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“I’m Just A Vessel For These Songs”: An Interview With Bruno Merz

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A whole generation (or more) later than Nick Drake’s short time on the music scene, a New Zealand artist named Bruno Merz has appeared, who dreamingly channels Drakes’ ghost, but with an altogether more hopeful approach. Merz’s music is redolent with positive messages and optimistic vibes.

SEM’s Mike Dimitriou observed of Merz: “Born in New Zealand to Dutch parents, in his twenties Merz put a guitar on his back, moved to France and later in Amsterdam as a lone traveller and today he lives in England where in the island’s mist, he plans his imminent move to Canada. Merz is a traveller, and that course is imprinted in his lyrics. He’s a very interesting acoustic songwriter who manages to write soft songs with descriptive lyrics in a mature way, despite his youth.”

Merz has two new singles out–“Whisper Turn” and “Breathe Less”–and he was kind enough to sit down with us for a chat.

Stereo Embers Magazine: What has been inspiring you lately to create and perform? Has this changed over time relative to your older recordings? 

Bruno Merz: My older recordings were, I think, more inspired by personal healing relationships. That current still runs through a lot of my songs. But inspiration can come from all sorts of places for me. Sometimes it’s from a person I meet or even just seeing someone walk past. I feel that some people tell a whole story just through their demeanor or look. Difficulties or if someone close to me is having a tough time, that is also seems a good source of inspiration. I definitely don’t enjoy difficulties but at least something good can come from them!  Sometimes it can be as vague as a feeling that a song needs to come out and I have to grab a guitar or something and just run with it.  With performing it’s the audiences that inspire me. And also it’s a way to really communicate the songs across to people on a deeper level. There’s a lot of unseen stuff going on when someone sings to you live. I used to be absolutely terrified on stage but it helped to receive so many positive comments after gigs. And the realisation that I am just a vessel for these songs and it’s not about me. It’s about the audience having a good time.

SEM: Has moving all around the planet affected the way you make music and what you write about?

BM: Yes, I feel every country has its own taste in music in a way. They influence you if you are aware of it consciously or not. There were lots of things in Dutch electronica that I loved and picked up on, while in Canada I get inspired by the rootsy stuff that is around. Canada doesn’t seem too tied down traditionally and is very open minded when it comes to music – which I love.  Most countries also have their celebrated artists that don’t often get heard much over their borders which are interesting to discover. Each country presents its own challenges and has it’s own beauty and that definitely affects what I write about.

SEM: Can you walk us through the process involved from start to finish with “Whisper Turn”?

BM: A long time ago I recorded a very rough version of the guitar part you hear on an old cassette player I had in my basement studio temporarily in Leeds. (I either record rough ideas onto a tape or into my phone.) Then I revisited it about 6 years later and threw out the chorus I had. That song went through many different choruses after that. I actually ended up using a riff I wrote on an old Rhodes for another song I’d written many years ago and put lyrics to that. The lyrics came to me pretty quickly late one night. I will often put on one dim light in my studio and sing along to the guitar part until words start flowing. I knew I wanted to write about things that were happening in the world in 2016. Once the lyrics were there I could begin to record it properly – starting with guitar. It went through many different arrangements like most of my songs do and I finally decided on quite a sparse version. The only thing I went off site for was to record drums in a friend’s studio. Then it was weeks of mixing and throwing out ideas and replacing them with new ones until I was happy!

SEM: What message are you sending in the song?

BM: It was inspired by events of 2016/17 and I think I felt like I needed to inject some hope into negative way I and so many others had been thinking. There are absolutely terrible things happening in the world right now and it’s easy to let the gleeful media get to you about impending doom. I acknowledge the terrible things that are happening in the song but then tell people to “lift up their heads and uncover their eyes” as there is so much potential in us all to fix these problems. And not to lose sight of this incredible gift of life we have all been given and this experience we are having on this planet. If everyone could remind themselves more often of the fact that they actually exist and the amazing things we are surrounded by, we would all be less materialistic and be able to prioritise better and this world would be a better place. Every problem we have here seems to stem from a few greedy, money-hungry people that pillage our wonderful natural resources or try to be all-powerful.

SEM: What have you been listening to lately? 

BM: I have been listening to a very dreamscapey type band called Stars of the Lid. So nice to have on in the background. They create a peaceful atmosphere. Also a lot of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and John Prine. They’re really appealing to me at the moment. I haven’t been to any live gigs for a while. Looking forward to seeing more local bands around Peterborough and Toronto, though!

SEM: Can you recommend us a handful of current artists from New Zealand?

BM: Depends on what you like. There are so many great artists from that little country. My sister writes under the name ‘Birds of Passage’ and is worth checking out if you’re into quiet meditative stuff. There’s also Tiny Ruins and a little known guy I really like called Caitlin Blake. And if you’re into a bit of dub then Fat Freddy’s Drop or Pitch Black are great bands to listen to.

SEM: What are your plans for the next half year or so? 

BM: My plan is to release a song a month from now on which will be compiled into albums or EP’s as I go. “Whisper Turn” is the first tune from a 5 track EP. That will be followed by a full length album I have started on. I’m also producing an album for a wonderful singer/songwriter called Lou Richards. She will be the first other artist to appear on my own label besides myself. She is something very special. Then there are two other side projects which I’m very excited about but will keep a secret for now…

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