Wilson’s Prom and their escapism in isolation

Words by Jasmine Alavuk.

Wilson’s Prom is a new project from Melbourne-based artists, Merpire and FEELDS. ‘Love Fool’ is the debut single from their upcoming self-titled EP. The track features an ’80s inspired dream-pop background for their conceptual lyricism; toying with romance through the lens of human and synthetic connection.

Congratulations on the new release! To kick things off, what is the song, ‘Love Fool’ about? 

Merpire: It’s about the fight between two sides of your mind as a modern day person who probably frequents social media platforms, but also really wants to connect with yourself and nature. Sometimes it’s a big battle between the two. And so, it came about after I watched two people meet on social media. One person posted too much, the other ended up being blocked and so their chat ended — because they only knew each other through this platform.

So a bit of a long story. But it came about while thinking about how social media can be quite freeing in some ways; opening you up to new experiences or new interests that you wouldn’t have normally been able to find. But at the same time it’s still algorithmic and you’re confined in some way to expressing feelings within the realms of online media. Whereas humans are random and they can express themselves randomly and it’s not really something you can control. That’s the long version of what the song is about.

How did this project manifest? Have you always had the idea to work together?

Feelds: Yeah we’ve worked together in the past. I released a song featuring Merps from my album (Cut Your Teeth) last year and I also co-produced her record that’s coming out. We’ve worked a lot together, but during the lockdown period we did a song that wasn’t quite FEELDS and wasn’t quite Merps. Wwe ended writing more that were in this similar vein, creating this whole world around it. So we thought we’d put it out as a side project.

Lockdown has been a transformational experience for a lot of people in the music industry. Has isolation altered your approach to creating? How do you feel about releasing music in the current climate?

Merpire: We have different perspectives actually, which is good.

Feelds: I guess for me it’s been great because it’s allowed me to get back into a creative rhythm. Collaborate too, which is odd I guess — because you can’t see anyone. But I’ve noticed how important it is to do what I do creatively and I really push that when writing with Merps and other people over Zoom and stuff. So lockdown has been good, good to push forward. Things are the way they are and if you wait around, waiting for things to get better, you’ll never release music. ‘Keep going’ — that’s my attitude right now. This project has been really fun to create this fictional world and have all of these messages intertwined. To just push forward and do it just purely online and see what happens.

Merpire: Yeah. I think for me when we were first going into lockdown, like the first three months or so, I took some time off everything. I kind of just hit a wall and discovered through being isolated that I had way too much on my plate and that was affecting my mental health. So I’ve really concentrated the last few months to focus on myself and what I need.

But I think so many people have gone through that, which is really a great thing to come out of isolation. But I guess the lucky thing was having James there, who is used to having a lot on his plate. He works very differently to me, and so that was a really great thing to have. James is like the vortex of community. He helped me get from feeling quite vulnerable and lost to, “Hey, let’s start this project and we can just use it as a way to get back on the horse,” so to speak.

Feelds: It’s also been good timing for Merps especially. With lost tours and everything that’s going on, the album has been pushed back to next year. So there’s been this void and Wilson’s Prom’s has filled that without any pressure and expectation. I think for us, it’s the best thing to come out of the lockdown.

The project is described as “presenting a world within a teenage dream-state of love and hopeful hopelessness.” The visuals seem to be a nod to this — with their nostalgic, filmic representations. What inspired the themes of the project and does this have personal significance?

Merpire: Last year we wrote this song with our friends who make up a band called Smoke Rings. We’ve since called it ‘Small Disaster’ and it was just like a random drunken night jam kind of thing at their house.

We came up with this story of this girl that was in high school and she was in love with this boy called Bobby. Bobby was in love with the jock, we imagine it set in like the ’50s or the ’60s, and that time it was obviously very homophobic. Bobby was too afraid to come out and let everyone know that he loved the jock, but does the jock love him back? I don’t know. These three characters are in love with each other but none of them know.

We ended up creating a whole EP around this concept. Once we decided on that, we started writing more songs to fit Wilson’s Prom. Now the EP goes through the love stories of these characters and what’s in their head while at ‘the prom’.

