A Diary and a Daydream: Inside Merpire’s Stunning Debut Album ‘Simulation Ride’

Merpire © Nick Mckk
Merpire © Nick Mckk
Nostalgic and dynamic, impassioned and honest, Merpire’s debut album ‘Simulation Ride’ is an unapologetically raw reckoning through life’s highs and lows: An intimate indulgence of indie rock and pop that beautifully captures what it feels like to live through upheaval and change, and keep moving forward.
for fans of Tennis, Lauran Hibberd, Angie McMahon
Stream: “Village” – Merpire




When life brings us high, we revel in its beauty; when it gets us low, we soak in the struggle. It’s that vast spectrum of feeling – our ability to experience such a plethora of vastly diverse emotional states – that defines, at least in part, our human existence; and it’s that same spectrum of feeling that comes alive in Australian artist Merpire’s irresistible debut album. Nostalgic and dynamic, impassioned and honest, Simulation Ride is an unapologetically raw reckoning through life’s highs and lows: An intimate indulgence of indie rock and pop alike that beautifully captures what it feels like to live through upheaval and change, and keep moving forward.

Simulation Ride - Merpire
Simulation Ride – Merpire
It takes a village to hold on to you
I never thought of it like that
You are a psyllid and I’m a bell miner
Up in a tall tree protected
You are a living sugar refinery
I am species, addicted
We go together like two peas on a knife
You keep producing the sweet stuff
I expect too much
Think I’m not enough
Sometimes what you need
You might not get from me
It takes a village to love you

Released July 23, 2021 via ADA / Warner Music Australia, Simulation Ride is a diary and a daydream all at once. It’s also the perfect full-length introduction to Merpire, the moniker of Melbourne-based artist Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt who, for the past four years now, has treated audiences to her uniquely intimate rock sound ripped straight from her very soul. The artist’s first LP arrives not only as a stirring culmination of the past few years of her life, but also as a deeply vulnerable and visceral personal statement showcasing the depths of her lyrical, instrumental, and vocal talents.

Merpire © Nick Mckk
Merpire © Nick Mckk

Simply put, Simulation Ride is the kind of musical journey that leaves all who hear it shaking. Seldom do we dive this far, and this fully, into another person’s psyche.

“This record is a pivotal couple of years in my life, sharing my lowest lows, my highest highs, and my biggest learnings in life so far,” Merpire tells Atwood Magazine. “Via the lyrics, chords, melodies and production choices, it’s the most in-depth way I can share how all those moments felt and how I’ve been growing from song to song. There’s so much emotion and life experience crammed into 35 minutes, which is pretty surreal to think about. Production wise, it’s the most daring I’ve ever been. I like to imagine each song is a different world or movie scene when recording. Because we had so much time to record it, I could really lean into that idea. The bookend songs capture what the whole record is about – finding positivity in the toughest times and trying to be patient and kind to myself in the process.

“I’ve always wanted to write music that can make others’ feel the way I do when in a daydreamy zone of comfortable melancholia, or crushing on someone and attaching fantasies to music,” she says. “I hadn’t realised how much I write about dealing with my anxieties until I’d chosen the songs for the record and wrote down descriptions for each one. Once I’d realised that, a new vision was added where I wanted to be able to help others’ who struggled with anxiety feel less alone. The making of this album saw me through a huge developmental phase of belief in myself not only as a songwriter, but also as a woman finding her confidence in such a male-dominated industry. I think one of the first visions I put in place for this record was shooting the album cover. I wanted to reverse the imagery you see on 1960s horror movie posters – a helpless, sexy damsel in distress being carried by a monster. A depiction of the worldview of women that is still being fought today. That we need saving by a strong, dominating aggressor and that we’re only desirable if we’re classically sexy and wearing next to nothing.”

“Going out on shoot day, with this monster costume that took two weeks to make by the hands of my dressmaker friend and I, and the satin dress she made me, I had every intention of carrying the monster on my back. Alas, I twisted my ankle pretty badly hopping over the fence of the farm where we shot and my friend Ashley who was in the monster costume, she had to carry me until I was ready to push through the pain! Nick Mckk, the incredible photographer that he is, captured this moment where I was explaining to Ashley what I wanted to do and he snapped this beautiful photo that is now the album cover. Can you spot her human thumb in the monster costume?”

