Interview: No longer ‘Wandering,’ Meri Amber has found her geeky self

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(all photos courtesy of Meri Amber)

Meri Amber’s got plenty to be excited about. The release of her third album, the Super EP, is just around the corner and it’s already been getting some positive advance coverage from geek blogs like the Geek Girls Pen Pals, The Unheard Nerd, This is Nerdcore Hip Hop, and of course yours truly here at PopMythology (read our review here).

Super EP  is also Amber’s “coming out” album in a manner of speaking. Her first studio album, the hip-hop and electronica influenced Love$Accy, was quirky, offbeat and quite nerdy in its own right but didn’t identify itself as geek. Her second album, the lovely Wandering Mini-P, experiments with a more acoustic singer-songwriter mold. But now she’s standing on top of the mountaintop and proclaiming loudly to the world that she’s geek and she’s proud. Since PopMythology is all about geek, we spoke with her to see how this once uncertain caterpillar blossomed into the glorious geek butterfly she is today.

PM: Your first album Love$Accy (um, how do you pronounce that anyway?), was written while you were in university majoring in Accounting. First of all, I have to say that is such an awesomely nerdy thing to do. Secondly, I was intrigued by how quirky and humorous but also how very focused the album was. All the songs were variations on a theme and you packed quite a lot of social commentary in there. Give us a peek inside your head at the time you wrote this album.

MA:  Haha it’s “love-ack-ee”, or at least that’s how I say it! When I created the mini-album it was actually done for the strangest and most brilliant reason. My dad works at a big accounting firm, my boyfriend’s cousin had the same name as my dad and rocked an accountant vibe. So naturally, I felt it was only appropriate to try and convince him to become an accountant too. I made the mini-album, my boyfriend made a hilarious slideshow and bought him a copy of the Dummy’s Guide to Accounting. We then booked out a fancy restaurant to surprise him with it. He thought we were going to ask him to be best man. Instead, we had one of the funnest nights. I was stoked when other people in the accounting profession started to dig the mini-album too as it grew from such a silly thing.

meri-amber-3PM:  Okay, so I see what the background and inspiration for the album was, but I’m curious about what I perceived to be a fair amount of social commentary and critique in the album. Were you indeed trying to make a statement about better ethics and standards in the corporate world?

MA: It’s unfortunately slightly embarrassing to admit it because accounting has garnered this bad rep, but I actually really loved my accounting degree. Despite popular opinion that accounting is boring, I didn’t find it boring at all. I was a good nerd and read things up, watched movies like Inside Job, Margin Call and Enron over, and even spent time reading the financial news and speaking to people in the industry. There are many really interesting debates in accounting and finance that are cluttered by overbearing industry jargon, so I tried to simplify it down and make it entertaining (i.e. “Mark To Market,” “IB Dead People”) but remain relatively neutral with my opinion. I also wanted to shed some light on the actual life and culture behind it too: not all accountants are boring! Like in every profession, you get the dull folks, but most people are interesting, intelligent people that have their highs (i.e. “End Of Financial Year”) and lows (i.e. “Redundant”).

PM:  Both of your previous albums were, in their own right, very strong works of folk pop and rock. Yet you’ve mentioned that you were still trying to find your voice when you made them. Looking back on those works now, do you feel as if you were not being completely true to yourself in some way? Or was it just a matter of experimenting to see what felt right?

MA: I wasn’t exactly sure what I was as an artist when I made my previous releases and only recently believe I’ve found it. In calling my previous release “Wandering” I was telling the world exactly what I was doing at the time. Wandering around trying to find my place. I started off singing comedy songs (prior to any of the releases) and then went the polar opposite direction doing folk pop. I guess I tried to be more ‘normal’ in what I put in my release and that wasn’t being entirely true to myself. It was something that was apparent when I performed and all my non-Wandering-Mini-P songs were much kookier. But the songs in my previous releases are still me, just a certain snippet or side of me and not the full thing.

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PM: When I listen to your older work, I see the same kind of quirkiness, humor and geeky perspective already there that you show on the Super EP.  Would you say that your present incarnation is therefore more of a continued progression along a similar trajectory or a complete shift in direction?    

MA: I’m glad you can see that quirkiness in the previous songs I’ve released! I definitely think that I’m going in the same direction I started off with, I simply didn’t realise that it was that direction until now. When I was singing comedy songs I never intended them to be funny but they’d usually make people laugh because of the quirkiness of the subject matter. The Love$Accy mini-album was very much in line with what I do now just honing in on one group of people (accountants). The Wandering Mini-P, on the other hand, was a collection of all my more “serious” or “mainstream” songs at the time. People that went to my shows or hung out with me online wouldn’t really notice too much of a change in my artistic output as much as those who’ve only been listening to my releases.

