For NYC's Mallory Merk, songwriting feels like an out of body experience
As she releases her debut EP on Zack Bia’s Field Trip Records, here are 10 very interesting facts about your favourite new artist.
Mallory Merk is 20 years old but, she says, she feels at least 500. The musician — born in Louisiana, raised in New Jersey and living in Los Angeles — credits her upbringing for allowing her to focus on herself and her music. “New Jersey’s winters were cold, so that shaped my habit of locking myself in isolation to write and make art,” she tells us, citing a “mad amount of creative energy in the area”. And it’s that energy that would ultimately take her from performing songs at home with her brother, to fast-tracking to the heart of the fashion world with modelling jobs for the likes of Yeezy, Fenty Beauty and Gucci. She embraced the experience and channelled what she saved into her music making.
The result? A new life in LA and a beautifully honest, raw and relatable debut EP called Strangers. It documents a turbulent couple of years for Mallory, across seven songs that sit in a sweet spot between hooky guitar pop and R&B. Right before the pandemic, you see, Mallory checked herself into an institution for drug rehabilitation. One of the lead singles on Strangers — out 9 October via Zack Bia’s Field Trip Records — is “Fresh Out”, a track she wrote just before she went, unsure whether she’d commit but keen to hold herself to account. “No plans for the weekend/ cause we stay fresh out of rehab” go the lyrics of the paradoxically boppy chorus.
Across the EP you’ll find yourself unravelling a cross-genre coming-of-age story that’ll almost definitely be familiar in some way or another. “Strangers is basically me trying to encapsulate through music what it feels like to be surrounded by people yet still feel so alone,” she says. “Sometimes we keep people around when they hurt us because we love them, and we think that making up from that hurt and bonding over negative experiences somehow strengthens your relationship, but it actually makes you grow further apart. The aftermath of situations like this can be hurtful because, at least for me, I realised that it would’ve been easier to have a bunch of strangers around.” We’ve got a wise one over here.
Set a reminder to listen to Strangers in its entirety, and get to know Mallory via these facts...
1. Baby Mallory was raised on a healthy diet of Nirvana, Metallica and Alice In Chains
“My older brother used to wear a Nirvana T-shirt when I was a smol bean and I always begged my dad to download Nevermind, but he thought the cover art would be inappropriate and that my teachers might see it on my iPod. I found a way to download it anyway. My uncle Joey and Dad’s side of the family is responsible for Metallica – my uncle and I always bonded over the fact that the songs were so dark, yet so beautiful. I was introduced to Alice In Chains by a camp counsellor that I had. He taught me how to play a few of their songs on guitar, and when I got home and looked at a picture of Chris Cornell they were immediately my new favourite.”
2. When she was 12 she wrote a really dark song
“It was a song called ‘Biting In’ and I recorded it on my Mom’s iPad. Honestly, it was pretty dark. I remember wanting to make the lyrics cryptically about someone who is abusing you physically. That’s the first song that I put together, as far as structure is concerned, but I used to write my own compositions for piano and guitar when I was younger than that.”
3. She reckons Strangers would be a good soundtrack for cult 2003 sleepover movie, Thirteen
“It’s about a 13-year-old girl who moves to LA with her mom and brother and is bullied for being ‘innocent’. Naturally, she starts hanging out with a girl whose world is new to her but the most exciting thing that could have happened. The main character goes shopping with the girl from school and shoplifts, smokes and gets sucked into this new world of sex and drugs. I think all the songs on Strangers could connect to this movie in many ways as it also touches on self-harm, abusive relationships and substance abuse. These are all things that I feel aren’t talked about enough. Even when you have ‘close friends’ around you can still feel like a stranger.”
4. Um, Mallory might just be psychic
“Songwriting is like having an out of body experience to me. I tap into a voice that speaks to me when I need to hear it; basically zoning out and writing what I hear… it’s difficult to explain. I like to think of myself as a memory-bender because oftentimes I’ll write a song about something that hasn’t happened yet, but for some reason, I can see and feel the experience unfolding in that way. I’m just a medium for my past lives to be put into words. I don’t write every day because it can be physically straining to release premonitions that I have. I’m working on being more carefree when I write because only good things can come from letting go.”
5. She loves to have conversations with strangers
“I’m constantly talking to strangers (pls children, don’t take me as an example). Strangers that open up to you are a blessing and possibly an angel communicating with you on earth. Nothing is a coincidence when a stranger tells you you’re beautiful on a day when you thought you looked the worst. Strangers have single handedly saved my life probably more than once.”
6. If you’re having a bad day, she recommends playing tricks on yourself
“I try not to listen to what my mind is telling my body. I like to play tricks on myself and get out of bed, have some coffee and write about how I’m feeling. I remind myself that everything is temporary, even my human vessel. If it’s a truly bad day, sometimes you just have to feel that and accept that life isn’t always butterflies and flowers. I think we expect so much from our surroundings that we forget all we have is ourselves. Remember that someone loves you and that it’s okay to cry.”
7. She started modelling at 14 and has noticed the industry change since
“I feel like once I drop my music it would be a good time to hop back into that game, because it has definitely progressed more towards real art, pain and human experience. I’m hopeful to see the fashion industry continue to include people from ALL walks of life and keep acknowledging (and paying) the TRUE worth and power of pop culture and REAL people.”
8. Mallory managed to navigate all social groups in school
“I had a lot of friends from different groups and honestly made some pretty iconic crossovers between the skater kids, theatre kids and sporty kids. My mom and her friends would call me The Mayor because I basically knew everyone and was friendly with them all, even older kids.”
9. In a previous life, she was a junior Olympic fencer
“I started taking fencing lessons when I was 12 or 13. I could fence for as long and hard as I wanted to push not only my body but my mind. Competitions gave me my first experiences traveling the country — I went to so many amazing hidden places in the US with my club mates. I loved the independence of the sport and it taught me that we are able to face any opponent if we put our mind to it. Mind over matter.”
10. Stay tuned: she’s working on starting up her own record label
“I’ve always wanted to have my own label, for my guardian angel Sonya. We always wanted to start a company so that we could have a tribe of like-minded people where they can be themselves and literally do whatever. That’s just one small part of the dream, and thanks to my family Zack Bia and James Canton at Field Trip, we’re kind of on the way there.”
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