A Conversation With Mild Orange: A Gem Out Of New Zealand

Mild Orange is a four-piece band out of New Zealand who I first got familiar with earlier this year when I saw their sensational music video for “Making Things”, which led me down a rabbit hole to discover more of their content and soon enough, I was hooked! The band consists of four members; Josh Mehrtens, Jack Ferguson, Josh Reid, and Tom Kelk. These creatives have put together some of the most beautiful music that I have heard lately and I wanted to learn more about them, so I originally was trying to bring them by the Lyrical Lemonade office for an on-camera interview. After realizing that probably wasn’t going to work because they are halfway across the country, and because of the national pandemic, we agreed to do a written interview for the website until I get to meet them in person! If you are a fan of alternative or rock music, this band is going to be right up your alley, so stream their new album via Spotify as you learn about them below!

 

JM = Josh Mehrtens / vocals, guitar, production, creative direction

JF = Jack Ferguson / drums & photography

JR = Josh Reid / lead guitar

TK = Tom Kelk / bass guitar

 

Elliot: How did you guys meet & form the band? Also, how did you come up with the name Mild Orange?

JR: Mehrt and I actually met at kindergarten and became friends whilst both of our families lived in Wellington. I moved away (at the age of 3) and eventually so did he. We were reacquainted in Dunedin while at University in 2015. I was asked if I would like to move into a flat the following year with a group of guys (Mehrt included). Once we were living together, we quickly discovered a mutual love for writing and playing music. Many of the Foreplay songs had their inception here and we continued to write and play together for another year before Barry and Jack joined us. The songs didn’t reach their full potential until this point, having been fleshed out and developed with a much more full sound. 

As for the name, Mehrt’s older brother Sam (Sam Wave) had an unreleased song called Mild Orange that he thought that name fitted our vibe.

Elliot: What was it like growing up in New Zealand? What is the music community like there?

JM: We’re very lucky to have grown up in Aotearoa New Zealand. Growing up (I think this will go for each of us) we experienced and were taught and shown to have an appreciation for nature, our environment and a curiosity for knowledge of the world beyond our own shores too. It’s safe and pretty damn beautiful nature-wise here, and there’s always an insanely good view to appreciate and explore in close proximity. Since we’re a quiet country of only 5 million, there’s not always a heap going on in terms of breaking news, so NZ media tends to show a lot of world news and media from other cultures of the world. We grew up with a lot of U.S. TV shows, music, fashion, art and films – I think it’s important to pause here and acknowledge that we’re very appreciative of the positive influence that many talented Black American artists have had on us in our lives and we stand with the Black community in support and solidarity. It can be pretty quiet and basic in NZ (that’s the beauty though), we don’t have fancy megacities with bright lights and lots of people with lots going on. So there’s also a strong desire for many Kiwi’s growing up to explore the world beyond our shores, known as an ‘overseas experience’, to get a taste for that.  

TK: The music community in New Zealand is amazing and is one we are proud to be a part of. It is tight-knit; everyone knows everyone somehow. I suppose that’s another beauty of New Zealand’s seclusion.

JF: Don’t get me started on Westport.. best place to grow up. Being able to say I’m a coaster gives me feelings of power hahaha music-wise not the best but luckily I had a good music teacher Mr. Joe Hollis who pushed me in the right direction!   

JR: Yeah, agreed with the guys. I truly believe NZ is the best place in the world to grow up. As has been said, the music community is rather tight-knit and comparatively small but I think NZ artists are continuing to punch about their weight and show the world what we are capable of, take artists like Lorde or Benee for example.

Elliot: Who were some musicians or bands that inspired you guys growing up?

JM: I’m a massive fan of Burt Bacharach and Ennio Morricone. My parents would play a lot of them as a kid. They’re my GOAT’s. 

TK: Growing up I loved Kings of Leon and Vampire Weekend.

JF: Get out of town Barry, Kings are Leon are my all-time favourite, no one else can like them as much as I do. Growing up my parents owned their own CD store from the late 90s to the early 2000s where I bought.. (stole) my first album – Stars by the Cranberries, a mix of their greatest hits; I used to jam them in my discman. I would also steal the latest “Now” CD’s (a mixtape of the newest and hottest songs at the time) I think my favourite was Now 14. Once music became digital, the music I was exposed to was whatever was on my sister’s iPod classic; music ranging from Tupac and Jurassic 5 to Smashing Pumpkins and Robbie Williams – SICK! Dad always loved his rock; Led Zep, Rolling Stones, The Cure, Dire Straits, etc which I also opened my ears too. Dad also took me to my first ever concert – U2 360 world tour in Sydney, I was 13 and that experience was a defining moment where I developed the bug and a hunger for music. Bit of a rant but yea Kings of Leon are my GOAT.         

JR: I was brought up listening to a lot of bands such as Pavement, Wilco and Dinosaur Jr. amongst many others. While introduced to them by my parents, these are just a handful of the acts that have inspired me over the years ago and continue to do so to this day. Hip-hop was probably the genre that really got me listening to music when I was younger, my most listened to artists are probably A Tribe Called Quest and Kendrick Lamar. While not necessarily influencing my sound as such, I still listen to more hip hop than any other genre.

Elliot: How would you describe your music to someone who has never listened before?

JM: ‘Melting melodies’. Sounds pretty warm and smooth right? That’s us.

Elliot: You guys just released a new self-titled album, how has the reception been so far?

JR: We’ve been blown away with the response! It still amazes me how our music continues to reach new corners of the globe. We’ve been receiving messages from fans from literally everywhere which is so cool to see. It isn’t necessarily the year we had in mind for releasing music with what has happened with Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter, however, we have responded accordingly, halting our own promotion in order to amplify voices that need to be heard right now. All in all, we are super appreciative and continuously gobsmacked at how people respond to our music. 