PM: The Wandering Mini-P, which I very much enjoyed, could probably pass as mainstream pop. And, you know, some might say that would present more possibilities for commercial success than identifying yourself as a geek pop artist as you have done with the Super EP.  They might say that to identify yourself as a geek pop artist would be pigeonholing yourself into a niche category and thereby potentially limiting your commercial success. Would you agree or disagree with that kind of cautioning?

MA: It’s funny because I believe the main reason I chose the more mainstream sorts of songs for my Wandering Mini-P was so I could find more commercial success. The problem is, I was still writing geeky, quirky songs and when I performed, my live performances were still largely geeky and quirky. I was pigeonholing myself both times, but before I was trying to push myself into the wrong pigeonhole. If I could choose to be more commercial, I probably would, it would make life a lot easier. But I am what I am and I think it’s better to be completely honest about it.

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PM: In your press literature you mentioned musical influences like Mika, Aqua and Lily Allen. Can you mention any others? Both in music in general and also specifically in geek or comedy music. Like, I’m curious if maybe Weird Al was an inspiration in any way to your often humorous outlook.

MA: I hadn’t actually really gotten into Weird Al until recently! I was inspired greatly by Australian comedians Tripod, Tim Minchin and Lano & Woodley when I was a kid. I absolutely loved the 90s punk stuff like The Offspring and Blink 182 growing up and you can somewhat hear the influence. Other than that, it’s largely pop music that I listen to as I always want to know what’s new to come out and take over pop culture. I’m often looking past the marketing ploys by the artists as well, because love them or hate them, those pop artists are working with some of the best musicians and producers in the world so their stuff is quality.

PM: You created a comic to accompany the release of Super EP  which you drew, inked and colored yourself. What was that like and where’d you learn to do all that?

MA: The process was long, but infinitely rewarding. I went throughout many of my high school years writing everything out with calligraphy pens as I’ve always had a thing for inking. The rest of it was a labour of love. I used a “how to make your own graphic novel” book, which I studied inside out and covered in highlighter, to learn all the specifics.

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PM: So which area are you the biggest geek in? Comics? Games? Books? Name some of your favorite titles or pop culture franchises (e.g., Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, DC, Tolkien, etc. etc.).

MA: If I was to say what area I’m the biggest geek in… That would have to be music, considering I spend most of every day working on it. When I was a kid I was allowed half an hour of television a day (spent on Pokemon) and half an hour of PlayStation a week (spent replaying the first levels of Spyro  as I didn’t have a memory card). This mean’t I didn’t really get the chance to be a gamer despite desperately begging for it. I went to watch the orchestra play computer game music, learned how to play the theme songs on piano and went to Sega World (now closed but it had a playground that was video game themed) instead.

In terms of comics, I’d probably go DC over Marvel just cause I like leading ladies more – yay for Supergirl, Powergirl, and World’s Finest – we need more leading ladies! Star Trek is brilliant, I just did a Star Trek  marathon recently with my boyfriend and dad, but my dad’s definitely more of a Trekkie. I also dig Invader Zim, Doctor Who, Pac-Man or any old school arcade games. But, that’s no extended list.

PM: You call your new song “Kudos” an “anthem for anyone that knows they could be achieving more than they are and a thank you for all the people that have stood by them despite it.” Okay, be honest: are you or are you not including yourself in that slacker demographic? Because, seriously, you’re so young and you’ve already put out three good albums!

MA: Haha, I’m not a slacker but I’m certainly not amongst the list of the world’s most successful people either! I’m a musician and an artist that’s putting every little ounce of energy into trying to create amazing things and have them heard. Everyone’s got something incredible to give the world. For most people, there’s a period of struggle at the start and for an artist this “start” lasts a stupidly long time. When people stand by you and support you during that struggling time, I’m not sure whether those people understand what an amazing thing they are doing. “Thank you” never feels enough.

PM: I understand you’ll be doing a little tour in Australia with the release of this album. Want to go ahead and plug that a bit?

MA: Sure thing! I’m touring around comic conventions and pop culture events around Australia and throwing a small celebration party at Moo Burger in Manly as well for the EP. If you’re reading this now and you’re around I’d love for you to come say “hi!”

Not including the shows I’ve already done, these are my upcoming tour dates:

• 19th September- Super EP Launch at Moo Burger Manly (Sydney)

• 20th September- Manly Zine Fair (Sydney)

• 24th September- Old Manly Boatshed (Sydney)

• 20th September- Ashfield Comic-Con (Sydney)

• 18th & 19th September- Armageddon (Melbourne)

But make sure you hop by my shows page on my website as new ones might pop up.

PM: Meri Amber, thanks for chatting with us.

MA: Thank you for the interview!

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About The Pop Mythologist

The Pop Mythologist
The Pop Mythologist is the founder and editor of PopMythology.com. He has been a staff writer for the nationally distributed magazine KoreAm , the online journal of pop culture criticism Pop Matters and has written freelance for various other publications and websites.