Fits And Starts
Mermaid Motor Lounge’s Josh Erwin dishes on his band’s debut album
Mermaid Motor Lounge began in fits and starts. The phrase with which they aptly named their debut album references a line in Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” but it also describes the writing and band formation process. “Sometimes it’s just like, bam! All done, right there,” says Josh Erwin, the band’s founder, lead guitar and vocalist. “And sometimes you get half of it, and it takes forever for the rest of them to come about.”
Mermaid Motor Lounge is a divergence from the bluegrass band that’s been Erwin’s bread and butter since the early aughts. The founding member of Packway Handle Band is now the leader of a five-piece that fits most neatly under the broad alt-rock genre. Erwin tells us how his new project evolved into fruition.
How did the conception of Mermaid Motor Lounge begin?
I had some songs that I’d written, and I wanted to try them out, so I asked Troy [Harris,] the bass player of Packway [Handle Band] if we could just put on a few duo shows and see what happened. I really wanted to [find out] if I could actually put on a show and be entertaining rather than just play. It went okay; it was a lot of fun. It was enough to be like, well, I want to try it again now.
How did you wind up moving from a duo to a full-blown, five-piece band?
When I started and was just playing with Troy, the more people I ended up adding, the better it sounded, not just because it’s an excellent group of people, but because the way that these things turned out to sound the best is when they’re actually fleshed out.
How do shows help you solidify your standing as a band?
Logging stage time is a whole ’nother way of practicing. You have something at stake—like you at least have your pride at stake when somebody’s gonna watch you.
How does the lore of mermaids play into the band’s identity?
Some people think mermaids are these great beautiful things, and they help people like sailors. And then there are some people who are like, ”No, mermaids are awful”—they trick you, and then they kill you. I have some happy songs, and I have some sad songs. But the best thing about it is that if I tell people the band’s name, everybody is like, “Oh, cool!” It’s kind of a happy thing to me. Everybody smiles when they hear about mermaids. It’s really difficult to find a normal looking mermaid. There are so many slutty versions, first of all. It’s that, or it’s Disney.
Well, maybe you can reinvent the image of the mermaid.
Right! Maybe so. I like the mermaid that we’ve got; she’s this humble lady, pointing to the East.
What dreams do you have for Mermaid Motor Lounge in 2018?
Getting it to where it’s just super tight and awesome. It’s already tons of fun, and we sound good together, but there’s a difference between hearing a band who’s played together for 10 or something years and then hearing somebody else who is new and together. The more time you’re together, the better everything is.
Mermaid Motor Lounge will play its album release show at Atlanta’s speakeasy music venue 230 Carroll in Cabbagetown on February 3. mermaidmotorlounge.com
STORY: Jodi Cash
PHOTO: Stephen Payne