Photo Gregory Bojorquez
By the way, were not lesbians, says Bryony Atkinson. The singer-bassist of Merrick is lounging along with guitarist-singer partner Inara George at the bands favorite eatery on Melrose when she makes the random announcement. Not that we care what people think, but at the same time I just dont want everyone thinking were trying to be the new Indigo Girls.
The 20s-ish duo couldnt be more different. George is smiley, sincere to a fault and preternaturally calm. On the other hand, Bryony rhymes with irony shes got a rapier wit and tons of opinions, and is picky about the food. But we are so lucky to have found each other, she says. George is quick to agree. Weve both been in a bunch of bands, so we know how much of a nightmare collaborating can be. But for us its like we finish each others sentences.
Crafters of spare, irresistible vignettes underpinned by honeyed vocal strata, Merrick make songs that function like snapshots into the subconscious as they drift and eddy inside your skull and, in the occasional fan, cause obsession. On the self-funded, self-titled, self-everything debut, Ladders to Fire is a lengthy ode to the human condition, aloft with sweet vocal counterpoint that recalls the Deal sisters. Pageant could be a May Faire madrigal with its jaunty acoustic arpeggiations, while the unspooling dreamery of Infinity couldnt better capture its titles notion. Finally, Carousel staked with the doleful bow strokes of a standup bass more akin to the wheeze of a squeeze-box is a rocket ship straight to your pleasure center.
So why bury a gem at the back of the CD?
Theyre all gems, George enthuses. We write every one of our songs with the intent of making totally commercial pop. In our minds, these are accessible songs. If we had our way, though, the songs would be much more confused and chaotic.
There are a lot more layers to our songs than you can tell at first, Atkinson adds. Its like, I write my song, then Inara writes her song, and we put them together youre actually getting two songs in one.
Newly minted and still sans label, Drive Around Fast a Lot and Hard Driving Club peppered with lap steel and fleshed out by the lazy bowing of the signature upright bass maintains a lighter-than-air quality the debut sometimes achieved but never sustained. Only the hooky Sure Look approaches rocking out. This record is more focused, I think, Atkinson says, swishing gelato around her mouth. And even though it isnt anything like the first one theres no mistaking that its Merrick.
Merricks current inability to score a record deal is especially surprising because, aside from the music, theyve got all the right tools for capturing an A&R scouts attention: three songs in the Owen Wilson film The Minus Man; a track on the critically lauded Neil LaBute film Your Friends and Neighbors, in which Atkinson makes a brief appearance (You have to rent the film to hear our music, because there isnt a soundtrack); airplay by KCRWs Nic Harcourt of not just one or two, but every friggin track from the debut. And last but not least, theyre young and cute.
Its not like we havent sent out our demo to everyone, George says, but they dont know what to make of it . . . They wont touch us with a 10-foot pole, Atkinson cuts in.
But the harder the band aim for commercial viability, the more they end up sounding just like Merrick. Thats good for us, but its bad if you gotta eat, and the bands financial hole keeps getting deeper.
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Were still in debt from the first record, George says. We took out a loan from my mom, but I still totally have to pay her back.
After a revolving door of less-than-inspiring backup bandmates, Merrick finally have something of a regular lineup, but their violinist, upright bassist and drummer are clearly musicians for hire. Even when we perform live, I feel like its us vs. the band, says George. But luck has been smiling on Merrick lately. We were trying to sell this one guy our CD after a show, and he was going, Well, you should just give it to me. We needed the money, but we gave him a copy anyway, and he turned out to be the main buyer for Virgin Megastores, and he added us to his list. (The band also landed an upcoming Virgin in-store performance.)
Were learning so much, because weve had to do it ourselves, George says. Its the best way, I think, but then its not like we had a choice. But who cares were having a ball.
Merrick plays at Spaceland, Sunday, December 9.