Plastic Mermaids are a five-piece band from the Isle of Wight who, after building their own analogue studio, have self-produced one of the most genuinely original and sonically adventurous debut albums you’ll hear all year: ‘Suddenly Everyone Explodes’.
They are brothers Jamie and Douglas Richards, who collaborate on vocals, synths and samples, along with guitarist Chris Newnham, bassist Tom Farren and drummer Chris Jones.
Born out of the ashes of previous bands Magic Octagon and Neon Fetus, Plastic Mermaids are not a band who have ever wanted for ambition. They started out as a three-piece - Jamie, Doug and Chris Newnham - although they realised after early shows that they needed more hands on deck. “I was there at thir first gig, not playing but just watching,” remembers Tom. “It was utter carnage. I really appreciated the audacity of them even attempting what they were doing. They had an audaciousness, and the willingness to try things and have them not pay off.”
The band released debut EP ‘Dromtorp’ in March 2014 to widespread critical acclaim, following up with the ‘Inhale The Universe’ EP in March 2015 and third EP ‘Everything Is Yellow and Yellow Is My Least Favourite Colour’ in June 2016. Later that same year, in November, they holed up in their barn-turned-studio to start work on their first full LP, ‘Suddenly Everyone Explodes’, which is due for release in spring 2019.
“We just kept coming up with ideas and tried to make them happen,” recalls Douglas. “That’s all we did for ages. We didn’t really think about where it would all lead.”
Where it led was to a collection of 30 or 40 songs that they whittled down into their album. Bursting with novel ideas, whenever the band came up against a technical problem Jamie would be on hand to build or fix whatever piece of kit they needed to give life to their flights of fancy. “It’s important to mention that lots of times, obstacles were overcome simply by Jamie sitting for three weeks with a soldering iron and making the thing that we needed,” recalls Tom. “The desk that we recorded the whole album through, for example. Jamie just made that.”
“It’s all been out of necessity,” points out Jamie. “Whether it was with the recording, the artwork, the electronics or anything else. We did it ourselves because we had to. Anyway…” he adds with a modest grin, “…you can learn anything on the internet nowadays, can’t you?”
That’s not to say that Plastic Mermaids are lost in a digital world - quite the opposite. As Douglas points out, their DIY aesthetic actually came from his and Jamie’s father’s love of building boats. “We’ve both learned how to make boats and surfboards, which I think teaches you not to be afraid of making something for yourself,” he says. “You have that belief that you can work out how to make something.”
The band all also spend a lot of their time in nature - particularly off the coast of their native island. “We all surf quite a lot,” says Jamie. “We’ve represented the Isle of Wight. It’s an influence on our music, in a way, because you’re spending a lot of time sat out in the sea, when it’s freezing cold, and sitting there in the sea, you’ve got a lot of time with yourself to think. I think surfing is more of an influence than anything else on me.”
In terms of musical influences, fans of The Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, Sparklehorse and Tame Impala will all find something to love in Plastic Mermaids’ richly-textured sound. The Flaming Lips’ influence is also evident in their ecstactic live show.
“We saw The Flaming Lips at Blue Dot and they were just immense,” says Chris Newnham. “That’s what you’ve got to do though, isn’t it? When you play live you really want people to go away thinking: ‘They really put it out there.’ That’s what we try to do as well.”
This idea has manifested itself in the sparkly-gold-cape-clad choir that has recently been accompanying Plastic Mermaids on tour, and in ‘Patricia’ - a mannequin covered in mirrorball tiles who is often suspended abover their stage set.
“We’ve done gigs before where we’ve spent the entire gig fee on as much confetti as we could afford,” says Jamie. “And we’ve spent all our money on lasers more times than I can remember. We did a few gigs last summer where Doug built these giant perspex pyramids and put strobe lights and smoke machines inside, so the smoke would billow out of the top.”
For the band, that sense of challenging themselves keeps it interesting. “It’s just nice to get out and do something different,” says Chris Newnham. “It makes it exciting. I don’t think we’ve ever done a gig where we’ve been 100% sure whether it’s going to go right. There’s something that’s kind of nice about that.”
No surprise, then, that it turned out Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne was spotted enjoying the Plastic Mermaids’ own set at Blue Dot. After praising the band, Jamie is now working on a customised effects pedal for him.
Plastic Mermaids are the sort of band who pay attention to every detail. The cover art of ‘Suddenly Everyone Explodes’ depicts a model village with figures bursting into flame. It’s not computer generated - Jamie built the model himself and then went through setting light to each of the people in the scene one by one. “It does really exist as a three dimensional scene,” he confirms.
The lake pictured on the cover art proved to be particularly tricky to get right. “We didn’t know what to make it out of, so we made it out of jelly,” says Doug. “Then it went mouldy.”
Most bands wouldn’t go to those sort of lengths for their art, but Plastic Mermaids aren’t like most bands. More than just a record, they have created their own very idiosyncratic world. On ‘Suddenly Everyone Explodes’, you can explore it for yourself.