Picture this: You’re blistering down a desert highway in a bright red, 1971 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, hellbent on making it to Vegas in record time. The wind’s in your face, and the sun’s at your back as you peel across the empty asphalt. You begin to hear a song off in the distance, and as it gets closer, you realize it’s the most beautiful song you’ve ever heard. Pulling off the highway to find the source of the enchanting melody, you stumble across a hole-in-the-wall that’s equal parts repulsive and magnetic.
It’s a place that beckons you to enter against your better intuition. You enter to find a horde of mermaids, wide-eyed, singing their siren song and anticipating your arrival. Nervously, you wonder aloud if this is heaven or hell when a voice from above calls down and says, “Welcome to the Mermaid Motor Lounge. My name’s Fran, can I get you a drink or some Melba Toasts?”
That may not be the exact image frontman Josh Erwin had in mind when he named his new band Mermaid Motor Lounge, but it’s certainly a name that activates the imagination. Aside from the inventive name, Erwin and his team, consisting of bassist Troy Harris, fiddler Jenna Mobley, drummer Ryan Van Fleet and guitarist Matt Pendrick, have created a mystifying and unique sound that Erwin describes as that of “a rock band that sounds like they’re trying to sound a little like a country band.”
The genesis for Mermaid Motor Lounge came when Packway Handle Band members Josh Erwin and Troy Harris began playing duo shows to showcase Erwin’s newest songs, but before long, they started scooping up musicians like they were the Avengers building their dream team. Although Erwin said he didn’t write Mermaid’s songs to intentionally be an anti-Packway sound, he did admit that the heavy use of sustain, reverb and electric guitar on their debut album Fits and Starts came from “rarely using it while playing all acoustic/string band music.” However, for those of you who hope to hear a hint of the Packway vibe, the vocal arrangments and harmonies will make you feel right at home.
After spending 15 years in the Packway Handle Band, playing shows across the country, you might expect Josh Erwin and fellow Packway member Troy Harris to be a little burnt out, but Erwin compares playing with Mermaid to that “new girlfriend feeling.” Saying further, “The excitement comes from arranging these songs and playing and singing them with these particular instruments and people.”
Erwin specifically harped on songs like “Missing Pieces,” “Seismic Waves” and “The Engineer” as tracks that have been increasingly fun to play as they’ve filled out the band’s roster. Now that the band is in full swing, though, we’re all in for some real fun. When a band like Mermaid Motor Lounge shows up on the scene with as much passion, talent and experience as they do, it’s a surefire recipe for a great time.
In Josh Erwin’s words, Mermaid Motor Lounge’s mission statement is simple: “To connect people to music and golden mermaids through songs they never knew they’d ever hear.” So, if you want to hang out with a mermaid named Fran and connect with the night, come out and see Mermaid Motor Lounge tonight at Smith’s Olde Bar.
For more information about the Bullet Music Artist Spotlight event CLICK HERE
Read the full interview with Josh Erwin of Mermaid Motor Lounge below
Photos by Grace Kelly for Bullet Music
You’ve got a very unique sound that can be generally described as “rock,” but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of your sound. How would you describe it?
I think we’re kinda like a rock band that sounds like they’re trying to sound a little like a country band.
If Mermaid Motor Lounge were to write up a “mission statement,” what would that look like?
To connect people to music and golden mermaids through songs they never knew they’d ever hear.
Is there an added level of excitement playing with Mermaid Motor Lounge as opposed to Packway Handle Band? Like that “new relationship” feeling?
There’s definitely a new girlfriend feeling to playing with Mermaid...that’s exciting in and of itself, but the band wasn’t created to be an alternative to Packway. The excitement comes from arranging these songs and playing and singing them with these particular instruments and people.
Do you only write when inspiration strikes or do you try to coax inspiration out by writing regularly regardless of “inspiration”?
I think it’s a mixture. Throughout each year I have ebbs and flows of regular writing and dry spells. As much as I’d like to be able to have a regimented plan for these regular writing periods and to stick to a routine, I’ve never been able to...And, actually, that’s been okay. I try to get ideas written down and recorded when I’m writing with some regularity. Then, when I find myself in a period of not writing regularly (after it’s been a while) I will go back to read over and listen to what I was most recently working on. I’ve found that I can filter out good ideas better this way.
As you assembled the band piece by piece, did you feel more like The Avengers or The Blues Brothers?
I think it’s an all-heroes Avengers feel.
How did the name “Mermaid Motor Lounge” come about? And what amenities are offered at the Mermaid Motor Lounge? Free WiFi? Continental Breakfast?
A Spreadsheet was created for a receptacle for names-that-could-be, then when I started thinking about Mermaids and how different they all were I realized how much I liked them. And then, I knew I had to name the mermaid Fran. Yes, there is definitely free WiFi at the Mermaid Motor Lounge. Sometimes there is continental breakfast offered...not the kind with paper-mache style sausage gravy, but more of an assortment of pastries & coffee. For the most part, business hours at the Mermaid Motor Lounge begin at 3 or 4pm & go into the night. There’s no sleeping arrangements to offer (it ain’t a lodge), but there’s a bar, some carpet, chairs, dim lights, and melba toasts.
What songs have been the most fun to play live? Have there been any that you thought were alright when you were doing the duo but became favorites after assembling the whole team?
The songs I played as a duo always had a work-shopping feel to them. They were a work-in-progress at the time. I always knew they would be better with more instrumentation. The Engineer song has been tons of fun, Missing Pieces, and Seismic Waves are regular favorites on the setlists.
Did you start Mermaid Motor Lounge with the idea of creating something that sounded noticeably different than Packway or did you write the songs first and decide that they would fit a new project better than Packway
I wrote the songs first without a band-destination in mind. I think my songs have always come out in a way that translates better to traditional rock instrumentation lineup (guitar, drums, bass). There is a Packway influence in Mermaid that really comes in when I think about vocal arrangements...I love singing with harmonies. And, also I’ve become a sucker for any kind of sustain...reverbs & electric guitar and fiddle. The sustain lust was born from rarely using it while playing all acoustic/string band music.
Having played so many different cities and shows over the years, is there a city that’s become a home-away-from-home for you?
I’ve spent a lot of time playing in Colorado and have used Boulder as a central location. It’s a great city, but I don’t think I could live there full time. I really enjoy playing the bay area of California, too. Same feelings as Boulder. There’s no place like the deep south & ATL though.
Last Question, if you could play one night at any bar, club, venue or stadium, where would you play and why?
I’d love to play the Fox in Atlanta. I saw my first concert that I cared about there (Joe Satriani!). It has such good sound inside, it’s a destination venue for people, it’s accessible (there’s parking available & you can actually take the MARTA train if you need to), and it’s a beautiful landmark.