Merpire © Nick Mckk
Merpire © Nick Mckk

One of the most important aspects of this record, from Merpire’s perspective, is that it gave her ample opportunity to not only create a world of sound, emotional, and color, but also a chance to explore her own endless possibilities within this world. “I was very fortunate to produce this record with my partner and bandmate, James Seymour,” she explains. “We had the luxury of time to explore sounds, experiment with new ideas as well as stumble into timely accidents that found a place on the record. This played a huge role in building my confidence as a co-producer, being able to express myself fully, getting into all the quirky nooks and crannies of both mine and James’ interests. I like to think it captures my emotional investment in feelings attached to life’s moments and the way in which I view them as movie scenes. James used to be a sound engineer adding sound effects and foley to visuals, so it’s really handy that he has that skillset and vision to draw from when trying to capture this.”

As for the album title itself, Simulation Ride is Merpire’s way facilitating an adventure for her audience.

“I like the idea of my album being an invitation to take an audio ride through my brain while the listener creates their own imagery, hopefully finding solace in the lyrics and creating new memories alongside the music. We all know art in general has the power to cross-pollinate between the artist’s vision and the listener/viewer’s interpretation based on their individual life experience, and it changes with every person – too cool. ‘Simulation Ride’ is also a lyric from the opening song, ‘Village’ and is an apt description of how it feels to be socially anxious sometimes – what many of the songs on the record are about. ‘I feel like I’m on a simulation ride when we arrive at the party. I was so quiet inside my room all day, don’t want to ruin the moment.‘”

I’ve been pulling my brain cells out
Slowly one by one
Holding memories too close,
That had nothing to do with us
I’ve been shooting my mean mouth off
It hits me in the chest
Wasn’t sure if i deserved this
The way nothing can kill our love
The way nothing can kill our love
This is the way it should be
Guess I never knew me
Gonna give you the time and all the space to grow beyond the fire
I wanna see this through


Highlights abound throughout Simulation Village, from the heart-on-sleeve drama of opening track “Village” and the pure passion and warmth spilling out of “Brain Cells,” to the achingly emotive and explosive “Dinosaur,” the soft and harmony-laden “Easy,” the bittersweet churn roaring out of “Sink In,” and the poignant confessional closer “Yusiimi.” Some of the album’s songs – including “Habit,” “Lately,” and “Heavy Feeling” – are already one to two years old; nevertheless, they all continue to resonate, burning brighter than ever on this LP.

Atwood Magazine previously praised her song “Heavy Feeling” – named an Atwood Editor’s Pick back in spring 2020 – as impassioned and unrelenting, coming from a dark place of anxiety to capture the artist’s inner pain: “[It’s] an emotional overhaul from a genuinely bold, no-strings artist who is clearly true to herself, and brings as much authenticity as she can into her music.” The song continues to hit hard Simulation Ride, representing one of the album’s darkest and most intense moments of inner eruption.

Waking up to the sleep in
In my pillow I hear them
They’re not saying nice things about me
Step outside for some fresh air
Maybe freedom will be there
Surely flowers won’t want to hurt me


For Merpire, each of these songs holds an incredibly special place in her heart, but she’s also quick to share her favorite moments. “I’ve been dying to share the perfect accidents on this record!” she exclaims. “The first thing you hear on this record was an accident. When James and I were recording guitars for ‘Village’ the mic picked up the playback of the song through the feedback of the guitar. It sounded like a long-lost frequency on a radio. James also added a sample of a record being put on a record player just before the drums and bass kick into the song. I think this small, obscure introduction to the record sets the scene and makes for an even more exciting adventure once the rest of the production kicks in.”

“Secondly, and probably my favourite, the toy piano in the bridge of ‘Yusiimi’, the closing track. We were struggling to find something interesting to go with the casio drum beat sample without taking the listener too far away from the song. James picked up this Wiggles keyboard and pressed a button to select a music box tone. The melody that played when he pressed the button just happened to be in the same key and at the same tempo as ‘Yusiimi.’ I remember looking at each other wide-eyed, mouths agape. We didn’t even need to say anything. That was it. I wrote to the Wiggles sync-licensing manager to get the ok too.”

As a lyrically forward artist, Merpire cites parts of “Village” and “Lately” as two meaningful and personally memorable lines, respectively:

“You are a living sugar refinery, I am a species, addicted.”
“I’ve started missing strange things – your spray deodorant routine. It would choke me in the morning while I was still trying to sleep.”

Merpire poured years of herself into her debut album, and her hard work has paid off in the end: Simulation Ride is a thrilling, catharsis from end to end. Whether you come to this album for solace and space away from the rest of life, or you come to it for catchy tunes and a good time, Merpire’s debut album is sure to ignite a fire deep within all who tune in.