The name of the project, Wilson’s Prom, obviously relates to the beautiful Victorian national park. I can see a lot of people listening to this track on their road trips there. Do both of you have a particular attachment to the location? Why the name, Wilson’s Prom?

Feelds: We’ve only been there once. I think it’s got nothing to do with the place. I think it was more just a play on words. We were actually trying to come up with band names at one point, and it was on the list and we were like, “That’s pretty funny. Imagine a prom and it’s all based around this character Wilson.” Which it kind of is, but you never hear about Wilson on the EP, he’s just there.

Merpire: He’s like Charlie’s Angels. You never actually see Charlie, he’s just there.

by Nick Mckk

The sound of ‘Love Fool’ gives way to a hazy, dream-like production. Who was involved in recording the track and what is the inspiration or influences behind the sound of this project?

Feelds: We really wanted to lean into this fictional thing that we’ve created. 50’s, the promo… Rhi has had this fascination with old-school movies and posters, so I guess it’s a little bit of an ode to that.

We didn’t really hold back on the production side of things as well. We leaned hard into that and weren’t afraid to use old instruments and really ’80s sounds sometimes and so it was really fun. So we recorded it all in—

Merpire: In this room, actually.

Feelds: We recorded it all in isolation and we sent it off to my drummer Jared Young, who plays in FEELDS. He recorded some of the drums in his bedroom at the time. Then we mixed it in and made it feel a part of it. The EP also features three other drummers and it all happened in the same way. It’s been a fun little collaborative thing. We weren’t afraid to go wherever we wanted with the production, and I think that’s helped create this world as well.

Social media has opened up more intimate spaces that otherwise wouldn’t be so accessible between artists and listeners. Live streaming performances on social media platforms for example. As artists, how do you intend to stay connected to listeners without live, in-person performances?

Merpire: That’s really tricky. It’s something I’m still working out, for sure. The last few months I’ve been trying to take a step back from that — now I’m trying to weasel my way back in and I’m a bit spooked. I’m just kind of taking it slow. If there’s people messaging the band or messaging me, I just write back and ask them how they’re doing, connecting on a real personal level. It’s a bit scary. How to not care but also care about the listeners but not care about the actual media. I don’t know. It’s a tricky one.

I have a personal affinity for duets and collaborations between artists. There’s something to be said about the power of unified voices or creative musical partnerships. Do you guys have a favourite collab or duet at the moment?

Merpire: I think the first one that comes to mind is Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. That’s amazing. It’s a long name.

Feelds: Better Oblivion Community Center. That was honestly an inspiration as to how we released, or how we’re going to release the EP. So we created our own artist, Wilson’s Prom — then FEELDS and Merpire we attached to that. Rather than releasing it as a joint EP, it’s kind of its own thing. I feel like Phoebe Bridgers does duets with everyone.

Merpire: Boygenius!

Feelds: And then she worked with Blake Mills on that record. And I love personally what… I forget his actual name, but he’s from Bombay Bicycle Club and he has a project called Mr. Jukes. [Jack Steadman].

He’s an incredible producer and he basically put together this album — lot of it features him singing, but the other half he gets singers like Lianne La Havas, Charles Bradley, Lalah Hathaway. You can hear the Bombay Bicycle Club influence, but then it’s like this kind of groovy, hip hoppy soul. I think that’s one of my favourite collaborative records.

What can listeners expect from the EP? And what do you intend for the future of this project?

Merpire: Okay. It gets a bit wanky when people say this, but it really is a bit of a journey from beginning to end. You need to listen to it in full to be at the prom… We’ve put some foley in part of the songs where you can hear people walking around, a crowd in an auditorium… I guess we’ll have to do well to explain all that in some way so that people can listen to it. But hopefully people just hear something they can feel free to.

I keep meaning to re-watch it, but I really feel like the EP feels like a scene from Perks of Being a Wallflower. Have you seen that? She’s standing out in the back of a moving ute and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ is playing. That’s how it feels.

Listen to ‘Love Fool‘ by Wilson’s Prom.