Next Wave #917: Merival
“Not gonna stress about it. I refuse at this point,” Merival - AKA Anna Horvath - says near the end of our conversation.
This lack of stress comes across when talking to her and feels like it stems from when she first started making music as a teenager. “I wrote on the piano at first, I had a really good friend whose dad was a singer songwriter, and she would write songs and bring them to school and we would sing them together. And then eventually, I was sort of like, I wonder if I could do that. Just like make a song out of nowhere. So it was definitely her inspiration”.
Her friend’s Dad was just a local musician, who had a studio and taught how to play guitar, but the idea that anyone could write songs ignited a spark in her. At first she wanted to “prove that I could do it. Like I wanted to write a whole song. Make it a thing with a structure. I had a lot of feelings, probably about people on and shit, but there wasn't really like a grand idea.”
“I was really just really messing around. Because you don't really know very much when you're 15. Or at least I didn't know. I never really much thought to like, composition or structure like any of these fancy things that I think about now, but it's really just like, tossing stuff around and seeing what sticks.”
At the time she was listening to Iron and Wine along with Crosby Stills and Nash, “These meandering songs and harmony. I was really into that.”
It wasn’t until she went to university, studying psychology, that things started to become more focused. “I had a residence room to myself. I was anxious all the time. Mostly just stayed in my room and wrote songs and like made videos and kind of a YouTube artist. But that was a that was kind of like an important step because people watching the videos and commenting on them and there was like a little bit of community and I was sort of like, Oh, this be saying, you know, people like these people that I don't know, like these.”
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After dropping out of uni after a year, Merival moved to Toronto. “I was in another band at that time, this big pop band, with all these boys around me. And one of them had graduated from the same university and he was moving to Toronto. He was like working in a restaurant, trying to play gigs and make music. So I thought “I guess I'll go to Toronto and like, play some gigs”.
I'd been to the city before and I played around. So I was like, well, that's, that's what I'll try.” And try she did. After moving to Toronto with a load of songs and working with Asher Gould-Murtagh she released the ‘Lovers EP’ in 2016, but it wasn’t plain sailing.
“For some reason took another four years to hit the ground running. I actually I tried that project a few times. Starts with it like working with different engineers or like, bad timing and money or whatever.” At first she didn’t know how much she could ask producers and engineers to bring the songs to life. “I didn't immediately have that confidence to be like, No, I think to do it like this, or like, let's try this or let's try this.”
‘Lovers’ is a collection of songs that showcases Merival’s ear for melody and a storytelling that taps into her the heartbreak of youth. Work on its follow up started almost a year after its release in January 2017, but Merival decided to take her time with it.
“I've been playing for seven years, playing all these dingy bars. So I know I can take this and put the time in.” And put the time in she did. The songs are ‘Lesson’ are richer lyrically and more complex musically, but without feeling overly complicated.
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One of the standout moments on ‘Lesson’ is ‘Sinner’, a track that caused Merival and producer Sam Gleason the most trouble. “That was the one that kind of giving us the most grief because we'd had everything more or less finished. And then something was just not. You know, there's always one that you're like, why can't we get that right? And we tried like four different times. And then one day, I was like, oh, man, what if I just got arranger Michael Peter Olson to write this arrangement? What if What if we just really like went for it? Because it's a very dramatic song about a dramatic time. And I wanted it to pop out. I don't know. I think it's one of my best songs that I've ever written.”
Olson only wrote a string arrangement for ‘Sinner’ but the way it gradually builds, echoes the emotional story Merival is telling. And this is what she does do flawlessly. Instead of bashing the listener over the head with her tales of love, loss and redemption, she slowly draws us in before we realise we are in too deep and have to find out how it ends.
But the resolutions aren’t always clear, as with life. When asked what’s next, Merival gets quiet. You can almost sense what she wants to say, but can’t as she doesn’t know how ‘Lesson’ will be received, so she keeps it honest.
She’s organised a short UK tour: “So far I've got Salford, Cardiff, Leeds and London. Hopefully Bristol and Brighton as well. I might get down to Paris for a second not sure about that.”
“I mean, to be honest, it's been a really weird time for me this year just thinking about about my career and thinking about all the things that you're supposed to thing is air quotes, supposed to have this big long plan and like set things in motion so early on, and I didn't really enjoy the business side of it. I mean, I'm, I'm obviously completely independent. Some people that I work with for PR, but like, I don't have a manager, I don't have a label. I don't have an accountant.”
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“I think I've sort of made a decision that I'm, I'm going more on the slow and steady side of things. I can't burn myself out being like, 'All right. I'm I'm behind on this and I gotta do this, I'm going to send 1000 emails today and like this and this and this and this and this'. That's a very manic energy that like I can access and I can make those plans. Or maybe I can, but it's just consistent and I'm not. But if I want to keep doing this it you know, I have to write some more songs. That's kind of the point.”
“I think I'm gonna get back in the studio this winter with Sam. Maybe make another EP I think like I'm happy with that. I'm happy to go to the UK for the first time and make a new EP that I think is going to be quite different.”
After talking to Merival its clear that her musical persona is very close to how she. She pauses after each question to take it in, formulate an answer internally before speaking. Everything she says she believes 100% and there is no pretence or bullshit attached. There is a simplicity to her that is refreshing and warming.
And her music is the same. If you give it, and her, time you’ll find spending time with her a rewarding and enriching experience and overall this is the takeaway lesson from the album.
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'Lesson' is out now.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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