Whenever Jordan Merrick takes to the stage to play a song, it’s a release.
Fresh off the heels of his band Fugitive & The Vagabond’s debut release last year, Novella, Merrick has quickly followed it up with his outstanding new debut folk EP, In Colour. It seems almost odd then that his initial interest in music wasn’t based around the guitar.
“Before I started playing guitar, I never had an interest in playing it,” he told Music Insight.
“I really wanted to play drums originally. Then, I found my sister’s old nylon string guitar in the garage and I really wanted to learn songs I heard on the radio, as you do when you’re young.
“I started songwriting about a year-and-a-half after picking up the guitar, when I was about 13. It felt pretty natural because I always loved writing as a kid, writing short stories and things like that.”
From that guitar, Merrick started to write song after song. Born and raised on the Gold Coast in Queensland, he soon started to think bigger.
“I put out advertisements on Facebook and teamed up with other artists to play with – that was the start of Fugitive & The Vagabond before it transitioned into what it is now.
“The first gig we played was through a mate of one the guys we were playing with; he was the chef at the local rugby league club. Once you get that first gig out of the way, it becomes so much easier.”
It was that time that really instilled a passion about learning about music for Merrick, particularly when getting a foot hold in the industry.
“It makes life so much easier when you have no clue,” he chuckles.
In 2015, he transitioned from his hometown, up the road to Brisbane, a decision made for both work and music purposes. It was at this time when he and his bandmates began to take music more seriously.
“In 2015, the lineup [for Fugitive & the Vagabond] was completely different to what we recorded with in 2016. At the start, it was more like a hobby. Now, as a five-piece it’s a lot more serious.”
While their debut, Novella brought them widespread attention with its blues-rock sound, Merrick decided he wanted to push himself in a new direction.
“It was a purely creative choice. My band members are really understanding about what I want to do, and my plans in general. We work well together. We hope to have single or two out before the end of the year.”
It was fair to say, when Merrick turned his attention towards his first solo EP, it proved a very different experience compared to creating Novella.
“Before we recorded [Novella], I really had a vision for what I wanted to do with the project, and it was more of a folky side, rather than a blues rock style that we went with previously. When you have a creative vision initially, it doesn’t always pan out how you expect it to.
“The more we developed it, the more it became something different. We were quite happy with the songs we chose, but I still wanted to go out and do some of the music I love putting together more than anything else: a more acoustic, folk-based sound. Even before the Fugitive album came out, I had been planning this record.
“It felt really natural, cause we made this good statement with Novella. But I felt like I had a lot more I wanted to do, and I wanted to do it in a different way. It felt more natural to do it under my own name, rather than under the band’s name.”
Turning towards the folk style played towards Merrick’s initial love of guitar music, especially his love of Bob Dylan and Nick Cave.
“I got a technique off Nick Cave, he talked about his approaches to songwriting and it just sounds really logical – basically, if something pops into my head I’ll always note it down. When it comes to recording the songs I’ve got my home studio. I just go in there and shut the door, and treat it like a job in a way. Switch on, it’s time to write. Any guitar pieces or melodies I come up with I’ll bring it out and play around with it.
“If you try to force something it’s never going to work the way you really want it to work. For better or worse, it will always be it’s own thing… I just see where it takes me, sometimes it turns into a good song, and sometimes it turns into something that you never want to show anyone ever.”
“That’s the fun of it. You never know what you’re gonna get, and that’s the way that works best for me.
“For Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Nick Cave, they all share a similar use of structure. They don’t try to rewrite history and make crazy structures. It’s very straightforward. They push boundaries when it’s right and called for.”
It was this style that led to In Colour. It is a personal record for Merrick; each song is a brushstroke that contains a part of him. But even for him, the specific stories are not important, it is how the listener connects to it that matters most.
“I was chatting to a friend about my song 'Birdman' and his interpretation of it was completely different to mine when I wrote it. So everyone can walk away with something different. If you tell people what to think and what to feel, it’s not authentic at all.”
“The EP in a lot of ways is a self-portrait of me. These were some of the tracks that really resonated with me. In Colour was really a play off the black-and-white cover [of Novella]. That record was full of more stories, and not songs that had much personal meaning to them. [It] was very black and white, but In Colour is who I am. We went with the title from there, and just stuck with it.”
Merrick comes across as a down-to-earth individual, but even when chatting to him, he seems to possess a more mature head when releasing this record, especially compared to its predecessor.
“With Novella, it was my first big release. You spend a lot of money on it, making sure it sounds all right. I rewrote the track listing so many times. With In Colour, I sort of knew straight away what sort of songs I wanted on it. It was really easy, pain-free. I wanted to represent myself in a way that I felt would be me.”
It is this level of maturity that has translated into the record and live show. After performing in Brisbane, he will head to the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and Melbourne, but hopes to perform all around the country. As an experience, Merrick can think of nothing better than playing live and sharing his passion for music.
“I’m aiming for a really intimate experience. We all go to shows for different reasons, and when I go to the show, I’d say nine times out of ten I go to connect with the music, not just the music, but the story in the lyrics too. It’s how the audience connect. I was really, really happy with the turnout I got at the Brisbane Show.
“I think, for me, if someone can listen to In Colour and, if it’s seventeen minutes being taken away from their busy life, and have that time of peace, that would be a great achievement. If other people listen to the words and the stories, that’s another great feeling for me. Some can just sit there, and enjoy some nice tracks. That’s fine with me.
“We all listen to music in different moments of our lives, to find something in ourselves and to distract ourselves from life. If In Colour can do that for people, then regardless of what their motive is, I’d be really happy.”
In Colour is out now.
Originally published in Music Insight, June 18, 2017. Read here.