s) and low point(s) of your career to date?
Highlights include simply writing the songs – that’s my own favourite bit of the process – though I love the recording too. And the playing live, actually now I come to think about it!
Getting the boxes of the finished CD. The first time you hear yourself on the radio is weird in a very good way.
Our first gig was an amazing experience – and recently working with Jonathan Edwards and Paul Davies from Panic Room (both ex-Karnataka) was great too.
I guess even at my age I’m still pretty starry-eyed about it all.
Evelyn leaving was definitely a low point – we’d worked together for six years. But in turn that led to another high point – discovering Kate.
Andy and I spent three months looking for a successor – had any number of demos from prospective singers from all over the UK and beyond – there’s a lot of people out there with good, even great voices, but we wanted someone with something distinctive.
Kate came and sang one song of hers called ‘Passport' (which is on the forthcoming album) – that was all it took. She’s an immensely gifted young woman, but it’s still all very new to her right now.
10. What ideally would Mermaid Kiss like to achieve by this time next year?
I’d like the new CD to do well – obviously! I’d like the live set to progress and our stagecraft to improve. But mostly just to keep building slowly, making sure we learn all we can on the way.
Evelyn Downing who sang on the debut album
11. What’s the most rock ‘n’ roll moment you have had so far?
I don’t know if you’d describe this as a rock’n’roll moment or the antithesis of one. We were playing a gig with two other bands in the spring of last year – and basically the entire audience were either stoned or smashed – it was more like 1974 than 2004.
The only sober people in the place were the musicians from the three bands. That’s a sign of the times for sure – bands have to take the whole thing a lot more professionally than they once did.
I’m sure the ‘rock’n’roll lifestyle’ does still exist at certain levels and in certain bands – but I suspect a lot of the stories are created by the labels to keep their bands in the public eye. Call me a cynic.
12. What CDs do you currently have available and where can they be purchased from?
Currently available is The Mermaid Kiss Album, which you can get from our website www.mermaidkiss.co.uk and a heap of other on-line sites including TheMusicIndex, iMusicStage, IntoMusic, CDBaby. MusicFist, CDReview, Galaris and TowerRecords.
Our new album should be released in late autumn – and we also have the ‘American Images’ album under way as well – there’s details of that project at the Mermaid Kiss website www.mermaidkiss.co.uk.
There’s a track, ‘Summer’s Almost Gone,’ on a Doors cover album called ‘Love Her Madly,’ which is available at our website, at CDBaby and from the label that released it, Skipping Discs at www.skippingdiscs.com; and there’s a free downloadable track at the Catherine Wheel tribute project ‘Too Much Is Not Enough’ – which is our version of ‘Goodbye’ from Catherine Wheel’s ‘Adam And Eve’ album - go to www.cwcovercomp.com/disc02.html - it’s track 8.
And on September 1st the first track with Kate as lead vocalist will be released on a CD issued by Olympian Shadow Farm on their Quarterly sampler album series – OSF Quarterly 4 - the song is ‘Human Zoo’ and it’s a different version from the one that’ll appear on the new Mermaid Kiss album. Details at www.olympianshadowfarm.com/quarterly.html
13. Message to your fans...
A massive thank you for all your support and help. It’s a cliché to say we couldn’t do it without you – but the reason it’s a cliché is because it’s true.