Hostile cars are a gust behind me, a rev, a honk, a swift sting of headlights. With deliberate steps and wide eyes, I pass the meat smoking factory, its steel machinery behind tall gates; a storm water drain; a hooded figure with a shadow for a face. Down an alley, the door opens in a slow grind upwards.
In a rehearsal space at The Pitz (II), under a ceiling of carpet scraps, the band’s women, Amy Wilson (vocals, keys) and Kat Byrne (drums), sprawl on the floor and Flyn Mckinnirey picks idly at the guitar. Kat’s on the phone putting in an order for the Lebanese pizza joint in Enmore, and I motion to the whiteboard where a pair of perky tits have been drawn by some other band. “Oh yeah,” Flyn falsely claims the crudely drawn rack, “I think women really are mere.” The band stake The Pitz (II) as the grounds upon which they formed – in their words ‘a DIY rehearsal space in the back blocks of Marrickville’, a place where lumpy asphalt laneways lead to hidden venues, where amps are rolled down grimy footpaths. It’s in this space that Flyn reckons about seventy per cent of the writing for the band’s forthcoming LP, Old Life, has come together. The fact so much of the writing was done here while ‘mucking around with a riff’ is hard to explain for Flyn. In his last band Ohana, he would labour over writing, sitting for hours and hours with the weight of a guitar across his knee. In these little caves built for sound, in jamming sessions, through a process described as not quite accidental, and sometimes spontaneous, things just somehow ‘click’.
Soon they’ll press twelve months of work onto vinyl: songs that in some way encompass ideas of “time passing, of change happening, of looking back and looking forward as well”; of ‘histories’ and people from the past, “growing old, being alone, thinking back, stagnation, and the footprint you leave after you’re gone.” When I ask whether the songs, all degrees of brooding to the ears, are manifestations of the one theme, Kat is quick to point out it’s not a concept album. “It’s not quite post rock enough to merge into one,” she says. “You wish,” Flyn quips.
“You’re playing fuckin’ goth pop,” Flyn’s old bandmates said when he shared Mere Women’s early demos for the first time. For a band so aware of genres, the classification had come as a surprise to the trio; and when I ask whether there’s a specific sound in mind, three differently pitched ‘no’s reverberate as my question’s last syllable falls. But it’s ‘goth pop’ in the reverb, the beat-right-out-of-your-ribcage drums, the deep chanting on earlier released track, ‘Sun Rising’. It’s a sub-genre that sounds ludicrous, but strangely apt enough for all members to swallow.
“I think Amy brings the goth,” says Flyn and she protests, “But I’m blonde!” she cries – bleached but ever-changing pixie cut and dimples. “ You do,” he insists, “when you’re all ‘Ooh hoo ohh ho,’” and he chuckles at something in the imitation of her floating vocals. Perhaps it’s the self-conscious theatricality, the ‘corniness’ they all admit to. Later, when the room smells like sujuk and the band devour doughy zataar-crusted wraps and vegan spinach pie, he will use this word – ‘corny’ – to describe elements that just seem to work regardless. They’ll call each other out on the ‘cheesy shit’ they all come out with, and talk about that line they walk every time they write.
“It’s… about balancing that pop element with something that’s a little more interesting, so it’s not just a three minute pop song,” says Kat: linear structures, rotating melodic and rhythmic roles and each member’s distinct style. This last part I had heard before from a mutual friend. His face had been cupped by shadow inside hole in the wall record store-cum venue, Black Wire, its Turkish-rug-in-a-corner-for-a-stage often graced by Mere Women and bands of their ilk. For those familiar with Ohana, Little A, Bare Arms and The Thaw, in Mere Women it’s unmistakenly Flyn’s guitar looming, Amy’s bipolar vocals and off kilter keys and Kat’s melodic drumming.
A mongrel with gooey eyes wags his tail in front of a set of kitchen drawers and shadows linger in a narrow hallway in the self-made clip for ‘Amends’, the first single from Old Life. The band describe it as an ode to a beloved and rambling sharehouse seemingly held together with a bit of gaffer tape. The camera startles a flock of porcelain swallows against gaudy wallpaper, moves over a teapot on a windowsill, reflections in a scalloped mirror, old dials on a tape deck, a percolator whistling on the stove, long lazy clouds peeking over a lip of guttering; all to Amy’s refrain – an olive branch – Let’s make amends before we die, the cha-pa-pa cha-pa-pa of skins and a grate of guitar, the notes of which linger and snowball.
“The song itself… is the best indication as far as a single goes,” says Flyn, “because it kinda mixes that pop – that weird rhythmic vibe – and then the other side [that’s] a bit heavier, a little bit post rock.”
Like as in most of Mere Women’s music, the keys and drums in ‘Amends’ proceed as though in a pop song, with a guitar that comes in and “basically fucks it up”, as Flyn puts it. Lyrics are secondary to mood, to textures. The ‘Amends’ clip drinks in bumpy walls, stubble, stripey jocks and smooth surfaces. Similar to the clustered collectables that have accumulated like barnacles in the house, songs unfurl as vignettes, inspired by snippets of overheard conversation, ‘a shiver’, seeing something out of place, or ‘the worst shit that society has to offer’, like ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ – little girls with syrupy smiles painted on with frosted lipstick.
As the voice of warning, of lullaby, it is Amy who writes the lyrics. Mirroring the shy pageant queens she has taken as her muse, she sighs a long ‘ummm’ and looks up at the low ceiling when quizzed on the significance of her words. Long after the red light on my recorder dims, and the roller door judders to a close as I step out into the cold, she tells me she doesn’t like to reveal too much of herself through words. Themes are better expressed through the music; through her voice, which invokes a danse macabre of madmen, weathered gravestones, and memories of a grandmother stifled with depression, filling days with soap operas and crosswords.
At The Pitz again, while cars shoot down to Victoria Road, while a man under fluorescent lights shaves meat from a glistening rotisserie, and another serves up flattened hot dogs, Mere Women are set to play. The air is used and the space claustrophobic. Feedback screams through someone’s mic. Like the madame of a seance, Amy seems to address the unseen in the ether, “Who is this?”. When the noise is deflated, Kat bounces, Flyn jerks, moving rhythm through his legs and Amy pounces at her keyboard. Only a few words make their way out of the fray as the room resonates, then thumps to a tribal beat.
Winter has well and truly crept in, and we sit in a bleak beer ‘garden’ that’s a swathe of concrete. For what is a long time, he watches his frozen fingers attempt to tease tobacco, to roll and to seal a cigarette and as he does so, he speaks about Mere Women. They’re happy people making dark music. I mean, you look at them and it’s like ‘Where did that come from’, he says.
Back in the rehearsal space, words to describe the band’s sound had been spoken: witching hour, betwixt and between, ethereal … ghostly
The words had stuck.
“It’s pretty funny how you say [our sound is ghostly], Flyn had said, “because me and Amy spend, like, a lot of time in the Camperdown cemetery, not as a fuckin’ spook thing, like goths, but we take our dog there during the day and I think it’s the most beautiful place in the whole of the Inner West, when the sun comes through.”
The weathered sandstone dappled under the boughs of decrepit trees.
“I saw a guy there the other day and his face was all punched in and bloody and he was wearing track pants [pop-button ones],” says Amy, derailing the beauty, or perhaps, as Mere Women so deftly do – amplifying it with a bit of ugliness. Something like that Leonard Cohen lyric that always gets bandied about – the crack in things, those perceived ugliness or imperfections – letting the light in. But Mere Women wouldn’t call it ugly, they’d call it interesting.