Benalla is known for being the closest town to where Ned Kelly lived – it’s also the place where Merpire, known offstage as Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt, has taken a little dalliance to support some friends of hers at a show. Merpire calls them friends, we call them RAT!hammock.
There’s always time for a chat before a show, though. As singer-songwriters go, Merpire is just enchanting. She’s also something of a pinball machine in that she’s been bouncing around all over the shop since the release of her EP Endless Chatter last year.
Merpire’s supported everyone and their dog – pick a name, she’s probably played with them.
“I think maybe I went overboard with the supports,” she giggles. “I think I did better this year with playing a little less, focusing more on the business side of things.”
Just one of the lessons Merpire’s picked up since her relatively recent emergence.
“Last year it was good to play a lot because I was new to Melbourne,” she says. “At that time, I was inspired to get among the Melbourne community, to play as much as I could.”
Merpire’s mention of getting out and about to immerse herself with other bands leads neatly into talk of her appearance at Queenscliff, where she’ll be on the bill with the likes of Missy Higgins, The Delta Riggs, Mojo Juju, and The Cat Empire – some huge Aussie names.
In terms of the velocity by which Merpire has accumulated this fame, experience and lessons learned, performing a festival as prestigious as this is an opportunity she can’t quite believe.
“It’s definitely a good thing to kind of bring me back down to earth,” she says. “It’s easy to get caught up in, ‘What’s next? Pick that up, move forward, I’m not going fast enough’, comparing yourself to other artists.
“But getting that Queenscliff gig was like, ‘Okay things are actually going really well, and I need to remember that, and it’s okay to pat yourself on the back now and then as you are doing great things.’
“I can’t believe my name is amongst all those names – it’s a nice, surreal feeling.”
With beautiful, almost wholesome music, even if the narrative isn’t often as such, Merpire admits this will be one of the first occasions she hasn’t worried about how she will retain her uniqueness among so many.
“I haven’t worried if our sound will suit the festival,” she says. “We’ve spent the last 18 months getting our set really strong and we’re really confident in what we’re doing live.
“[For] some bands, their success might be marked with more streaming, a live set, or the image is great, or the videos are great – one thing they do really well. I think, for us, it’s our live set.
“Even the gaps between songs, we’ve got a couple of little sonic moments to keep people in the zone. I think that’s something I’m aware of, being an audience member, is being held in the moment after a song.”
Be it a business venture or just creative urges that Merpire needs to satisfy, from an artist’s perspective it can be a little daunting to keep their interest without sacrificing creative ingenuity. She plays a song, the audience is appreciating what just happened, but it can turn into a bit much.
“Ten seconds between songs, I used to feel, ‘Oh, silly banter that didn’t mean anything.’ I think I’ve learnt you don’t need to fill a space that’s being taken up by a feeling that isn’t talked about.
“Leaving more time to ring out a note from the guitar between songs, or a little synth pad on the keys that will lead into the next song. I don’t have to say a lot to keep people captivated, kind of thing.
“Working hard on little parts to bring the live set to life. I’m looking forward to getting in front of a lot of people at Queenscliff!”
Merpire will perform as part of Queenscliff Music Festival (sold out), from Friday November 22 until Sunday November 24. Try your luck at the ticket resale via qmf.net.au.