In 2015, Amy Wilson – vocalist and keyboardist of Sydney-via-Thirroul post-punk outfit Mere Women – took on one of the biggest challenges of her entire life. On a whim, she applied for a job working in the north-west of New South Wales – and proceeded to relocate her entire life when she was selected for the role. “I was working for a not-for-profit arts organisation,” she explains. “I was living in this creaky old house, on this big block of land. I was all by myself in this new place out on the plains – I knew absolutely no one, and it was a total shock to the system. I spent a lot of time travelling through these communities in the north-west – all the way up to the Queensland border – and I got to meet all of these people and get to know their stories.”
It was here that Big Skies, the third Mere Women album, began to take shape lyrically in the back of Wilson's mind. As the title suggests, it's a record that deals with isolation and solitude. “I have a lot of family that have spent a lot of their life living on the land,” says Wilson. “I became really obsessed with the idea of women's experiences in regional communities – and, by extension, how those experiences have changed from generation to generation. A lot of the things I was writing about came directly from things that I saw and things that people said to me while I was living there. I look back on that time in my life as one of the hardest things I've ever done, but also one of the most rewarding.”
Once Wilson's bandmates had a greater comprehension of the kind of subject matter Wilson was addressing, it would in turn influence the sonic landscape that would come to surround her words. This was especially pertinent to Flyn Mckinnirey, the band's guitarist, whose approach to writing assumed the role of soundtracking in many ways. “Once I got into the mindset of what the album was going to be about, it definitely changed the way that I was playing,” he says. “It's strange, a few people have told me I have this country style of guitar playing. On this record there are definitely a few riffs that were really inspired by country music. There's a certain kind of Australiana to the way that I'm playing on the album – kind of in the same way Gareth Liddiard plays. There's a real sense of plight and a sense of worry on this record, and that's something we wanted to come across in the music.”
After two albums as a trio – completed by drummer Kat Byrne – Big Skies marks the first Mere Women album to be recorded as a quartet. Bassist/vocalist Trisch Roberts was brought into the fold at the start of 2016, playing on a split 7-inch with Gold Class as well as a single, ‘Drive’, before the recording of Big Skies began in earnest. Her bandmates speak highly of her, especially for her complementary nature in contrast to the other instruments. She completes the rhythm section with Byrne, allows a free range for Mckinnirey as a lead guitarist and a vocal foil for Wilson – and has assumed all roles with ease; as though she had been a part of the band this entire time.
“One we had Trisch in, I was able to come up with riffs much quicker,” says Mckinnirey. “I must have come up with a dozen of them after 'Drive' came out. With her in the band, I was able to write with that in mind – and that meant writing parts that allowed me to go a lot higher and not worry as much about filling every space. She finds this really unique place in-between the keys and the guitar that was never there before.” Wilson agrees, noting that this is just as much Roberts' record as it is any of the other members of the band. “She's not just a back-up vocalist,” she says. “She has a very distinctive voice, and it's very strong. She's this whole other sonic resource that we've never had in this band before – and it's really amazing.”
The band recorded Big Skies with engineer Tim Carr at Sydney's One Flight Up. Mckinnirey used a unique recording method by splitting them between a small two-watt practice amp and his usual Vox cab. “It allows you to get that natural reverb in a much larger room,” he says. “That way, you don't have to strain your pedal and it gets a natural, interesting sound.”
His instrument of choice is a custom '73 original Telecaster, which was given to him by his father as a child. “I've never tweaked anything on it apart from giving it a clean and a restring,” he says. “I've never changed the set-up. I always get the sound that I require out of it – with that double humbucker, you really can't beat it. My dad says that he bought it off Ed Keupper in Brisbane for $500, but I dunno if I trust him.”