Merpire © Nick Mckk
Merpire © Nick Mckk

“As I’ve mentioned before, I really hope the listeners who suffer from anxiety can find some company and solace in the songs where I share my experiences with that,” Merpire shares. “I also hope there’s people out there with a huuuuge crush on someone, looking for music to attach to small, exciting moments they’ve had with them or scenarios they’re dreaming up. That’s one of the best/worst feelings on earth, when you don’t know if they even like you yet but you have an inkling they might. I’ve received a few messages from people where this record has evoked both of those feelings and I am over the moon about it. If I can move people with my music in any way, good or bad, I consider that pure sorcery and I am deeply touched.”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Merpire’s Simulation Ride with Atwood Magazine as Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her debut album!

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:: stream/purchase Simulation Ride here ::
Stream: ‘Simulation Ride’ – Merpire



:: Inside Simulation Ride ::

Simulation Ride - Merpire

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Village

It really does take a village to nurture a romantic relationship, the same way it takes a village to raise a child. This was a really helpful concept for me when I was at the start of a new relationship, worrying about whether I was enough or not. The idea was sparked when thinking of symbiotic relationships in nature, specifically the one between Bell birds and psyllids.

Lately

Specific moments of missing an ex inspired this song. Not one particular ex for me but exes in general. I tried to think of the lowest points in a breakup, when you’re wondering if they’re suffering as much as you and when you start to miss the things you used to hate.

Brain Cells

This is one of my favourite songs to perform live with my predominantly female band. We usually open the set with it. It starts off with just me singing and playing my electric guitar and then the band comes in all together, a moment that makes me smile every time. It warms my heart when I hear their soaring harmonies too. I’m so grateful to have them.

Habit

‘Habit’ is a love letter to my friendship group and the music community here in Melbourne. So shocked that such brave, talented, motivated and compassionate people could even exist in one place, I was inspired to write about them. The video clip for ‘Habit’ was an all-women project, another pivotal moment of finding an empowering group of women to support one another’s artistic endeavours.

Dinosaur

You can thank Jurassic Park for this one. While there is no evidence to support the statement made by character Alan that dinosaurs can’t see you if you don’t move, it made for a genius suspense-builder. That scene in Jurassic Park got me thinking about the possibility of humans not being able to see other humans if they stood still, trying to abort an anxiety-inducing situation.

Sink Interlude

This is a haunting, repetitive reminder from a line in ‘Sink In’ – that I am loved and I am not the fear of being loved that was in my head at that time of writing the song. I wanted the production in this interlude to evoke an otherworldliness. When trying to explain watery vocals in the production phase, I likened it to the bit in ‘Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire’ where Harry submerges the sirens’ music box/egg into the girls’ bathroom tub to hear the sirens’ song.

Easy

‘Easy’ was ironically the most difficult for James and I to find the right place for in the world within the record. It started as an upbeat, full band song. To try to evoke more vulnerability, we changed the key, the tempo, the feel and stripped it right back, recording it live, freely with no click. You might also be able to pick up singing wine glasses in the bridge and outro that a couple of friends played in while we all sat around in our dressing gowns one night when recording some of this record at a family friends’ beach house in Anglesea, Victoria.

Heavy Feeling

This is a snippet of a day waking up in a really anxious headspace and already wanting to write the day off as soon as it starts. I find ways to distract myself – go for walks, really breathe in flowers to force deep-breathing and walk back streets to avoid people. This song as a whole is pretty straight to the point of ‘I feel shit so I’m going to write a loud, strummy song to get it out’. Like writing is for many artists, this was a great catharsis to write and is to perform too.

Old Vein

This whole record is like the video store of my mind. If I’m really anxious, I feel like I’m watching one of those horror movies where before you’ve seen it, you’ve been told it’s disturbing and terrifying, so you’re waiting for the horror while the director has made the first 20min of the movie intentionally unsettling in it’s seemingly pleasantness. If you hadn’t known it was a horror movie, you might not have felt as intensely unsettled but because you know something awful is bound to happen soon, you just feel it. That’s what being anxious during perfectly lovely, normal situations feels like.

Sink In

I was at the most self-loathing point in my life when I wrote this song. I was scared of myself and had panic attacks often. The chorus perfectly describes how I felt for maybe the first year of my current relationship – often feeling like I wasn’t enough. I love how heavy and full the guitars are in the second chorus. They were inspired by Mitski’s ability to make walls of distortion sit perfectly with her angelic vocal melodies.

Yusiimi

I’d always wanted to release a song where the start is a voice memo and then the studio-produced version of the song kicks in later. This is it! The first verse and chorus is a voice memo I sent to James. I love the compression on the mic in an iPhone. This song is an ode to the ever-reaching goal of trying to see yourself the way others’ say they see you.

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:: stream/purchase Simulation Ride here ::

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Simulation Ride - Merpire

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📸 © Nick Mckk

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