Elliot: I noticed that all of the transitions in between songs on this new album are super smooth & seamless, it flows together like one big story, you almost don’t even know when a song switched from one to the next if you aren’t looking at the tracklist. Was the smoothness between songs done on purpose?

JM: Glad you think that. Yeah definitely. We want to create timeless albums that take you on a journey from start to finish. I don’t want someone to go to our album and be like “I only like track 1, track 5 and track 10”. We strive for the experience to be that when you feel like listening to us you’re hitting that first track and irresistibly listening through to the end as if it’s one piece. With my production/mixing I can spend hours on the first and last 10 seconds of a track – those crucial seconds are very very very important to the impression a track gives you and the experience it leads to whether the songs are listened to in context of our album or in a playlist along with other artists songs. 

Elliot: What would you say are the main differences between this new project and your 2018 project, Foreplay?

TK: I guess a little heavier with a better drive in parts, all in all, a somewhat more refined sound. We’re super proud of Foreplay but also excited to have this new body of work in the world, definitely a good representation of where we are at right now.

JF: The main difference was the writing, in 2017 Josh and Josh came to us with the majority of the songs on Foreplay where Barry and I added the rhythm. With our new album, it was much more of a collective writing process.

Elliot: Was your initial goal to become successful in New Zealand alone? All over Europe? In the US? What did your early plans or aspirations look like when you all got together to form Mild Orange?

JM: It’s always been world domination. Jah and I have an aspirations document from 2016 to prove this lol.

JF: I want to sell out Wembley stadium 

JR: Yeah, as Mehrt said, we’ve always been driven to become an international group. Whilst we love New Zealand, it is a small country of only 5 million people, meaning to be a successful and established act, you generally need to seek success abroad. But having said that, it is very important to us to ensure we give our NZ fans something special.

Elliot: How does the songwriting/creation process work with your group? Do some members focus on certain aspects while other members handle others

JM: There’s no formula for an MO song. But I tend to bring a lot of songs to the band written with my chord, structure, lyric and melody and then Jah, Barry and Jack will add their signature sound’s, rhythms, and timings to them which amounts to it then becoming a ‘Mild Orange’ song in those cases. I’m writing or working on my songs daily wherever I am, whether with or without instruments – a lot of them are like living art that moves with my life and the energy around me, and then some occur in moments that come from a free flow of consciousness in a moment beyond myself. There’s also a bunch of songs where Jah or Barry will bring a riff, hook or chord progression to the band that we’ll develop together, as well as times where a song comes together in a jam between the four of us.

Elliot: The visual for “Making Things” is one of the best I have watched all year, how did that come about?

TK: It’s good right?! Garret Gioia, who is an amazing designer and 3D artist did it for us. He put a ridiculous number of hours into it and it shows. We are stoked to have that out in the world.

Elliot: Can we expect any more new music videos for songs off of the new album?

JM: Most definitely. 

JF: Yea a sick “one”.. haha lol 

Elliot: I watched the Sofar Sounds performances that you guys did, it was amazing! What was that experience like? Do you prefer small intimate rooms like that or large audiences?

JM: Small intimate performances are freaky. I’m a pretty awkward dude (the guys in the band can vouch for that). It’s easy to feel naked when it’s close quarters with people staring. I feel like it’s a lot easier to be confident and play in front of a large crowd and become something greater than my everyday self. 

TK: Agreed with Mehrt – he is awkward. Also, those intimate shows can be tricky, nowhere to hide if things go wrong.

JF: Yea and I have to play quiet, usually it’s bright and you can see everyone. I feel naked and shy up there. Nothing beats a sweaty music venue with the lights off haha 

Elliot: What’s the most memorable live show that you all have done to date?

TK: NestFest 2020 or our show in London last year.

JF: Yea Nest Fest 2020 and London were fricking sick. 121 Festie as well because I just cut a fresh mullet before the show and was feeling dangerous. 

JR: Paris and London will always hold a special place in my heart as they were our first sold-out dates outside of New Zealand.

Elliot: Has Mild Orange toured the United States yet? If not, what cities are you most looking forward to performing in/visiting?

JM: Sadly not, we didn’t secure Visa’s in time for our planned tour last year. LA and New York are up there for me! 

JF: New York concrete jungle wet dream tomato!   

JR: Yeah, we were bummed not to make it to the US last year, but good things come to those who wait! I’m particularly looking forward to LA, New York, and Boston (I visited once and really want to go back).

Elliot: “Freak In Me” has become a fan favorite, what do you think made that song stand out so much?

JM: The universal appeal of the lyric meaning and the instrumental’s insane catchiness. We’ve all got a little freak in us that that special someone brings out. 

JF: Also Jah’s catchy guitar riff  

Elliot: Are there any musicians that you want to work with?

JM: Burt Bacharach, Ennio Morricone, or Sade. Or Beyoncé. Someone reading this, please help. 

TK: Yea holy smokes Sade would be amazing. Also, Khruangbin!

JF: The Followill’s who make up Kings of Leon and Kurt Cobain 

JR: So many it is hard to narrow it down. Travis Scott or Kendrick Lamar would be a dream haha. 

Elliot: Where do you see yourselves in five years?

JM: Happy and grateful to be where we are and where we’re headed.

TK: Agreed with Mehrt there.

JF: Playing guitar in Mild Orange 

JR: Jack secretly wants to be a guitarist, not a drummer haha. Agreed with the guys, hopefully touring internationally more freely than we are presently able to and continuing on the trajectory we are currently on.