Merz, aka Conrad Lambert, is back. After the hype surrounding his self-titled debut in 1999 and subsequent near-decade of near-silence, last month saw a low-key return with the release of Moi et Mon Camion. At London’s Bush Hall, his first gig with a band in six years, he played the new album from start to majestic finish. Here, The Line of Best Fit caught up with him to talk success, scenesters and Scandi-chic.
Hello, Conrad. So what do you make of the music world these days?
There seems to be a lot going on everywhere. But I’m definitely not connected to anything. I hardly ever go out. I’ve moved towns four times in the last two years. Now I’m living in the Swiss Alps.
Bush Hall felt like a milestone – like the audience was welcoming you back. Did it signal anything special for you?
It felt a bit like that for me too. Playing the album start to finish was an obvious idea, I guess, but I was surprised by how well it worked. I thought it would be chaos and very disjointed, self-indulgent even. But it was none of those things.
I like the fact that the folks who come to my shows now are really connected to my music and that I’m not in the same position I was in 1998, where all my London shows were packed full of scenesters. If I got any more successful, these shows wouldn’t be as special because there would be more drop-in audience members, people who felt they should see me rather than wanting to see me.
What did you think of the audience that night? It was a funny mix…
I’ve noticed two specific types of fans: young hippy chicks and 30- or 40-something tough lads. I can’t figure out how two such diverse groups could both relate to what I do. I’ll take anyone that comes along. All welcome (within reason).
The new album has a lightness of touch that maybe you can only exercise when you’ve already explored the limits of your technology. On Merz and Loveheart, it sometimes seemed like you were trying everything in the box of electronic tricks, but you deploy those tools much more subtly on the new one. Did you set out to strip it down this time, or was it just a natural development in your sound?
A bit of both – I did set out to make it sparer. I listened to Loveheart after not hearing it for a long time and I found the tracks I liked most were the more Spartan ones. It’s a natural development, in all sorts of ways. But you know, these things are a matter of taste too. I know people who really like denser records with multiple layers, like my first album. Like Persian carpets. Not everyone wants Scandinavian chic. Or chilly modernism. That said, I do feel like I’m getting better rather than worse, thankfully.
As someone who straddles the analogue and digital worlds, how do you work across that divide? Are a guitar and Garageband equally inspiring, or do you achieve different things with different tools?
I just like music from a very wide spectrum, so I work hard to try to amalgamate myriad influences. And I just follow my nose, so to speak.
Is the name Merz a Schwitters thing?
I found the name “C. Conrad Merz” on an old German army jacket. So it was a very Schwitters event, but coincidental. I am into what the Dadaists did but my moniker and anything I do musically is not connected on any conscious level to those artists.
Who do you think we should be listening to right now?
Eidas Mai sung on my record – she’s got a very haunting, emotional voice. The Earlies are great – a whole bunch of them contributed to my record. Swimming are good, from Nottingham. Courtney Tidwell from Nashville.
Moi et Mon Camion is out now on Gronland, read our review here. Merz is touring Borders shops this month – check website for times.
April 7 Brighton
April 8 Bournemouth
April 9 Bristol
April 10 Cardiff
April 11 Oxford
April 12 Cambridge