16 Clefs

INTERVIEW: Bruno Merz

photo credit Anneke Hymmen

photo credit Anneke Hymmen

I discovered Bruno Merz through Soundcloud and fell in love with his song “Into the Air” and then his EP DEPARTING FROM THE CROWDS. So I was completely thrilled when Bruno Merz’s team reached out and asked us to not only review his upcoming release HIGHWAYS, but to also interview him.

I had the complete pleasure of sitting down with Bruno Merz via Skype a few weeks ago and speaking with him about people confusing him with Bruno Mars, his illustrating, and his forthcoming album HIGHWAYS that will be released digitally in October and physical copies later in the year.

How do you pronounce your last name?
Mertz and it’s a pain that it’s my name because of Bruno Mars but that’s the name I was given when I was born and then Peter Hernandez changed his name in about 2003. A lot of people think I’m trying to impersonate him but I’m not. If they listen to the music they can see I’m not.

For the readers who don’t know who you are, tell us about who Bruno Merz is?
I was born in New Zealand to Dutch parents and I left New Zealand when I was about 22 for France. New Zealand is very isolated and I felt like I needed an adventure and to explore the world. I lived in France for about 6 months and then moved to Holland because I could speak Dutch. I lived there for about 9 years and in Amsterdam and did all manner of crap jobs. I started writing music before I left New Zealand and while in France I was working on this organic farm and I sang these songs around a campfire and it was the reaction of the other campers that planted the seed to keep writing songs. I didn’t realize people would like them as much as they did.

Describe the essence of Bruno Merz in five (5) words?
My music in 5 words…intimate, acoustic, bohemian, personal, and soothing. I definitely say soothing. I purposely started writing songs with that in mind because I kind of write to soothe my own head.

You recently Instragrammed yourself working on a graphic novel. Have you always been a painter/artist in that medium?
I studied traditional animation in New Zealand and then I got into illustrating children’s books while in Holland. That’s how I’ve made my living for the last five years while making music. I’m still doing children’s books on the side so I just take on the ones I kind of like the look of. The graphic novel is something I’ve written together with a really good author from Canada.

HIGHWAYS by Bruno Merz

HIGHWAYS by Bruno Merz

Did you create the artwork on your upcoming release HIGHWAYS?
That was actually created by a guy here in Leeds. I gave him the ideas I had in mind for it and he was talking to his four year old daughter about it and she presses flowers and she said to him why don’t you do something with these flowers. He was trying to come up with these ideas and she ends up coming with it. And it worked really well. I really like it. He did a really good job.

Share with us the writing process for HIGHWAYS? Did the songs just come to you or did you have to fight for them?
That’s a really good question. It’s really a mixed bag on how songs sort of come to me. On HIGHWAYS in particular, I described to someone that it’s like an itch or a hunger you feel and you just need to get it out of your system by scratching or feeding it. Sometimes I have this itch/hunger and just sit down at the piano and it would happen on the spot. The bridge, words and melody would just come and then there are some that I spend a long time on…the music and lyrics feel like hard work. Melodies for me are the easiest thing; it’s the lyrics that I find I have to work the hardest on.

How was the recording process for HIGHWAYS?
Probably the nicest one I’ve ever had. I went back to New Zealand and lived with my parents again [laughs]. I recorded with an old friend and we recorded the whole thing in his home studio. Every morning, I’d get up and bike through these woods and along the river and it was just a lovely process and pretty stress free. We knew we had exactly four and a half months in New Zealand and knew we had to do it all within that time along with a pretty big gig I had booked in New Zealand as well. So we had to juggle that, plus I was illustrating a children’s book and animating a music video too. I also hadn’t seen my friend in about fifteen years so I was little worried on how we’d get along, especially when you spend that much time with someone but we got along really well. The album itself turned out a little different than how I would mix things, but I’m really happy with the whole thing.

What can your old fans expect from HIGHWAYS?
I’ve spoken to a few people who have listened to it and are familiar with DEPARTING FROM THE CROWDS they all said that the more they listen to it, they more they love it. To me, it feels like an extension of DEPARTING FROM THE CROWDS, maybe a little more intimate with my voice more of a feature.

Tell us about the title track HIGHWAYS? How did that song lead to the name of the album?
It was originally going to be called THIS TIME because I think that will be the final song on the album, but then I saw there was a John Legend song by the same name so I thought against it. As we recorded “Highways”, it became more and more a song that I wanted to hear. “Highways” sums up the album and the journey I was on.

The line “in your arms, I’m still alone” haunts me from “Into the Air”. What made you release “Into the Air” as the first track?
That’s the one that jumps out at people first. It sort of represents what you can expect from the album.

“Crossing Borders” has a great story line, what was the inspiration behind it?
There’s a friend of mine whose brother was in the Army and I was hearing all these stories about him going off Afghanistan and the verse about the waitress was triggered by just watching this girl and seeing this sort of sadness. I could see her life before me and it fit in with that whole feeling of how people get lost. I really believe that every person has something in their life that while they’re doing it they lose track of time. It’s something they love to do. So many people don’t dare to grasp it and they get stuck in these patterns and sort of trapped lives. There are some people who feel trapped and didn’t know what they were getting into and they don’t know a way out and the song is letting them know that there is always a way out. There is a way. You can always make a step to change your situation.

Listen to the demo

How has fan reaction been to the new stuff?
The only song they’ve really heard is “Into the Air” and the reaction has been really good. It’s had the most plays on Soundcloud in a short period of time and hopefully it’s a good sign for the rest of the album. That’s what I’m most nervous about is how it will be received.

Will you be spending the rest of 2014 touring for HIGHWAYS? Will you be touring with a full band or just solo?
That’s the plan. Just had the first rehearsal (at time of interview) with the new band a few days ago. I’m so happy with how it’s sounding that I can’t wait to tour. We’re going to do a digital release in October and then we’ll do a physical release on vinyl and CD later in the year.

Photo credit: Matt Baxter

Photo credit: Matt Baxter

Is it harder to connect to an audience as a solo artist or as a full band?
I think harder with a full band because I feel a lot more vulnerable when I’m on my own. I have to think about every nuance and every sound I make where a band can kind of hide things.

What are you listening to right now and does that inspire or have any effect on your creative process?
When I put music on at home it’s more to create an atmosphere and it’s usually like soul, jazz, dub. As for bands I listen to, I don’t listen to too much that sounds similar to what I do. I really like getting ideas from other genres because I really enjoy them.

Who/what artist would you like to share the stage with?
I’d love to play with Sam Beam from Iron and Wine. He’s written some amazingly beautiful songs. I’d also like to play with someone who makes a lot of noise. Making a lot of noise on stage is a lot of fun like Sigur Rós.

What are your plans for 2015?
Hopefully that will be when the booking agent has kicked in and we’ve got tours planned and I’ll be writing for another album. My plan is to do an album a year. Be it a full length or an EP. So it’s gong to be tour and writing and this graphic novel and a few small side projects

Anything else you want the audience to know before we go?
When I discovered following your joy, finding what it is that you lose track of time and trying to direct your life so you can do that as much as possible. You’ll start enjoying life a lot more and you’ll find that things fall into place. I think that’s the secret to happiness and finding who you are is following your natural instincts of what makes you happy.

(I was and still am inspired by this answer. Find your joy music lovers! Find your joy!)

Bruno Merz: Facebook | Twitter | Website
Download “Into the Air”
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