29 Mar 2016

Verse Chorus Verse: Mermaidens

10:01 am on 29 March 2016

Mermaidens give us a track-by-track rundown of their new album, Undergrowth.


No caption

Photo: Supplied

Verse Chorus Verse sees local artists break down the stories behind their music. For the latest in the series, we asked Wellington trio Mermaidens (Lily West, Gussie Larkin and Abe Hollingsworth) to fill us in on the songs from their debut album, Undergrowth.


‘Under The Mountain II’

‘UTMII’ was pieced together over many mind bending practices. The bass and guitar are the same riff out of sync and it took some time to find to best way to play it. When I was writing this I’d been doing a lot of drawings of little creatures and nature. The song is pretty much about them and discussing possession over living things. The song received video funding and I was lucky enough to get to animate the video. Now I watch the video and my voice and drawings have bought these little creatures to life. It’s a bit magic. – Lily West

‘Slow Days’

Slow Days is a bit of an odd one out on the album. The drums are, for the most part, played quite straight compared to the other songs. Abe uses the snare more in this song compared to the other tracks, where he favours the toms. I think the verse guitar line lends itself to this kind of jarring, fragmented instrumentation. The treatment of the vocals is quite different as well. Rather than washing the main melody with reverb and delay (true Mermaidens style) we put a bit of distortion on them instead. My favourite part of recording this song was when we were recording vocals for the outro – James (Goldsmith, who recorded the album) kept getting us to sing the harmonies over and over again, with the end result being an epic Lily-Gussie choir. – Gussie Larkin


Undergrowth is an emotional one! It definitely draws on my personal experiences and connections, but the lyrics have such a mystery about them (even to me) that I don’t think it’s necessary to link them to real life. Often when I’m trying to come up with a melody over a guitar line, I’ll latch onto a word or a set of words that magically appear. At the end of the song we sing “Glowing, humming, glowing, humming…” over and over again. I liked the way those words formed in my mouth and fell into a sort of chant.  – Gussie Larkin

‘Cold Skin’

If 'Cold Skin' were a place, it would be the greyest, gloomiest and rugged beach you’ve ever seen! That’s the kind of picture I hope people imagine when listening to the song’s intro. A lot of our lyrics draw on visual elements in nature – sometimes as a metaphor for our emotions/angst and sometimes just because they sound cool.  The rest of the song is about the frustration of wanting to get inside another person’s mind and figure them out.  – Gussie Larkin


Seed is such a fun song to play live. I especially love yelling “Grow! Grow out of your mind!” in the chorus. I actually wrote the verse vocals intending for Lily to sing them – I thought her sultry breathy voice would be ideal. Then when we were recording the vocals, I recorded a guide track of me singing them so Lily could follow. When we listened back to our two vocal takes together in the little booth in Blue Barn we literally all went “WOAH!” Both voices singing in unison just added to the song’s creepy factor so we kept it that way. – Gussie Larkin


Wander is one of the older songs on the album and has gone through faster and slower incarnations. It was written at the end of a very warm summer by a 19-year-old me. Non-fiction and fantasy meet in the lyrics. I like to have slower, more spacious songs that I try to contrast with Gussie’s more detailed and layered writing style. – Lily West

‘Haz Song’

Hardcore feels. ‘Haz Song’ is probably the most ancient piece of writing on the album, its age reflected best in that it simply follows a verse/chorus/verse structure. I feel like it’s rather cheesy and heavy on the emotion at times, but that’s totally why we love it. – Lily West


This song was written over the course of two years and several spaces, and it never really materialised into its final form until the week before we went into the studio. It started as Lily's descending guitar riff so long ago, but got shelved and lived on only on our phone recordings. Luckily we rediscovered it because ‘Splinter’ is probably our most ambitious song. It’s one of the more interesting arrangements while also being so organic. I think that’s why it’s our favourite song on the album! – Abe Hollingsworth